Red Sox

Papelbon not thinking about free agency

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Papelbon not thinking about free agency

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Since the time he was first eligible for salary arbitration, Jonathan Papelbon has seemingly been hurtling toward free agency, eager to test the market and determined to set a new salary standard for closers.

But now that free agency is just nine months away, Papelbon is almost disinterested at the prospect. Instead, he said Sunday, he's intent on focusing on the 2011 season, regardless of whether it's his last as a member of the Red Sox.

"It's not something that I'm going to really think about,'' Papelbon said. "The biggest thing I'm focused on right now is getting ready for the season and putting myself in a position to help this ballclub.

"For me really, I'm not really concerned about that right now. I know that all the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place after this year is done. Yeah, there's a possibility that I could stay. Yeah, there's a possibility that I could leave. But at the same time, I'm thinking about the possibility of winning a championship. I think that kind of throws everything out the door.

"I honestly am not going to think about free agency. I saw the acquisitions that Theo Epstein made. We're in a position where it's put-up, or shut-up. He's given us all the tools to go out and succeed. If I'm worried about free agency, or David Ortiz is worried about getting another deal or someone else is worrying about this, that or the other, we won't be the team we're supposed to be.

"Is it human nature to think about those things? Of course, it's human nature. But to think about them, and to sit there and dwell on them are two different things. Are you going think about them? Of course. Yeah, we're human. But to sit there and dwell on it and think, 'Is this going to happen? Is that going to happen?' I don't think that will be the case.''

From the outside anyway, Papelbon's offseason was an eventful one. There was the Red Sox' quiet but real interest in his mentor, Mariano Rivera. There was the signing of free agent Bobby Jenks, who might serve as his replacement in 2012, if not sooner. And there were trade discussions involving him with at least two teams.

But while the speculation and rumors were swirling, Papelbon did his best to ignore it all.

"For me, I just tried to really worry about what I needed to do to get ready for the season,'' shrugged Papelbon. "I think that's all I really could do. I don't think there was much else I could do but put myself in a position to go out and be the best I can be and be in the best shape I could be.

"It was pretty exciting. There was a lot going on. But for me, I kind of tucked away in Mississippi and tried to get ready for the season . . . The whole situation this offseason is part of the game. This is what happened, this is what goes on. You can't let feelings get in the way. I just try to stay focused on getting myself prepared to pitch and being the best I can be and come back this year and have a better season than I did last year and get back to proving to everyone what kind of closer that I am.''

Papelbon's 2010 didn't qualify as disastrous. He still managed to make 38 saves. But he led the American League in blown saves with eight and compiled an ERA of 3.90, the highest of his career.

It was enough to create speculation that Papelbon's best days as a ninth-inning force of nature were behind him, and in turn, led to the Sox seeking alternatives.

"I think every season, you definitely reflect on the kind of season you had,'' said Papelbon. "For me, obviously it was a down season. But I think you tend to take things from each season and try to learn from them. For me, I definitely took some things with me that I'm going to try to do the same, and some things that I'm going to try to do different this season.''

He kept the videotape study to a minimum over the winter, in part because he traced most of his difficulties in 2010 to some midseason mechanical flaws which were eventually corrected.

"I kind of lost my delivery toward the middle part of the season,'' he said. "But I'd say the last three weeks of the season, I got it right back. My feel at the end of the season was right there, so I stuck with that and tried to carry that into the offseason. So I really didn't look at much tape and try to change things.''

Perhaps even more encouraging is the fact that, already, Papelbon feels in sync with his body on the mound.

"From my first bullpen,'' he said, "the delivery is right where I was at the end of the season. I was throwing the ball really well at the end of the season, so I'm going to stick with that. For me, it's really rare to be set mechanically so early in the spring. If I can stay locked in this early, it will put me in a situation to stay healthy and pitch deep into the season.''

Meanwhile, Papelbon anchors a bullpen which has added veterans Dan Wheeler and Bobby Jenks to the existing pen which features Daniel Bard. The addition of Jenks will be a significant one, Papelbon believes.

"I think he's going to have a huge role on our team this year,'' Papelbon said, "and he's going to be a huge instrument for our success. I think he's going to have a big role on not our team's success, but my success. When you add a guy like Bobby and what he can bring to this team, I think it kind of speaks for itself.''

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

NLCS: Dodgers win first pennant since 1988 with 11-1 Game 5 rout of Cubs

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NLCS: Dodgers win first pennant since 1988 with 11-1 Game 5 rout of Cubs

CHICAGO -- Enrique Hernandez put a Hollywood ending on an LA story three decades in the making.

Fueled by a home run trilogy from their emotional utilityman, Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers are finally going to the World Series.

Hernandez homered three times and drove in a record seven runs, Kershaw breezed through six crisp innings and Los Angeles ended the Chicago Cubs' title defense with an 11-1 rout in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series on Thursday night.

"It feels good to hear World Series," Kershaw said. "It's been a long time coming for this team."

After years of playoff heartache, there was just no stopping these Dodgers after they led the majors with 104 wins during the regular season. With Kershaw firing away at the top of a deep pitching staff and co-NLCS MVPs Justin Turner and Chris Taylor leading a tough lineup, one of baseball's most storied franchises captured its first pennant since Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda managed Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and Co. to Los Angeles' last championship in 1988.

"Every night it is a different guy," Turner said, "and this is one of the most unbelievable teams I've ever been a part of."

Kershaw will be on the mound again when the Dodgers host the New York Yankees or Houston Astros in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night. The Yankees have a 3-2 lead heading into Game 6 of the ALCS at Houston on Friday night, so one more New York win would set up another chapter in an old October rivalry between the Yankees and Dodgers.

