Red Sox

First pitch: Here and now

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First pitch: Here and now

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- He is not, all initial appearances to the contrary, the second coming of Joe Morgan or Robbie Alomar.

In fact, there's nothing to suggest he's even an everyday major leaguer.

He's not a "kid'' as some insist on labeling him -- he'll be 27 in September, in fact -- and he's not the future, someone around whom a team can build.

Pedro Ciriaco is the present. He's right now, this week, which, with Dustin Pedroia sidelined, is all the Red Sox really need.

Ciriaco made his presence felt again Friday night as the second half the season began, looking, at least as far as Ciriaco's concerned, very much like the end of the first half.

Ciriaco had three hits, and OK, two of them were bloopers, perfectly placed rather than solidly hit. But another was driven up the middle with the bases loaded and scored two runs, enough to provide the margin of victory in the Red Sox' 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Last weekend, making his debut for the Red Sox, Ciriaco introduced himself loudly, collecting seven hits in his first three games. In the second game of a day-night doubleheader against the Yankees, Ciriaco carried the Sox to their only win in the four-game set with four hits,
four RBI, two runs scored and one stolen base.

When he followed that with another three-hit night in the final game of the first half, he went into the break on a high, and, to some, the newest cult hero.

"Where's this guy been?'' wondered Red Sox fans.

All over the place, is the answer. Signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of the Domincan Republic in 2003, he spent seven years in their system before being included in a deal to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2010.

He appeared in 31 games with the Pirates in 2010 and 2011, accumulating 13 hits in those games, or three more than he's had with the Red Sox in his first four games.

A minor league free agent last winter, he enjoyed a fabulous spring training, but failed to make the roster as the Red Sox went with veteran utility man Nick Punto as the lone utility man.

He was flown to Kansas City in early May when it appeared that rookie Will Middlebrooks might need time on the disabled list with a hamstring strain, but was never activated.

He returned to the Sox last week when Dustin Pedroia finally accepted the inevitable and went on the DL. And he's made people notice.

"I feel pretty good,'' said Ciriaco after his heroics Friday. "We got the win tonight. (On the two-run single), I wasn't trying to do too much, just trying to go up the middle. It'a good feeling and I feel happy to be able to help the team.

"(Getting the opportunity to play more) is huge for me. Every time I get a chance to wear the uniform and be a part of the Red Sox team is huge.''

Ciriaco is humble and hungry, appreciative and accepting. He understands he's not about to become a fixture with the Sox and there's every chance that when Pedroia returns in a week or so, Ciriaco will likely return to Pawtucket, where he'll stay until another injury befalls the Sox, or, failing that, rosters expand on Sept. 1.

But for now, he's enjoying the ride.

Bobby Valentine, who was a big Ciriaco booster in the spring, isn't under any illusions.

Asked Thursday whether Ciriaco's play was a case of a late-bloomer who suddenly had it all figured out, or just a hot streak, Valentine smiled.

"I think it's more of a good stretch, a good opportunity,'' said Valentine evenly, "taking the best of the opportunity. But there are some things he does and does pretty well.''

For now, which is all the Red Sox care about.

MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

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MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Major League Baseball will change rules to speed games next year with or without an agreement with the players' association.

Management proposed last offseason to institute a 20-second pitch clock, allow one trip to the mound by a catcher per pitcher each inning and raise the bottom of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level at the top of the kneecap. The union didn't agree, and clubs have the right to impose those changes unilaterally for 2018.

Players and MLB have held initial bargaining since summer, and MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem said this week he would like an agreement by mid-January.

"My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players, but if we can't get an agreement we are going to have rule changes in 2018 one way or the other," baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday after a quarterly owners' meeting.

Nine-inning games averaged a record 3 hours, 5 minutes during the regular season and 3:29 during the postseason.

Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

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Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

Max Scherzer heard his name and thrust his arms in the air, shouting and smiling big before turning to kiss his wife.

Corey Kluber, on the other hand, gulped once and blinked.

Two aces, two different styles - and now another Cy Young Award for each.

The animated Scherzer of the Washington Nationals coasted to his third Cy Young, winning Wednesday for the second straight year in the National League. He breezed past Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, drawing 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Kluber's win was even more of a runaway. The Cleveland Indians ace took 28 first-place votes, easily outpacing Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox for his second AL Cy Young.

Scherzer yelled "yes!" when his award was announced on MLB Network, a reaction in keeping with his expressive reputation. He showed that intensity often this year, whether he was cursing under his breath like a madman during his delivery or demanding - also with expletives - that manager Dusty Baker leave him in the game.

Just a little different than the pitcher they call "Klubot." Kluber was stoic as ever when announced as the AL winner. He swallowed hard but otherwise didn't react, only showing the hint of a smile moments later when answering questions.

Not that he wasn't thrilled.

"Winning a second one maybe, for me personally, kind of validates the first one," Kluber said.

Scherzer's win moves him into rare company. He's the 10th pitcher with at least three Cy Youngs, and among the other nine, only Kershaw and Roger Clemens aren't in the Hall of Fame.

"That's why I'm drinking a lot of champagne tonight," Scherzer said.

Scherzer earned the NL honor last year with Washington and the 2013 American League prize with Detroit.

"This one is special," he said. "When you start talking about winning three times, I can't even comprehend it at this point."

Scherzer was 16-6 with a career-best 2.51 ERA this year. The 33-year-old righty struck out a league-leading 268 for the NL East champion Nationals, and in an era noted for declining pitcher durability, he eclipsed 200 innings for the fifth straight season. He had to overcome a variety of ailments to get there, and Washington's training staff was high on his thank-you list.

"Everybody had a role in keeping me out on the field," he said. "I'm very thankful for all their hard work."

Kershaw has won three NL Cy Youngs and was the last pitcher to win back-to-back. He was 18-4 with a league-best 2.31 ERA and 202 strikeouts. This is his second runner-up finish. Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals finished third.

Kluber missed a month of the season with back pain and still easily won the AL award over Sale and third-place finisher Luis Severino of the New York Yankees. Kluber led the majors with a 2.25 ERA, and his 18 wins tied for the most in baseball. He added to the Cy Young he won with the Indians in 2014 and is the 19th pitcher to win multiple times.

The 31-year-old Kluber was especially dominant down the stretch, closing out the season by going 11-1 to help Cleveland win the AL Central. He and Minnesota's Ervin Santana tied for the major league lead with five complete games - nobody else had more than two. Kluber also led the majors with 8.0 wins above replacement, per baseball-reference.com.

Kluber and Scherzer both had rough outings in the playoffs. Kluber gave up nine runs over two starts in an AL Division Series against the Yankees, and Scherzer blew a save in the decisive Game 5 of an NL Division Series against the Cubs.

Scherzer said he couldn't even watch the League Championship Series, although he did tune in for the World Series.

"That will eat at me this whole offseason," he said.

Voting for the awards was completed before the postseason began.

The final BBWAA honors will come Thursday when the MVP awards are announced in the AL and NL.

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