Red Sox

After David Ortiz shooting, thankful we're writing in appreciation of Big Papi, not in memoriam

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USA TODAY Sports

After David Ortiz shooting, thankful we're writing in appreciation of Big Papi, not in memoriam

When terrorists brought Boston to its knees in 2013, there's a reason we asked David Ortiz to lift us back to our feet.

Of all the stars we called our own -- Tom Brady, Paul Pierce, Zdeno Chara -- only Ortiz could fill the role thrust upon him the Saturday after the marathon bombs blasted a hole in our collective identity.

With the region reeling, Ortiz stomped to the mound, pointed at the "Boston" on his jersey, and gave New England a rallying cry: "This is our (bleeping) city!"

A crime committed by outsiders presaged an ugly time in American politics, with fear of non-natives -- first Muslims, and now pretty much anyone south of Texas -- being exploited to demonize and polarize. Leave it to Ortiz, a first-generation immigrant himself, to bridge that divide in a manner that galvanized and united in its profane defiance.

Work brought him here, but Ortiz came to represent everything we love about our athletes and our city -- he wore his emotions as proudly as his diamond studs, he delivered when it mattered, and he gave back more than he took. He wasn't perfect, complaining about his contract, smashing dugout phones, and interrupting press conferences to rail about scoring decisions, but we loved him for his flaws, too. He earned every street, alley, and bridge that bears his name.

The bond we feel with Ortiz pales in comparison to the godlike status he holds in his native Dominican Republic, however. With all due respect to Pedro Martinez, Albert Pujols, Juan Marichal, and Co., no one is revered quite like Ortiz, who's simultaneously self-made and larger than life, both an icon and a man of the people.

The David Ortiz Children's Fund has raised millions of dollars so disadvantaged kids can receive life-saving heart surgeries, helping over 800 children in the Dominican and thousands more in New England.

He's a superstar and a genuinely decent man, which made the events of Sunday night so shocking and senseless.

With the Bruins about to start the third period in St. Louis on the kind of stage where Ortiz shined brightest, news broke via fuzzily translated reports from Santo Domingo that Ortiz had been shot.

We waited breathlessly for good news, first feeling strangely reassured he had only been shot in the leg, and then fearing the worst when we learned the bullet had actually entered his back and exited his stomach. When nightclub surveillance video revealed what looked like an assassin racing into the frame and firing one shot before fleeing, our hearts sank at the image of Ortiz slumping backwards while everyone around him scattered.

Gradually, though, word turned positive. Ortiz had been raced to a hospital and taken into surgery. The chief of police and surgeon declared his condition stable. Then his family announced he was out of danger and would make a complete recovery. The Red Sox offered a medical flight to take him anywhere in the world.

It appears the worst-case scenario -- unthinkable in a place where he is revered, and yet sadly familiar when one of every three residents lives in poverty -- has been averted, but it's still heartbreaking to consider how close this story came to ending tragically.

Ortiz seemed acutely aware of this cosmic cruelty himself. "Please don't let me die," he reportedly implored the surgeon. "I am a good man."

The pain in that statement sounds more emotional than physical, and anyone who has crossed paths with Ortiz over the years understands why. Even when he was one of Boston's biggest stars, making All-Star teams, ending curses, and winning three titles, he treated the littlest people with respect, from clubbies to reporters to the cleaners who vacuum the carpets.

Gregarious, generous, gracious -- all describe Big Papi. Good luck finding someone with something bad to say about him.

"When you respect people and show people love, I think you're never going to forget about that," Ortiz told the New York Times in 2016 as his career wound to a close. "I feel like I have been that way with everybody, and that's better than just thinking about the guy that used to hit home runs.

"Because I see a lot of players, they get to be extremely good when they play, but their personality doesn't come along, and when they're done, you never see anyone talk about them."

Ortiz will never have to worry about that. In a town on the verge of another title, few athletes remain as beloved as Big Papi. He delivered countless highlights over 14 seasons, and he also delivered when Boston needed him most, at the end of its darkest week.

That's something we'll never forget, because all I know is this: The world is a better bleeping place with David Ortiz in it.

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Darwinzon Hernandez: 'I’m ready' to be a starter

Darwinzon Hernandez: 'I’m ready' to be a starter

The Boston Red Sox have serious concerns with their pitching staff. With Chris Sale out for the long haul after undergoing Tommy John surgery, the Red Sox are down to just a few known commodities among their starting rotation.

