Red Sox

Drellich: In 19 innings and Fister, Red Sox identity shines through

Drellich: In 19 innings and Fister, Red Sox identity shines through

BOSTON — In roughly 24 hours, the Red Sox went from a two-run deficit in the ninth inning to winners of two straight games, one of them 19 innings, another a slopfest in a muddied Fenway Park.

Identity has been its own muddied matter for the 2017 Sox. Who are they in the wake of David Ortiz's departure? Who are they without steps forward from the youths? The answers didn’t make themselves readily apparent.

Wednesday night’s 6-1 win over the Blue Jays and the 24 hours preceding are emblematic of what the Sox have become. Strictly in how they look on the field, anyway. We’re not talking about the underbelly of airplane confrontations, or more recently, fancy dugout timepieces.

On Wednesday, you had the continuation of Doug Fister’s wildly unexpected turnaround. There was aggressive base running and, after six hours of play the night before, a feeling of one of the most overused words in sport — resiliency.

“It was special, that’s for sure,” said Jackie Bradley Jr., who homered Wednesday and had a huge throw home Tuesday night. “Being able to mentally tough out that long game and to come back, I feel like we had some momentum coming into today. Just try not to think about the weather and just go out and compete and perform your best.”

Whether you want to believe in the value of the Sox’ style of play in a playoff setting — whether you think the Sox stack up with the rest of the best in the American League — they’re separate matters. And definitely questionable.

But the threads that have kept the Sox atop the division were front and center Wednesday as well as the night previous. By now, Fister should be an easy character to embrace for fans.

“Grinder who won’t give in and keeps his head up through difficult times to come out on top through work and adjustments,” one scout said Wednesday. 

It's an obvious characterization, yet, it's not one the 2017 Red Sox were expected to be built on. This team was to be about stars, and it has been — but not nearly to the extent presumed. A Cy Young winner and an All-Star closer were supposed to have a lot more All-Stars around them.

Sweet-swinging Eduardo Nunez on Wednesday went 2-for-3 with a walk and stole a pair of bags. Twenty-year-old like Rafael Devers, whose return to the lineup brought a pair of hits including an RBI, is hitting .365 at Fenway.

Perhaps calling the Sox underdogs was never the most accurate description. But there are certainly key individuals who qualify, and even more who come across as scrapers. Grinders. Call them what you want, the semantics can be a drag. What we mean is, these are guys who are not supposed to be all that good, for whatever reason. They’re over the hill. Or they’re outperforming they’re past. Or they’re too young. And yet, here they are.

Mitch Moreland, a Gold Glove first baseman, is outperforming the designated hitter at the plate for goodness’ sake.

Fister’s mechanical changes have been discussed before. He was helped by a move on the rubber to the first base side. His strikeouts have picked up significantly, with nine Wednesday night, aided by increased depth on all his pitches. 

But for a 33-year-old, what may be most remarkable is the willingness to evolve — and from there, the ability to implement changes so rapidly.

As Fister tells it, there was no hesitation when the Sox recommended trying new things, new things designed to make him look like the Fister of old.

“Changing teams, it’s like going to a new school,” Fister said. “These guys have made it easy.  This transition has been very, very easy. We’ve got a great clubhouse. Knowing some of the staff, I knew Carl [Willis], and obviously I’ve seen [Brian] Bannister and Dana working from afar. Knowing their background, knowing what they do and what their forte is, it came easy to say,  ‘Just let me know what I need to do. You guys have done your homework on me.’ Obviously I was struggling and needed the adjustment. And it’s definitely welcomed.”

If the playoffs started in five days, Fister would be in the playoff rotation, without a doubt. There’s still a while to go. But he’s as representative of the success of the 2017 Sox as anyone.


ALCS: Tanaka, Yankees top Keuchel, Astros 5-0 for 3-2 lead


ALCS: Tanaka, Yankees top Keuchel, Astros 5-0 for 3-2 lead

NEW YORK - Masahiro Tanaka pitched seven innings of three-hit ball and the New York Yankees finally solved Houston Astros nemesis Dallas Keuchel, beating the ace lefty 5-0 on Wednesday for a 3-2 lead in the AL Championship Series.

Gary Sanchez hit an RBI single off Keuchel and later homered to help the wild-card Yankees win for the third straight day at home and move within one victory of their first trip to the World Series since 2009.

The teams head back to Houston for Game 6 on Friday night, when Justin Verlander and the reeling Astros will try to regain their footing following an off day and force a decisive Game 7. Luis Severino is scheduled to start for New York.

Just days ago, Houston was up two games to none and appeared to be closing in on its second World Series appearance. But the Astros, like defending AL champion Cleveland before them, have been unable to put away these poised Yankees, who improved to 6-0 at home in this postseason in front of their cheering, chanting fans.


