Despite being born on opposite sides of the world 14 years apart and despite throwing with the opposite hand, Koji Uehara and Chris Sale have something in common: They both recorded the final out of a World Series for the Red Sox in the last 10 years.
Uehara, then 38, did so for Boston against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the 2013 fall classic at Fenway Park, while Sale, then 29, did so for Boston against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of the 2018 fall classic at Dodger stadium.
Uehara, a right-hander, got the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter swinging on a 2-2 splitter on the outer half of the plate, while Sale, a left-hander, got the Dodgers’ Manny Machado to corkscrew into the ground and whiff on a 1-2, 84 MPH slider.
Both hurlers wrapped up historic seasons for the Red Sox with those respective punchouts, and both hurlers recently spoke to The Athletic’sKen Rosenthal in separate conversations about what they recall from those special nights in late October of 2013 and 2018.
Starting with Uehara, the Japan native was coming off a dominant season in which he didn’t even start the year as Boston’s closer.
Season-ending surgeries for Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey resulted in Uehara sliding into that ninth-inning role in July, and he did not look back from there all the way until coming into the final frame of Game 6 of the 2013 World Series with a 6-1 lead to protect.
With the chance to secure the Sox’ first World Series win at Fenway Park since 1918, Uehara retired Jon Jay and Daniel Descalso in simple fashion, leaving Carpenter as the lone obstacle remaining.
Upon fanning the Cardinals infielder on the seventh and final pitch he would throw in 2013 to secure his club’s eight World Series title in franchise history, Uehara reveled in what he and the Red Sox had just accomplished.
“I realized that I didn’t need to throw anymore,” he said, through team interpreter Mikio Yoshimura. “It came purely from my complete satisfaction…how fulfilled I was. I can still feel the ultimate happiness when I look back at that moment.”
According to Rosenthal, Uehara considers recording the final out of the ’13 World Series the ‘pinnacle of his’ professional baseball career.
Turning to Sale now, the Florida native was slated to start Game 5 of the 2018 World Series for Boston, but that responsibility instead went to fellow left-hander David Price while Sale would be available to pitch out of the bullpen that night.
“We were like, ‘We’re in,'” Sale recalled him and Price’s meeting with then-manager Alex Cora following Boston’s Game 4 win over the Dodgers. “Me and DP high-fived, hugged it out. I looked at him and said, ‘We’re going old-school tomorrow.”
Price delivered with seven-plus quality innings of work in Game 5, while Joe Kelly finished the eighth and the Red Sox entered the ninth with a comfortable four-run advantage.
Sale had begun to warm up in the eighth, but after Kelly got through the frame unscathed, he sat back down until he got the call for the ninth.
“I remember running in from the bullpen,” Sale told Rosenthal. “The only two things going through my mind were, I have a four-run lead and I have three outs to get. Don’t trip on the way in.”
Sale did not trip on the way in, and he mowed down Justin Turner and Kike Hernandez in consecutive order before fanning Machado on four pitches to secure the series victory.
“It was like the chain didn’t catch. It happened so slow for me,” Sale said of the first few moments after recording the final out. “It was almost like strike three, OK, click-click, game’s over, click-click, holy shit, we’re world champions, we just won the World Series. It was like a delay for me. I got the third out. I took a couple of steps. Then boom, it hit me.”
Just recalling what happened that night gave Sale chills, he told Rosenthal. As it should considering how the 119-win, World Series champion 2018 Boston Red Sox are one of, if not the greatest team in the franchise’s storied history.
It’s the day before the start of the 2018 Major League Baseball regular season. For the first time I can remember, all 30 clubs (except the Reds and Nationals) will be playing on Opening Day to start the season. The Boston Red Sox kick their season off in Tampa Bay to square off against the new-look Rays at 4:00 PM on Thursday.