Los Angeles made the playoffs eight times in the previous 13 seasons and came up short of its 22nd pennant each time, often with Kershaw shouldering much of the blame. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner took the loss when his team was eliminated by the Cubs in Game 6 of last year's NLCS at Wrigley Field.

The ace left-hander was just OK during his first two starts in this year's postseason, but Los Angeles' offense picked him up each time. Backed by Hernandez's powerful show in Chicago, Kershaw turned in an efficient three-hit performance with five strikeouts and improved to 6-7 in the playoffs - matching Burt Hooton's club record for postseason wins.

"To get to be on the mound tonight and get to be going to the World Series on the same night, it's a special thing," Kershaw said. "Who knows how many times I'm going to get to go to the World Series? I know more than anybody how hard it is to get there. So, I'm definitely not taking this one for granted."

When Kenley Jansen retired Willson Contreras on a liner to shortstop for the final out, the party was on . The Dodgers poured out of the dugout and mobbed their dominant closer near the mound, and a small but vocal group of Los Angeles fans gathered behind the visitors' dugout and chanted "Let's go Dodgers! Let's go Dodgers!"

On the field, manager Dave Roberts hugged Lasorda and told the iconic skipper the win was for him.

"I bleed Dodger blue just like you," Roberts said. "Thank you, Tommy."

Hernandez connected on the first two pitches he saw, belting a solo drive in the second for his first career playoff homer and then a grand slam in the third against Hector Rondon. Hernandez added a two-run shot in the ninth against Mike Montgomery.

The 26-year-old Hernandez became the fourth player with a three-homer game in a league championship series, joining Bob Robertson (1971 NLCS), George Brett (1978 ALCS) and Adam Kennedy (2002 ALCS). Hernandez's seven RBIs tied a postseason record shared by four other players who all did it in a Division Series.

Troy O'Leary was the previous player to have seven RBIs in a playoff game, for Boston at Cleveland in the 1999 ALDS.

It was a stunning display for a player with 28 career homers who remains concerned about his native Puerto Rico, which is recovering from a devastating hurricane. He delivered a historic performance in front of his father, Enrique Hernandez Sr., who was diagnosed with a blood cancer related to leukemia in December 2015, but got word last November that he was in remission.

"For me to be able to come here and do something like this is pretty special," said Hernandez, who also goes by Kik�. "My body's here, but my mind's kind of back home. It's hard being away from home with what's going on.

"All I want to do right now is go to my dad and give him a big hug."

Kris Bryant homered for Chicago, but the NL Central champions finished with just four hits in another tough night at the plate. Each of their eight runs in the NLCS came via the long ball, and they batted just .156 for the series with 53 strikeouts.

Long playoff runs in each of the last two years and a grueling five-game Division Series against Washington seemed to sap Chicago of some energy, and its pitching faltered against sweet-swinging Los Angeles. Jose Quintana was pulled in the third inning of the final game, and the Cubs never recovered.

"They executed their plan," Bryant said. "They pitched great and the bullpen was lights out. That makes for a tough time scoring runs."

Turner and Taylor helped put it away for Los Angeles, contributing to a 16-hit outburst while closing out a pair of impressive performances.

Turner singled home Taylor in the Dodgers' five-run third, giving him seven RBIs in the series and 24 throughout his postseason career. Taylor finished with two hits and scored two runs as the Dodgers, who have won five straight NL West titles, improved to 7-1 in this postseason.

Taylor's versatility helped Los Angeles cover for the loss of All-Star shortstop Corey Seager, who missed the series with a back injury, but is expected to return in the next round. Coming off a breakout season, the 27-year-old Taylor hit .316 with two homers and scored five times against the Cubs.

"I couldn't be happier to be a part of this and be with these guys," Taylor said. "It's been an unbelievable year, and I'm just super excited."

OUT WITH A BANG

Hernandez joined Kennedy (2002), Adrian Beltre (2011), Reggie Jackson (1977 vs. the Dodgers) and Babe Ruth (1928) as players to hit three home runs in a postseason series clincher.

LIGHTS OUT

Dodgers relievers have thrown 23 consecutive scoreless innings, a postseason record.

Are Red Sox playing a waiting game before naming their new manager?

Are Red Sox playing a waiting game before naming their new manager?

BOSTON — As soon as the American League Championship Series ends, the Red Sox could make a move for their manager.

Industry sources continue to expect Astros bench coach Alex Cora will be the Sox’ pick. No offer had been officially made as of midday Wednesday, one source close to the situation said. But the belief is such an offer waits out of respect to the Astros-Yankees ALCS that can end no later than Saturday if the series goes a full seven games. 

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“Not a doubt it is him,” the source said.

Sunday and Monday would both be off days ahead of the Tuesday night start of the World Series. That leads to the potential for at least a Red Sox announcement of Cora, if not a press conference, before the Fall Classic begins. (If the Astros advance to the World Series, it may be harder to have Cora in Boston for any length of time.)

All those who know Cora praise his ability to connect with players. The former Red Sox infielder is good friends with Dustin Pedroia. Cora’s previous knowledge of the Boston market works in his favor, as well, as does his mettle handling the media. Some question his readiness as a first-time manager, considering he would be taking over a team with great win-now expectations and complicated clubhouse dynamics.

Nothing takes the place of experience and there is such a thing as being too close to players. Ultimately, if the Sox do land Cora, 41, they would be adding the hottest up-and-coming managerial prospect who’s available on the market. The everybody-wants-him reputation could give Cora added cachet with players and certainly becomes a public-relations win for those fans following the search.

The Sox interviewed Ron Gardenhire on Wednesday. Gardenhire was the third candidate the Sox talked to and could well be the last. Cora met with the Sox on Sunday, followed by Brad Ausmus on Monday.