Red Sox

Whether he's back or not, Chris Sale was great when the Red Sox needed him

Whether he's back or not, Chris Sale was great when the Red Sox needed him

BOSTON -- No sooner had the media entered the Red Sox clubhouse at the absurdly early time of 9:45 p.m. than Chris Sale strode to his place among the postgame cameras.

He wasn't wasting one second, on the field or off.

Anyone looking for a glimmer of hope that the Red Sox can make a go of it for the final eight weeks of the season spotted that tiniest little sliver of light on Thursday night.

There's no use in declaring Sale "back," because even manager Alex Cora acknowledged we'll need to see it again. "We need to work towards the next one," he said. But for one night, anyway, Sale looked *exactly* like the Sale we've missed for most of the season.

You want short work? He carved up the Angels like the world's most dexterous sushi chef, cruising through eight shutout innings in barely two hours to lead the Red Sox to a 3-0 victory that allowed everyone to exhale.

You want dominance? Try two hits and 13 strikeouts on 99 pitches. He gained strength as the game progressed, striking out Albert Pujols to end the seventh with his hardest pitch of the season, a 98.4 mph elevated fastball that left the future Hall of Famer shaking his head.

You want hope? It's a little soon for that. But look at it this way: there's only one way the Red Sox reach the postseason, let alone make a peep there, and it's if Sale rediscovers his mojo and then sustains it.

"Anytime you get results, it's satisfying, especially when you see what you've been doing that made you unsuccessful and you look at what has made you successful and you kind of trash the one and pick up the other," Sale said. "And just the way it all felt. The visual satisfaction from what I saw, what they were showing me, and then to be able to go out and do it, you just try to build off of that and keep it going."

Sale credited a Wednesday session with assistant pitching coach Brian Bannister, who noted "zones and tunnels" where Sale was absorbing particular damage. On Thursday, he not only had his fastball working up in the zone, he also featured his slider on both sides of the plate and mixed in an effective changeup.

Add it all together, and it equaled his best outing since a three-hit shutout of the Royals on June 3. He followed that game with a tough-luck no-decision against the Rangers (7 IP, 0 ER), but pretty shortly thereafter the wheels fell off again.

Both Sale and the Red Sox are approaching this latest start with appropriate restraint. He looked great, but it won't mean anything if he starts allowing multiple home runs a start again.

"You never want to say you figured it out, but it's a step in the right direction," Sale said. "I hope to be able to keep doing what I'm doing, because obviously we've got an uphill battle, but we still think we've got a shot, and we're all still fighting in here."

The timing is important, because the Red Sox rotation is once again facing a manpower shortage after left-hander David Price was placed on the injured list with a wrist cyst on Thursday. Price's absence makes Sale more important than ever, because he's the only pitcher on the roster capable of carrying the staff.

"He's obviously a big part of our team, a big part of our rotation," Sale said of Price. "He's one of the few guys in our rotation that's been very consistent the whole year. Given where we're at, where we need to go, and what we need to do to get there -- it doesn't really change a whole lot, but we've got to win some games."

When Sale is carving up opponents in two hours and 16 minutes, it makes you wish this could've been here all year.

"Everybody is going to be asking if he can do it again in the next one," Cora said. "This is obvious. There is a lot of question marks for the right reasons, obviously. But at least for today he looked great. The delivery was great. The velocity was up. The shape of the pitches was amazing. I'm proud of him but I'm proud of the group. Everybody contributed to this and they deserve a good night like this."

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In appreciation of Brock Holt, whose job with Red Sox might be gone, but whose legacy is secure

In appreciation of Brock Holt, whose job with Red Sox might be gone, but whose legacy is secure

The transactions came in quick succession as the winter meetings wrapped on Thursday in San Diego. First, the Red Sox selected infielder Jonathan Arauz from the Astros in the Rule 5 draft. A couple of hours later, they inked infielder Jose Peraza to a one-year, $3 million deal.

Both are utility infielders, and their arrivals increase the likelihood that we'll be saying goodbye to Brock Holt this winter. 