Eduardo Rodriguez will be the team's ace. Nathan Eovaldi and Martin Perez will follow him in the rotation. But the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation are a bit harder to predict.

Before Sale's surgery and before the MLB shut down operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seemed like Ryan Weber was the leading candidate to earn a job on the back-end of the rotation. If he's the fourth starter, that will leave the Sox with just one hole to fill in the fifth starter slot.

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And one possibility for that role would be Darwinzon Hernandez. The lefthander pitched in 29 games for the Red Sox last season logging a 4.45 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings pitched. Hernandez only made one start for the Sox, but he considers himself to be a starter at the MLB level. 

"Everyone knows I’d love to start. Absolutely," Hernandez said, per Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe. "That is what every pitcher wants and I still feel like I can do it. I enjoyed being a reliever and I’ll do whatever the team asks. The important thing is to be on the team. But, yes, I want to start."

Hernandez was a starter during his time in the minor leagues and has started at least 12 games per season since 2015. The 23-year-old still has a lot of upside and he believes that he's ready to take on a starting job.

"I’m ready. I’ve matured as [a] pitcher,” Hernandez said through a translator. "In the minors, I would just throw but when I got to the majors, they taught me how to pitch and the importance of working hard and locating your pitches, mixing your pitches. I learned how to pitch and not just throw."

Of course, the decision will ultimately come down to Ron Roenicke. And the Sox skipper at least seemed open to Hernandez battling for a starting job before spring training was shut down.

"You have to consider [starting Hernandez]," Roenicke said last month, per Abraham. "He’s still a young pitcher and there’s a lot to work with. I could see us looking at this again and giving him a chance to start."

Hernandez will have some competition for that final spot. The Red Sox did sign Collin McHugh after Sale's setback. The former Houston Astros pitcher could be a starter or bullpen arm, but he'll have to get healthy first. He was battling an elbow injury upon joining the team and it's unclear exactly when he'll return to action.

The team could also choose to use the opener strategy that the Tampa Bay Rays have popularized in recent seasons. Could that involve Hernandez playing that role? Or being the "bulk" guy to take on innings once the opener is done? It's surely possible.

It's tough to know what the Red Sox are going to do with their rotation. They'll likely have to mix and match things if and when the season does begin. But that could be a while away.

For the time being, Roenicke will have more time to think about just how he wants his pitching staff to shake out. And with rosters to be expanded in wake of the pandemic, per Joel Sherman of The New York Post, Roenicke may opt to try a few different solutions before settling on his preferred option.

Judge tosses suit against MLB for sign-stealing scheme, but rips Red Sox and Astros

Judge tosses suit against MLB for sign-stealing scheme, but rips Red Sox and Astros

The lawsuit against Major League Baseball filed by daily fantasy game players, who claimed to be defrauded by the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal, has been dismissed, but not without harsh criticism of the teams by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in his ruling blasted the Red Sox and Astros for "shamelessly" breaking both baseball's rules and "the hearts of all true baseball fans."

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In throwing out the suit brought by five daily fantasy players, Rakoff invoked the New England Patriots "Spygate" scandal from 2007, agreeing with MLB lawyers' contention that rulings in similar suits brought by fans against the NFL after the Patriots were caught illegally taping opponents' defensive signals had set a legal precedent for this suit to be dismissed. 

While the suit charged that the Red Sox and Astros had engaged in consumer fraud that created "corrupt" and "dishonest" fantasy contest for companies such as Draft Kings, Rakoff agreed with previous decisions in the NFL cases that ruled fans should know teams will look for any advantage - even "foul deeds" - to try and win.

From Rakoff's ruling: 

[D]id the initial efforts of those teams, and supposedly of Major League Baseball itself, to conceal these foul deeds from the simple sports bettors who wagered on fantasy baseball create a cognizable legal claim? On the allegations here made, the answer is no.

The Astros' sign-stealing scheme led MLB to fine the team $5 million and the one-year suspensions and subsequent firings of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. The Red Sox then parted ways with manager Alex Cora, who, according to MLB's findings, was the mastermind of the scheme as Houston's bench coach in 2017. 

That team won the World Series, as did the 2018 Red Sox, who are accused of using a similar system to steal signs under Cora.

MLB has yet to release a report on the Red Sox allegations. Commissioner Rob Manfred said it has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic but will be released before MLB begins its 2020 season. In comments last month in court an MLB lawyer seem to imply the Red Sox are aware of Manfred's findings and that they disagree with them.