Red Sox

There's reason to boo, but not at Youk

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There's reason to boo, but not at Youk

On April 27, 2007, Kevin Youkilis hit his first career home run at Yankee Stadium. A two-run shot off Andy Pettitte to give the Red Sox an early 2-0 lead. Boston went on to win the game 11-4, and in the process, delivered the Yankees their seventh consecutive loss.

Youkilis hit another Bronx blast in August of that same season (a meaningless eighth inning job off Kyle Farnsworth), but that was it. He finished with only two careers home runs at the old Yankee Stadium before they tore it down and replaced it with the monstrosity that sits there today (aka The House That Joba Built).

In 2009, the first season in the new park, Youkilis went homerless in New York, but still had a great time in the rivalry. He hit .328 with four homers, 10 RBI and a 1.052 OPS in 17 games against the Yankees that year, with the highlight coming on April 24, when he hit a walk-off 11th inning homer off Damaso Marte.

(If MLB had a heart or a brain, this is where Id link to the official video of Youks walk-off. It would be a lot of fun. Although apparently not as fun as raging against the Internet. Right, Bud? But thankfully, theres still amateur footage and for the purpose of this column, thats probably even better. Even though you can barely see Youkilis in this clip, you can most definitely feel how much he meant to this city; And more, how much the Red Sox meant to this city. This was only three years ago but feels closer to 30.) (UPDATE: Turns out that Youk's walk-off actually is viewable on MLB.com. Still wish that baseball would just let YouTube users run wild with their footage, like the NBA does, but this is certainly better than nothing)

Anyway, his first home run in the new stadium came on May 13, 2010 an eighth inning blast off Chan Ho Park and the very next day, with the Sox down 5-0 in the sixth inning, Youkilis hit a solo shot off CC Sabathia to kick start a comeback win.

(Almost done. I swear.)

He then hit two more in May of 2011. The first, a seventh inning dong off Joba Chamberlain to give the Sox a 5-2 lead. The second, two days later, a three-run shot off Freddy Garcia to kick start another comeback.

But again, that was it.

As of today, Kevin Youkilis has six career home runs at Yankee Stadium.

As of last night? No. 7 has taken on a whole new meaning.

Thats because the next time we all see Kevin Youkilis, he'll be wearing pinstripes. The next time he hits a home run, he'll jog back into the dugout, throw a fist bump at Derek Jeter and break off into an elaboratereally awkward hand shake with Curtis Granderson. The next time Youk slams his helmet after a strikeout, that helmet's liable to ricochet off the dugout steps and shatter Alex Rodriguez's hip.

That's because Kevin Youkilis is a Yankee.

And aside from that part about ARod, the whole situation has left Boston with a confusing, somewhat unsettling and ultimately emotionless feeling.

On one hand, this is supposed to make Red Sox fans mad. When a player who's meant as much to the organization as Youkilis defects to the dark side, it's supposed to be a deal breaker. It's supposed to mean that he's a traitor. We're supposed to hate him, and boo him to excruciating death the next time he dares show his face at Fenway Park.

But with Youkilis, the anger's not there. While I'm sure there will be some boos, there won't be the same kind of drama and animosity surrounding Youk's pinstripe return compared to guys like Boggs, Clemens or Damon.

For one, because of the seven homers I mentioned above, on top of everything else that Youkilis did for this team and city over the course of eight and a half years. Second, because the Red Sox traded him, and did so in exchange for a pile of spoiled garbage. Third, because it's not like Youk had very many options. It was either take a two-year18M deal to join Tito and the rebuilding project in Cleveland, or take a one-year deal with the Yankees for 12M (!?) and the chance for another ring. What would you do?

Another factor is that Youk's just not the player that he used to be. There's no real concern that he'll head to New York and set the American League on fire. Instead, it will be a miracle if his body can even hold up for an entire season.

On that note, for all the discussion that will take place today, there's no guarantee that Youkilis even makes it to Fenway. Thanks to a weird scheduling glitch, the Yankees don't come to Boston this season until after the All-Star Break. July 19! Will you be shocked if Youk's already on the shelf?

But let's just assume that he's not. That on July 19, Kevin Youkilis arrives in Boston as the starting third baseman for the New York Yankees. Do you really expect to hear a lot of boos?

Despite how ridiculous and offensive it looks on paper, and unless Youkilis goes all WWE and spends Spring Training telling the world how much he wants to kick the Red Sox ass, will anyone even care?

I don't think so. And as much as that might be unique to the Youkilis situation, it also ties in to a larger problem that currently haunts the Red Sox organization:

It's getting harder and harder to care.

And for that, I think there's definitely some booing in order when Youkilis takes the field at Fenway. But it shouldn't be aimed at Youk, or ARod or Joba or anyone in a Yankee uniform. Instead, save your boos for the owner's box. For John Henry and Tom Werner (if you can find him). And save something extra special for Larry Lucchino.

They're the reason we're here. They're the reason Kevin Youkilis plays for the Yankees. Why John Lackey still plays for the Red Sox. Why this team has gone from the top of the world to historic underachievers to arguably the worst team (on paper) in the AL East. Why so many fans have grown disenchanted and disconnected with the Boston Red Sox, and why now, more than three years since their last playoff appearance and more than a year removed from absolute rock bottom, the organization still lacks direction and any real hope for a return to the top.

Of course, Youkilis isn't entirely innocent in what's transpired over the last few months. Prior to being traded, there's no doubt that he'd become was of the most unhappy and ornery figures in the Red Sox clubhouse and that, combined with his lack of production and Will Middlebrooks' emergence, he certainly pushed the Red Sox towards setting the wheels in motion on his future with the Yankees. But at the same time, that was a product of the environment that's been perpetuated by the owners.

Youk was never a guy who had aspirations of playing beyond Boston. He loved Boston. He was Boston. Hell, he even married into the First Family. In theory, Youkilis never had to leave. Couldn't you have seen him in this market forever? Maybe taking a job with NESN or somenoe else in the media and eventually hosting his own local radio show somewhere down the line? I could have. He was destined for a mutual eternity in Red Sox Nation.

Then the owner's killed it. They killed Red Sox Nation. Granted, they're also responsible for two World Series trophies, and for that we'll be forever grateful. But in the time since, through marketing antics, a lack of leadership, questionable motives and the general deception that surrounds everything they do, ownership has cheapened the very thing that Red Sox fans used to thrive on. The very reason why we used to care so much about these players, these rivalries and this team. And now, it barely registers.

Kevin Youkilis is on the Yankees? Eh, big deal.

Although it might be on Opening Day Red Sox at Yankees after Youk jacks the seventh home run of his Yankee Stadium career.
Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

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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