Red Sox

Martinez back in Red Sox uniform, ready to help

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Martinez back in Red Sox uniform, ready to help

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As the Red Sox criss-crossed from one field to another Monday morning, moving from one drill to the next, there was little doubt as to who the fans most wanted to see.

It wasn't Dustin Pedroia, former A.L. MVP. It wasn't David Ortiz, who owns the franchise record for most homers in a season. Not was it any of the many newcomers.

No, the most sought-after player this brisk spring morning was an old face embarking on a new role.

"Pedro! Pedro!" shouted the fans, reaching out to touch Pedro Martinez as though this was 2003 and not 2013.

Martinez beamed at the adulation, waving quickly and smiling broadly, wearing a Red Sox uniform for the first time since Game 4 of the 2004 World Series in St. Louis.

"It's weird, but it feels like the first day," said Martinez. "I get so excited to be part of this team (again) and be part of the tradition that we have here. To me, it was just like the first day."

Martinez returns at a time in which the franchise he helped lead to a title has fallen on far tougher times. The Sox have missed the playoffs the last three years and last year, bottomed out with a last-place finish and just 69 wins.

From a distance, Martinez watched helplessly.

"There's an empty feeling you get from in front of the TV," he said. "Sometimes, the few games I stopped to watch, it was painful. The chemistry wasn't there. The team wasn't doing what it was supposed to.

"I was trying to be optimistic about the team playing together all year. That never happened. And I know that was one of the biggest reasons why the team didn't perform to the level that everyone expected them to play."

After pitching for Philadelphia in 2009, then flirting with the idea of pitching half a season in 2010, Martinez was fully idle the last two years.

This winter, he decided it was time to come back to the game.

"I knew that I wanted to be on the field," he said. "But not all the time. That's why I automatically erased becoming a pitching coach or a manager because I don't really see myself doing 162 games. I did it for my whole career and if I take part on the field, it's going to be this way."

Following three seasons on the sidelines, Martinez grew restless.

"I can't sit still for long," he said. "I have to work. I grew up working. It was play, play, play, play and play. I was never home and even though my family needs me and I need my family, I still need some time to go away, have a schedule, have something to do, and at the same time, be where I like to be, which is on the baseball field."

Now, Martinez will try to impart some of what he knows about the game, and pitching in general. Some immortal players have difficulty relating to those whose talent doesn't match their own, but Martinez said that shouldn't be an issue, since despite his achievements, he considers himself a blue-collar player.

"This may sound weird but I never considered myself a great player," he said. "I made myself, along with my teammates, a better player than I was. I never thought I was a superstar. I worked like I was a hungry man going for the first game in the big leagues . . . There was a lot of work for me to do to have success."

It's yet to be fully determined how much Martinez will work with the organization. That will take some time.

"I became really close to Benny (Cherington) and I offered him my help in any sense I can help him," Martinez said. "I'm open to help them out. I just won't compromise special time with my family. I won't compromise things that are important to me in my life. But as far as anything else, I'm open to helping the Red Sox."

This is a new enterprise, and as such, Martinez is unsure exactly what he'll do and what role he'll play. But there are a number of areas he believes he can help.

"I hope to add some knowledge," he said, "any help I can, to the staff in every aspect -- mechanically, out in the field, mentally. I know what we go through in the middle of the season. I can relate to them and hopefully I can get them going. They can come and ask questions and I'll be more than willing to answer.

"I can't handle the fact that I have all this knowledge and not give it away. I would love to give it away."

On Monday, he was working specifically with Rubby De La Rosa -- whom he's known for years -- Danile Bard and Felix Doubront. Doubront arrived out of shape and his left shoulder, for the second time in three years, is abnormally weak as spring training begins.

Martinez sees great potential in Doubront, but first, the young lefty has to understand what's at stake.

"He's so young, so full of talent," explained Martinez, "that sometimes we take for granted the opportunity we're given. But the same way it comes, the same way it could go. All it takes is a bad injury and you're out of baseball and the only way you can prevent injuries is hard work. I just believe he doesn't know.

"He hasn't been taught that he's going to be held accountable for his performance and the way he looks and that this is really a serious business. I think it takes a little while to get him mentally prepared, to understand the responsibility he has on top of his shoulder.

"He's so young. These pitchers come up so young and so talented that they don't realize how much they're going to be counted on and I think Doubront is a good example. I think I can be a good asset to him, to learn about some of the things he has to do . . . I hope he sees me as a good example of hard work and dedication and will."

Time seems to have mellowed Martinez some. After the Sox refused to give him the long-term commitment he sought after 2004, Martinez left to sign with the Mets on a four-year deal. But in the interim, he's been able to place it all on context.