This campaign looks to be a promising one for the Red Sox, and expectations are high as ever with the team owning the highest payroll in baseball at more than $234 million. With that in mind, losing in the ALDS this season really isn’t an option, no matter how many games they win in the regular season. I mean, John Farrell won 93 games each in the past two seasons, that clearly doesn’t guarantee anything. Now, with new manager Alex Cora at the helm, things are looking more optimistic. Although this will be Cora’s first go around managing a big league club, the native of Puerto Rico has three things going for him. One, he was the bench coach for the 2017 World Series Champion Houston Astros. Two, he has managerial experience in winter ball. And three, he spent more than three seasons with the Red Sox as a player from 2005-2008. The Red Sox needed a change from John Farrell and Alex Cora was the best managerial candidate available, so that’s a positive start.
Lest we forget that Cora is inheriting a team that has won the AL East two years in a row now. A team that won 93 games in 2017, yet it felt like they underachieved throughout the season. If he can rejuvenate this team the way I think he can, we may be looking at 95+ wins this year. I’ll get to that later, for now, let’s move on to the pitching.
The rotation is going to look a bit different to start the year, as Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez are slated to miss time on the disabled list. When fully healthy though, a rotation of Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Drew Pomeranz, and Eduardo Rodriguez can compete with any team for one of the best rotations in baseball.
Sale is coming off a year where he struck out 300+ batters and finished second in AL Cy Young Voting. Both of those results sound good, but if you watched Sale at all last season, you know he left something to be desired at the tail end of 2017. His starts may be less entertaining, but if the lefty can leave more in the tank for September and October, the starts that really matter, it would all be worth it.
As for David Price, health is key. He missed a good portion of the 2017 season, thus explaining why he only appeared in 16 games. Off the field issues were affluent as well for Price. The Dennis Eckersley “Yuck” confrontation was ugly, and that didn’t help Price in terms of what fans think of him. In my opinion, what would be best for Price would be to put your head down, avoid the distractions, and pitch your ass off. The only way he can get fans on his side now is by performing, especially in the postseason. And if he does all that, he has the option to get out of his current contract at the end of the season. It’s hard to imagine a free agent entering his age 33 season could make more than $31 million per season, but we’ll have to wait and see how this season plays out for him first.
Rick Porcello, Drew Pomeranz, and Eduardo Rodriguez all have two things in common; Upside and inconsistency. Porcello followed up his 2016 Cy Young Award winning campaign by putting together a stinker of a season. If you look at Porcello’s WHIP each year he’s been with the Red Sox, you’ll notice that it starts at 1.36, goes down to 1.01 the season he won Cy Young, then inflates back up to 1.4 last season. Does that mean the 29-year-old New Jersey native is due for another Cy Young caliber season? I doubt it. With Sale and Price on the staff, Porcello does not need to shoulder that kind of work load. He needs to be a solid No. 3 starter. That’s it.
This thing is going to be longer than I expected. Okay, next up we got Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez. Both have had health and consistency issues in the past and both will miss the start of the season. Surprisingly, Pomeranz exceeded expectations last year and had stretches where he looked like a top ten pitcher in the American League. He may not go deep into too many of his starts, but if he can give this team five to six innings of quality stuff on a consistent enough basis, he will be a valuable part of the rotation. As for Rodriguez, there’s not as much pressure on him as there he used to be. The combination of missing time and acquiring guys like David Price and Chris Sale have made more Rodriguez more expandable. He’s no longer a vital lefty, the Red Sox have three of those that are all arguably better than he is. I don’t mean to put ERod down, because when he’s on he is on, but I just don’t want to set my expectations too high. I would be happy if he were able to make 20-25 starts this year.
For the sake of this blog, I’m going to include Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez in this section because that’s where I think they will be spending their time once Pomeranz and Rodriguez return from the disabled list.
The Red Sox bullpen was one of the best in the majors last year, can’t take that away from them. They finished with the second best bullpen ERA in the league, trailing only the Cleveland Indians. Craig Kimbrel is coming off one of the best seasons a Red Sox closer has ever had. Carson Smith is here for his first full season with the Red Sox since he was acquired two offseasons ago. Tyler Thornburg is alive, I think. Two of the biggest surprises of Red Sox spring training have to be Marcus Walden and Bobby Poyner making the Opening Day roster. I honestly don’t know much about them other than they performed well this month to earn those spots. All and all, I expect this unit to be just as good as they were last season. They might not be as good as the Indians bullpen, but maintaining the success they found last year would be more than enough.
