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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Eduardo Rodriguez quest for 20 wins might be only reason left to watch Red Sox

Eduardo Rodriguez quest for 20 wins might be only reason left to watch Red Sox

BOSTON -- The quest for 20 continues.

The Red Sox have nothing left to play for except pride and individual achievements, and they've crossed a few off the list recently with 50 doubles each for Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers, 30 homers for Devers, and 130 runs for Mookie Betts.

The biggest item on the to-do list, however, might be getting left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez to 20 wins, a plateau last reached by a Red Sox starter during Rick Porcello's Cy Young-winning 2016 season, when he went 22-4.

E-Rod improved to 18-6 on Thursday with six innings of one-run ball in a 5-4 win over the Giants, and the run was unearned. The victory didn't come without some palpitations, however, as the visitors loaded the bases with nobody out in the ninth and the Red Sox leading 5-3.

Closer Brandon Workman escaped the mess largely of his own making by walking in one but eventually striking out the side to keep Rodriguez on track for what would be one of the more improbable 20-win seasons in team annals.

"He's had a hell of a season," Workman said. "He's thrown the ball really well. I think he's knocking on the door of 200 innings as well. So if he can be 20 wins, 200 innings, that's benchmarks in two different areas for starters. So that would be incredible."

It hasn't been a fluke, especially not recently. Rodriguez struggled early in the season to command his fastball up in the zone, but once he recognized the damage he could do above the letters at 95 mph, especially when paired with a vicious changeup below the knees, he took off.

He struck out 10 on Thursday and walked only two, lowering his ERA to 3.53, which is good for seventh in the American League. He has two starts remaining to win two games and throw the final 8.2 innings he needs to reach 200 for the first time.

"He's been outstanding," said manager Alex Cora. "What else can we say? It's been going on for a while. Now you see the strikeouts way up there and the walks staying low. He's put in a great season."

Rodriguez is slated to start Tuesday in Texas and then at home against Baltimore in the season finale a week from Sunday. If he wins the first start, he'll be given every opportunity to claim the second, which would come against the team that signed him as an amateur free agent in 2010 before trading him to the Red Sox for reliever Andrew Miller in 2010.

Rodriguez is also virtually guaranteed to surpass the 200-strikeout threshold for the first time, because he sits at 199.

"I mean, I have two more starts and just go out there and try to do the best I can and give us a chance to win those games," Rodriguez said. "Just go out there and perform and try to be good again. At the beginning of the season, I was really thinking, go 200 innings. That was all my goal this year, go 200 innings, 30-plus starts and I made the 30-plus already so now I'm looking for the 200 innings. 200 strikeouts, that's something you can't control. You go out there and execute the pitches and if they swing and miss, they strike out, so if it happens, it happens."

Rodriguez returned to that phrase when it comes to 20 wins, but Cora said the rest of the team is intent on helping him get there.

"Twenty wins is something the guys are pushing for me right now and if it happens, it happens," Rodriguez said. "You know how baseball is. You can have a game of one run or no runs and still get a no-decision. It all depends on how the games are going to go."

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Red Sox continue to clean house after Dave Dombrowski firing

Red Sox continue to clean house after Dave Dombrowski firing

Dave Dombrowski's firing was only the beginning of a mass exodus in the Red Sox organization.

On Thursday, the Red Sox let go of front office executive Frank Wren and scout Eddie Bane, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network. It's no surprise they parted ways with Wren as he's close with Dombrowski.

Heyman notes there likely are more changes to come, specifically in the amateur department.

These moves are the icing on the cake for what's been a tremendously disappointing season for Boston. The defending World Series champions are on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

Along with the front office, there could be a roster shakeup coming for the Red Sox this offseason as well. Mookie Betts' future in Boston is uncertain, and it remains to be seen whether J.D. Martinez will opt in to his contract.

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