"I never held it against them," he said. "You have to understand, baseball has a dark side and it's the negotiations. There's a business part of baseball that forces you to look for negatives. Money makes it all difficult. It's just a battle, like two boxers. You shake hands before and you shake hands after. I never held it against Boston the fact that they didn't sign me. No grudges."

And now he's back -- to teach, to share, to help. But not, he assured, to pitch again.

"Not at all, no chance," he said, shaking his lead and laughing. "I did what was I supposed to do and that's it. I can't pitch. I would love to brush someone back and say, 'Hey, get off the plate. That's my area.' But now I'm going to have to sit and watch and rely on someone else to do it for me."

Red Sox hire Alex Cora as their new manager

Red Sox hire Alex Cora as their new manager

BOSTON -- Alex Cora is the 47th manager in Red Sox history, charged with reinvigorating a young clubhouse and improving on consecutive 93-win seasons that fizzled in the first round of the playoffs.

The team made the hiring of the 42-year-old Astros bench coach official on Sunday, a day after Houston advanced to the World Series and two days before the start of the Fall Classic. Cora will remain with the Astros until the Series is finished and has a three-year deal, with a club option for 2021.

A 14-year big leaguer from Puerto Rico, Cora is the first Latin manager in club history. He hit .252 in 301 games for the Sox from 2005-08. He was the most sought-after managerial candidate this offseason and arrives with a great reputation based on his personality, his prior experience in Boston and his season with the Astros. 

ALEX CORA: NEW RED SOX MANAGER

He knows Sox second baseman and leader Dustin Pedroia well. The last time Cora was in the World Series prior to this year was 2007. On Saturday, exactly 10 years after the Red Sox came back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Indians in the American League Championship Series, the Astros finished off a rally after falling behind 3-2 in the series.

"You know, we've never been through this," Dustin Pedroia said after the Sox won Game 7 in 2007. "This is on the biggest stage. Everyone is watching these games. I remember the Angels series, I was nervous. Alex Cora told me, 'Hey, settle down, be yourself, have fun. This game is meant to be played, have fun. Play as hard as you can and leave it out there on the field. If we lose, we lose. Don't have any regrets.'

"Ever since then I kind of went out there, and I don't worry about anything but playing hard. I think everybody is doing that. Nobody cares about anything, just picking each other up and playing the game to win."

Early on, Cora will have to prove that his inexperience is not a stumbling block for a club in a win-now mindset. This season was Cora's only as a major-league coach. He's the first Sox manager to take the big job without prior major-league managing experience since Grady Little in 2002. 

Cora's ability to bond with players is his hallmark.

"Alex brings a lot to the table," Astros outfielder Carlos Beltran said. "He's a guy that always is looking for information that he could use against the opposite team. And he's also, he provides that information to the player, which is great. He has good communication with the guys, respects the guys. He's always in the clubhouse getting to know the players, getting to know which buttons he could push on each player to make them go out there and play the game hard, which is great.

"I think I always feel that sometimes managers, they draw a very defined line between players and manager. And sometimes they get caught up not going to the clubhouse because they don't want to feel like they're invading their space. But as a player, I love when managers come to the clubhouse, sit down, talk to us, get to know us, ask about our family, about everything. And that really, for me, means a lot. So Alex does that real well."

Cora's hiring comes five years and a day after the Red Sox hired John Farrell. The choice could have been announced prior to Sunday, but the Red Sox were being respectful of the Astros' playoff run. 

In a statement released by the Red Sox, Cora said: “I am extremely honored and humbled to be named manager of the Boston Red Sox and I want to thank Dave, John Henry, Tom Werner, and Sam Kennedy for giving me such a tremendous opportunity. Returning to the Red Sox and the city of Boston is a dream come true for me and my family and I look forward to working towards the ultimate goal of winning another championship for this city and its great fans. At the same time, I want to express my appreciation for Jim Crane, Jeff Luhnow, A.J. Hinch, and the entire Houston Astros organization for giving me the chance to start my coaching career. It has been a very special season and an incredible organization to be a part of and I am looking forward to the World Series and winning with this group.”

“We were very impressed when we interviewed Alex,” Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said in the statement. “He came to us as a highly-regarded candidate, and from speaking with him throughout this process, we found him to be very knowledgeable, driven, and deserving of this opportunity. He is a highly respected and hardworking individual who has experience playing in Boston. Alex also has a full appreciation for the use of analytical information in today's game and his ability to communicate and relate to both young players and veterans is a plus. Finally, the fact that he is bilingual is very significant for our club.”

“As someone who has played in Boston and knows what it takes to win here, Alex is uniquely positioned to instill a championship culture,” team chairman Werner added in the statement. “Baseball is in his blood and we could not be more pleased to have found someone so accomplished to lead our team. Welcome home, Alex.” 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

 

Astros beat Yankees, 4-0, in Game 7 to advance to World Series

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Astros beat Yankees, 4-0, in Game 7 to advance to World Series

HOUSTON -- Jose Altuve embraced Justin Verlander as confetti rained down. An improbable thought just a few years ago, the Houston Astros are headed to the World Series.

Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. combined on a three-hitter, Altuve and Evan Gattis homered and the Astros reached the World Series for only the second time by blanking the New York Yankees 4-0 Saturday night in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

Next up for the Astros: Game 1 against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night. Los Angeles opened as a narrow favorite, but Verlander, the ALCS MVP , and fellow Houston ace Dallas Keuchel will have plenty of rest before the World Series begins at sweltering Dodger Stadium.

"I love our personality," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We have the right amount of fun, the right amount of seriousness, the right amount of perspective when we need it. This is a very, very unique group. To win 100 games and still be hungry is pretty remarkable."

The Astros will try for their first World Series title, thanks in large part to Altuve , the diminutive second baseman who swings a potent bat, and Verlander, who switched teams for the first time in his career to chase a ring.

Four years removed from their third straight 100-loss season in 2013, the Astros shut down the Yankees on consecutive nights after dropping three in a row in the Bronx.

The only previous time the Astros made it this far, they were a National League team when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

Hinch's club has a chance to win that elusive first crown, while trying to boost a region still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

"This city, they deserve this," McCullers said.

Clutch defensive plays by third baseman Alex Bregman and center fielder George Springer helped Houston improve to 6-0 at Minute Maid Park in these playoffs and become the fifth team in major league history to capture a seven-game postseason series by winning all four of its home games.

Morton bounced back from a loss in Game 3 to allow two hits over five scoreless innings. Starter-turned-postseason reliever McCullers limited the Yankees to just one hit while fanning six over the next four. A noted curveballer, McCullers finished up with 24 straight breaking pitches to earn his first major league save.

Combined, they throttled the wild-card Yankees one last time in Houston. Aaron JudgeGary Sanchez and their New York teammates totaled just three runs in the four road games.

"I know people are going to talk about how we didn't win many games on the road. There were some other teams that haven't won many games on the road, either. We just happened to run into a very good team that just beat us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

The Astros also eliminated New York in the 2015 postseason, with Keuchel winning the AL wild-card game at Yankee Stadium.

CC Sabathia entered 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts this season after a Yankees loss. But he struggled with command and was gone with one out in the fourth inning.

Houston was up 2-0 in fifth when former Yankees star Brian McCann came through for the second straight game by hitting a two-run double. He snapped an 0-for-20 skid with an RBI double to give Houston its first run on Friday night in a 7-1 win.

The Yankees, trying to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009, lost an elimination game for the first time this season after winning their first four in these playoffs. New York went 1-6 on the road this postseason.

After going 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position through the first three innings, the Astros got on the board with no outs in the fourth with the 405-foot shot by Gattis.

Altuve launched a ball off Tommy Kahnle into the seats in right field with one out in the fifth for his fifth homer this postseason. It took a while for him to see that it was going to get out, and held onto his bat until he was halfway to first base before flipping it and trotting around the bases as chants of "MVP" rained down on him.

Altuve finished 8 for 25 with two homers and four RBIs in the ALCS after hitting .533 with three homers and four RBIs in the ALDS against Boston.

Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles before Kahnle struck out Gattis. McCann's two-strike double, which rolled into the corner of right field, cleared the bases to push the lead to 4-0. Gurriel slid to avoid the tag and remained on his belly in a swimming pose at the plate for a few seconds after he was called safe.

It was just the second Game 7 in franchise history for the Astros, who lost to the Cardinals in the 2004 NLCS exactly 13 years earlier.

Sabathia allowed five hits and one run while walking three in 3 1/3 innings. He wasn't nearly as sharp as he was in a Game 3 win and just 36 of the 65 pitches he threw were strikes.

Morton got into trouble in the fifth, and the Yankees had runners at the corners with one out. Bregman fielded a grounder hit by Todd Frazier and made a perfect throw home to allow McCann to tag Greg Bird and preserve Houston's lead. McCann held onto the ball despite Bird's cleat banging into his forearm. Chase Headley grounded out after that to end the inning.

A night after Springer kept Frazier from extra-bases with a leaping catch, Judge returned the favor on a ball hit by Yuli Gurriel. Judge sprinted, jumped and reached into the stands to grab his long fly ball before crashing into the wall and falling to the ground for the first out of the second inning.

Springer had another nifty catch in this one, jumping in front of Marwin Gonzalez at the wall in left-center to grab a ball hit by Bird for the first out of the seventh.

With McCullers in charge, the Astros soon closed it out.

"It's not easy to get here. And I don't take any of this for granted. And this is what we play for," Verlander said. "These are the experiences that you remember at the end of your career when you look back, winning these games, just playing the World Series. Hopefully winning the World Series."

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