NLCS: Dodgers close in on World Series with 6-1 win over Cubs


NLCS: Dodgers close in on World Series with 6-1 win over Cubs

CHICAGO -- The Los Angeles Dodgers have a tough lineup, a talented pitching staff and a manager making all the right moves.

Yup, it's beginning to look a lot like 1988.

Yu Darvish pitched sparkling ball into the seventh inning, Chris Taylor homered again and the Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 6-1 on Tuesday night to open a 3-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

Andre Ethier also went deep and Taylor added an RBI triple in the fifth as Los Angeles improved to 6-0 in this postseason, setting a franchise record for consecutive playoff wins. Yasiel Puig had two more hits in another entertaining performance that included an impressive bat flip - on a long foul ball in the first inning.

"The focus has certainly been heightened in the postseason," manager Dave Roberts said.

Looking for a four-game sweep and their 22nd pennant, the Dodgers will send Alex Wood to the mound Wednesday night at Wrigley Field with a chance to reach the World Series for the first time since Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda managed Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and Co. to the club's last championship 29 years ago.

Jake Arrieta, eligible for free agency after the season, pitches for the Cubs in what could be his final start with the team.

"I think we've won four games in a row before," Chicago slugger Kris Bryant said. "Obviously, it's going to be a tougher road. But it'll make the story that much better. Can you imagine that?"

Los Angeles was eliminated by Chicago in the NLCS last year, but this is a different group of Dodgers. Their patient lineup is coming up big in key spots and the pitching staff is much deeper, especially since Darvish was acquired in a trade with Texas in the final minutes before the July 31 deadline.

Not even a return to Wrigley could get the Cubs back on track after a rough stay in Los Angeles. Chicago manager Joe Maddon juggled his lineup, inserting Kyle Schwarber into the No. 2 slot and benching slumping second baseman Javier Baez, but the defending World Series champions were shut down by another Dodgers starter and more stellar relief from the NL West champions.

"I really didn't change much approach-wise from first inning until the end of the game," Darvish said through a translator. "I just kept pitching the same way."

Making their third straight appearance in the NLCS, the weary Cubs also hurt themselves with a couple of big mistakes. Carl Edwards Jr. walked Darvish on four pitches with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth, continuing a rocky postseason for the reliever and leading to a round of boos from a frustrated crowd of 41,871.

A passed ball brought home another run in the eighth, and pinch hitter Kyle Farmer hit a sacrifice fly to make it 6-1.

Darvish departed after striking out Addison Russell in the seventh, pausing for congratulations from his whole infield before heading to the dugout. The Japanese right-hander allowed six hits, including Schwarber's first-inning homer, in his second career playoff win - both this year. He struck out seven and walked one.

Tony Watson got two outs, Brandon Morrow worked the eighth and Kenley Jansen closed it out after Ross Stripling gave up two hits in the ninth. With Roberts pushing the right buttons, Los Angeles' bullpen has yet to allow a run in the series.

"I think everybody's just been attacking," Morrow said. "That's the No. 1 thing."

The only four-game postseason sweep for the Dodgers came in the 1963 World Series against the New York Yankees. If Los Angeles can finish off Chicago on Wednesday, the Dodgers would have five days off before hosting the Yankees or Houston Astros in the World Series opener.

"We knew today was the most important game, and now tomorrow's the most important game," Ethier said. "We're going to come out and figure out how to get the job done again."

Schwarber's sixth career postseason homer got Chicago off to a fast start, but Jon Jay struck out with two on to end the inning. The Dodgers responded with Ethier's leadoff drive in the second and Taylor's second homer of the series in the third, a mammoth shot to center off losing pitcher Kyle Hendricks.

"We had a chance obviously, early," Maddon said. "We hit some balls well early in the game, and then he settled in."

Ethier had two hits in his first start of this year's playoffs after he missed most of the season with a herniated lumbar disk. Taylor also had two hits and is 4 for 14 for the series, helping make up for the loss of All-Star shortstop Corey Seager to a back injury.


Tuesday was the 13th anniversary of Roberts' memorable stolen base for Boston in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees. The Red Sox were three outs from elimination when Roberts ran for Kevin Millar, swiped second and scored on Bill Mueller's single.

Boston went on to rally past New York and sweep St. Louis for its first World Series championship since 1918. Roberts said he never mentions the steal to his players, but it comes up occasionally.

"Yu Darvish about two weeks ago I guess was surfing the internet, and there was an `aha' moment," Roberts said. "He ran across the stolen base and kind of put two and two together and didn't realize that was his manager. So he proceeded to kind of awkwardly approach me about it and talked about my goatee and how I could steal a base."


Dodgers: Wood, who had a career-high 16 wins this season, will make his first appearance since Sept. 26. He was lined up for Game 4 of the NLDS, but the Dodgers swept the Diamondbacks in three games.

Cubs: Arrieta has pitched just 14 1/3 innings since Aug. 30, including four innings of two-hit ball against Washington in Game 4 of the NLDS. The 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner was hampered by a right hamstring injury at the end of the season.