Red Sox

First Pitch: Youngsters making the difference for Sox

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First Pitch: Youngsters making the difference for Sox

The disabled list, as it has been most of the year, is still chock-full of players, many of them outfielders. The lineup, out of necessity, seems to change every night.

But as the Red Sox continue with what is arguably their best stretch of baseball this season -- five wins in a row, seven in their last eight tries -- the team is being carried by younger players intent on making their presence felt.

Thursday night, when the Sox rallied from two runs down in the eighth inning to grab a 6-5 win over the Miami Marlins and a sweep of the teams' three-game series, that was never more evident.

Will Middlebrooks, who earlier had supplied two run-scoring singles, unloaded a two-run bomb to the center field bleachers for a game-tying homer.

Then, it was left to Ryan Kalish and Daniel Nava to combine for the go-ahead run.

With no outs, Kalish reached on a single to right. Bobby Valentine put on a hit-and-run with Mike Aviles at the plate.

On a ground ball to the right side, Kalish reached second easily, but some aggressiveness led him to believe he could take third, too.

"I got a (good) break," Kalish recounted. "I got around second and a lot of it is instincts and I saw them that (reliever Edward Mujica who had fielded the ball) was still in his flip to the first baseman. He took his time with it, so I made a break on it and just tried make something happen."

Kalish needed to commit fully to reach third base. Anything less would have resulted in the potential winning run being cut down at third for the first out of the inning.

"If I had hesitated, I wouldn't have gone," said Kalish, who returned from two surgeries last fall and rejoined the roster Sunday in Chicago. "If I don't that true aggressive feeling of 'no regrets' than I'm not going to try it. But on that play, I felt really confident about this. When the play happens, it's all instincts. Everything else just kind of goes away."

That left it up to Nava. With Kalish representing the go-ahead run at third and no out, the Marlins were forced to bring the infield in, leaving Nava with more room with which to work.

"It changed the whole dynamic of that last at-bat," said Nava, who had four hits Wednesday night and a single in the fourth before coming to the plate in the eighth. "It makes it a lot easier because it makes the field a little bigger. And at the same time, a good hustle play like that gets the fans excited, the momentum going. It's a little thing, but in the scheme of what we were doing that inning, any momentum you get going in our direction was big."

That, in essence, is the charge for the young players on an injury-depleted roster: just to try to make something happen. And more and more, the younger players on the roster are having an impact.

The young guys are intent on contributing in way possible, even if it's just taking an extra base on a groundout, or forcing the action.

"I think it's unsaid," said Nava of the impact the young players are having. "Especially the guys who are part of doing that, like Kalish or myself, you know that's kind of what you have to do to help the team.
It's understood."

They're not watching and learning, as they might if the likes of Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury were healthy and part of the starting lineup, as had been expected.

They're playing and contributing, doing what they can to keep the Sox in contention until the regulars return.

And they're succeeding.

"It's awesome," said Kalish of the contributions. "As young guys, it's what you want to do: you want to bring fire, you want to spark people. I think so far, we're doing that."

They don't bring the experience, or, in the case of Kalish, a fully developed game. The outfielder lost almost a full year because of injuries and he was off the team's radar in the spring, not yet ready to begin baseball activities.

As for Nava, he wasn't invited to big league camp and in April, when the team was in need of a spot on the 40-man roster, saw himself designated for assignment, unclaimed.

Now, on a lot of nights, they comprise two-thirds of the Red Sox' starting outfield, intent on making a difference and not merely holding the places of bigger stars with bigger salaries.

"For me, I know every night I can bring my defense and my energy,'' said Kalish, "no matter what. At the plate, you grind it out and you give everything you can. Obviously we want to win. I think the energy can really help, all around."

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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