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Nation STATion: Wakefield, Varitek should call it quits

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Nation STATion: Wakefield, Varitek should call it quits

By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com

Call me a softy, but next Opening Day, I would love to see Tim Wakefield on the mound and Jason Varitek behind the plate.

And once that ceremonial first pitch is over, let the ballgame to begin.

I remember when I was researching my book, Walkoffs, Last Licks and Final Outs, a collection of stories about baseball endings, I asked an American League manager about approaching a player with the notion that it may be time to retire. I would never do that, he told me. This is his career. He needs to decide for himself.

Ive thought about that many times as Ive seen too many players hang on too long. I decided if a manager wont tell a player that the milk carton of his career is past the expiration date, then it's up to those of us who watch these guys play to write about how their careers are turning sour.

With that as a prelude, its time to say goodbye to two veterans who have worn the Red Sox logo through the rooting life of many of Red Sox Nations younger fans: Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek.

If there is anything for which I could consistently find fault with Terry Francona in this tumultuous season, its how long he stayed with Wakefield as he sought his 200th victory. It wasnt that he kept starting him in the nine games it took to reach the milestone victory, as Theo had given him no alternative. Its simply that, in too many games, it seemed that Wake was kept in there just a little longer in the hope that he would qualify for the win.

From July 25 to the end of the season, Wakefield appeared in 11 games, starting 10, threw just 62 innings, and had a 1-5 record (the Sox had a 3-8 record in the 11 games) with a 5.08 ERA. But in reality, it was even worse than that in terms of runs allowed. Wakefields knuckleball puts a lot of strain on his catcher and his team defensively. While Wake allowed 35 earned runs in 62 innings, he allowed a total of 49 runs overall. This means that Wakefields Earned and Unearned Runs Average was a brutal 7.11.

Its acknowledged that the knuckleballer's pitching arm will last longer than other moving parts of the body. Like some of the Sox' other pitchers, Wakefield seemed a little chunkier and less mobile as the season progressed. We remember that he has a history of back trouble, and I always felt that the stiffer his delivery, the less effective the knuckleball. In the second half of the season, Wakefield allowed 84 hits in 73 innings as batters hit .282 against him. He also allowed 14 homers and batters had a large .843 OPS against him. Need a frame of reference? In the first half of the season John Lackey had an .841 OPS against.

This performance isnt new for Tim; he hasnt had an ERA of under 4.09 since 2002, and its just gotten worse. In the last two seasons, he is 11-18 with a 5.22 ERA. Lackey has had a 5.26 ERA over the last two seasons and A.J. Burnett has had a 5.20.

Tim recently spoke with Fox Sports regarding his future in the game. Ive definitely made up my mind that I definitely want to come back next year, he said. I have another goal in front of me that Id like to accomplish, and thats the all-time record for the Red Sox in wins. Im only seven away. I think the fans deserve an opportunity to watch me chase that record. Well see what happens.

Tim, you deserve our respect, but the milk has started to turn.

O CAPTAIN! my captain! our fearful trip is done; The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won;

You folks have heard of Walt Whitman, right? No, he wasnt one of Theos many shortstops; he was a poet. When President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, Whitman, a great admirer of the president, grieved for him and wrote the memorable poem, O Captain! My Captain!, published in November, 1865. Having now added some class to this column, I quote the opening words of the poem because that is the message we must deliver to Red Sox Captain Jason Varitek.

Over the last three seasons, Teks role has been reduced by a combination of injuries and the desire to get the most productivity out of him by resting him. Three years of 216 games has not produced much success. Over that time he has hit .216, with 32 homers and 103 RBI. Think about it, 216 games and a .216 batting average. I know we keep hearing about his role defensively, but the Sox' pitchers are not so effective that the team can afford Teks bat.

Saving his legs by keeping his play to a minimum hasnt proven to be a panacea. When we look at Jasons numbers as the season progressed, we see a very ugly ending. In the last three months of this season, Varitek had averages of .205, .250, and Septembers .077. His 10 RBI in August represented the only month of the season in which he had more than nine. In July and September combined, he had nine RBI.

This season, he was a rally killer. He hit .239 with runners in scoring position and .154 RISP with 2 outs.

Defensively, he has now become a liability. Rtot reflects the runs above or below average a player is worth, with 0 being average. In 2007, Tek was 6. This season, he was -8. On top of that, baserunners ran at will. He caught only 12 of 73 attempted stealers. Over the last three seasons, Tek has thrown out 37-of-215 attempted stealers, a very sad 17.

I also fear that the less Varitek has played, the less influence he has had on the team that, as Captain, he should be leading. Terry would never ask the question, but shouldnt we all be wondering where Jason was when Francona lost control of the tenor of this team? Where was he in September? Where was he when the starters were in the clubhouse during the games?

My Captain, the fearful trip is done. Tek and Wake were both part of 2004 and 2007, when the prize we sought was won. But as he nears 40, Tek is at the age when he needs to make the decision. He needs to spend time with his family and fiance. He needs to acknowledge the expiration date.

I take no pleasure in writing a column like this, but I cant create the stats. I just share them with you. Its time to make room for future Red Sox players. Few will miss D.L. Drew, but so many members of Red Sox Nation will feel sad about Wake and Tek. I just want to see them on Opening Day 2012 throwing and catching that ceremonial first pitch.

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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