With the Opening Day lineup officially looking like this…
Mookie Betts, RF
Andrew Benintendi, LF
Hanley Ramirez, 1B
JD Martinez, DH
Xander Bogaerts, SS
Rafael Devers, 3B
Eduardo Nunez, 2B
Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
Christian Vazquez, C
…It’s hard not to get excited for what this season could bring. The addition of JD Martinez gives the Red Sox the power threat they so very much missed last season. The success this lineup has mostly depends on if some players can bounce back from their 2017 seasons. Mookie Betts was the only everyday player to post an OPS higher than .800. Compare that to the 2016 the Red Sox lineup had and it just doesn’t make sense. If losing David Ortiz affected the team that much hopefully Martinez will revitalize them.
The top five here have a ton of potential. Betts, Benintendi, Ramirez, Martinez, and Devers. We could easily be looking at 20+ home runs for each of these guys. That may be what this lineup needs most of all, some power. Last season, the Red Sox ranked 27th in team home runs. I am hoping that the addition of Martinez as well new philosophies while at the plate will lead to a surge in those power numbers in 2018.
Depending on what your view is, you could make the case that the Red Sox have an above average bench and minor league depth at some positions. To start the season, it’s looking like Mitch Moreland, Sandy Leon, Blake Swihart, and Brock Holt will be coming off the bench. In Pawtucket, Tzu-Wei Lin and Sam Travis have already shown what they can do with a small sample size in the big leagues. Credit to Travis for putting together yet another solid spring training, but it’s going to be a challenge to find him any at bats with the big league club. Lin is more of an interesting case. He made the jump from Double A Portland to Boston without much notice. In his 25 games with the Red Sox, he hit .268 while playing three positions.
In terms of pitchers in the minor leagues, there really is nothing to boast about, at least not yet. Brandon Workman, Robby Scott, and maybe Roenis Elias are the only pitchers who have the most realistic chance to pitch with the Red Sox this season, and that’s mostly because all three have before. As for the others, Jalen Beeks was named the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year over the winter, and he looks to be the ace of the pitching staff in Pawtucket right now. He posted a 5.06 ERA in two starts this spring, so he may need more time to develop with the PawSox before getting a chance to start a Major League game.
Two of the biggest names to watch in the Red Sox farm system are both pitchers and both will not pitch for the Red Sox this season. Those two would be none other than Jason Groome and Tanner Houck, the last two first round selections the Red Sox have made in the last two amateur drafts. Groome’s short professional career has already been riddled with injuries, but spent his offseason training with Chris Sale. Houck spent all of the 2017 season with the Lowell Spinners, where he appeared in ten games as a starter and posted a solid 3.63 ERA and .239 BAA. They may not have been on the bubble for a roster spot this season, but I expect next spring to be very different.
Marco Hernandez, Dustin Pedroia, Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez, Tyler Thornburg, and Steven Wright. Those are all the players who will begin the season on the disabled list. For Pedroia, this will be the veteran’s first missed Opening Day since 2007, when he wasn’t on the team yet. As long as Pedroia is with the team, I’m fine. He will be traveling with the team for the start of the season, and should be making his return sometime in May, barring any setbacks.
Going into the season missing three pitchers who started for the team last year is certainly unsettling. Chris Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello will have to carry a heavier burden on their shoulders for the time being. When everyone gets back though, I would expect Steven Wright to be the one sent to the bullpen.
Here are my predictions for this year’s Red Sox team:
Record: 95-67 (1st in AL East)
Team leader in Home Runs: JD Martinez (38)
Team leader in RBIs: JD Martinez (112)
Team leader in Hits: Mookie Betts (189)
Team leader in Wins: Chris Sale (17)
Team leader in Strikeouts: Chris Sale (245)
Craig Kimbrel Saves: 32
Player most likely to win MVP: Mookie Betts
Player most likely to win Cy Young: Chris Sale
Alright, that will do it for me. Opening Day is tomorrow, get PUMPED!