From a bottom-line perspective, it's hard to argue. Holt turns 32 in June, has battled injuries the past four years and should make more than $3 million annually on a multi-year deal. The Red Sox need to get younger and cheaper, and that includes the bench.

If this is it, though, Holt deserves more of a sendoff than a line in the transaction wire, because his impact on the field, in the clubhouse, and especially in the community far outstripped his modest 5-foot-10 frame.

From high school (where he barely broke 100 pounds as a freshman) to junior college to Rice University to the major leagues, Holt beat long odds each step of the way. That a throw-in acquired with Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan before the 2013 season could earn Rookie of the Year votes and then make an All-Star team defied reason. That the same player would hit for the cycle not once, but twice -- including in the postseason -- while winning two World Series and becoming a gritty heart-and-soul fan favorite, let's just say guys hit that lottery maybe once in a generation.

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"I know and I've kind of gotten a taste of it coming here that certain players just really seem to bond with the fan base," said new baseball boss Chaim Bloom. "He's certainly been one of those. That's not something that's lost on any of us."

Holt brought a fun-loving energy to a clubhouse that needed it in good times and bad. Boston can be a meat grinder even when things are going well, and supporting players who take the edge off are essential. Kevin Millar mastered that role in 2004, while Jonny Gomes followed suit in 2013. That was Holt's job, too, whether he was serving as Andrew Benintendi's All-Star publicist, re-christening the 10th month on the calendar as Brocktober, or wearing a Cobra Kai-inspired headband around the locker room that others soon copied.

Holt had a knack for cracking up his teammates. After Mitch Moreland's three-run homer delivered the team its first win of 2019 in Seattle, Holt sauntered past Moreland in the clubhouse with an ice cream cone, gave it a lick, and said, "Hey Mitch, my mom says, 'Way to go,'" and then just walked out. (His mom later confirmed this account on Twitter).

He famously asked a shorts-wearing Bill Belichick if he was, "going to put some pants on," before facing the Packers on a cold October night in 2018 when the Red Sox were honored by the Patriots as World Series champions.

The night he completed the first cycle in postseason history with a ninth-inning home run to complete a rout of the Yankees, the megawatt smile on Holt's face as he rounded third and returned to the dugout could've powered the sun.

Holt's joyful persona extended to his toddler son, Griff, a glasses-clad Instagram star who developed a cult following for giggling while raiding a box of Life Cereal in the pantry, or pointing at a billboard of David Ortiz and exclaiming, "Big Papi!" or hitting what he called, "Big bomb!" with an oversized whiffle ball bat.

Holt's many viral moments with his son became all the more poignant when viewed through the lens of his tireless devotion to children's causes. He's a four-time Roberto Clemente Award nominee for community service, and he routinely leads the Red Sox in charitable appearances. He served as Jimmy Fund captain for the past five years, and his Brock Stars ticket program brought a Jimmy Fund patient to every Tuesday home game for batting practice. Director of community relations Sarah Narracci has long referred to Holt as her "go-to guy" who never says no.

"He has a great heart," manager Alex Cora said when Holt was nominated for this year's Clemente award, and if this is indeed the end of Holt's Red Sox career, he'll leave an outsized legacy that "5-10, 180" doesn't begin to capture.

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MLB Rumors: These six teams pursued Martin Perez before Red Sox landed him

MLB Rumors: These six teams pursued Martin Perez before Red Sox landed him

Martin Perez is no Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg. But the veteran left-hander reportedly drew a good amount of interest in free agency before the Boston Red Sox scooped him up.

A "handful" of MLB teams, including the American League East foe Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays, pursued Perez before the Red Sox agreed to terms with him Thursday night, MassLive's Chris Cotillo reported.

Perez's surface-level stats aren't very inspiring: The 28-year-old posted a 5.12 ERA with the Minnesota Twins last season after the worst campaign of his career with the Texas Rangers in 2018 (6.22 ERA, 1.78 WHIP).

But what Perez does provide is durability: He's appeared in at least 32 games in three of the last four seasons, topping 165 innings in each of those campaigns.

Durable left-handers aren't a dime a dozen in MLB, which explains why Perez drew interest from several clubs looking to fill out their rotations entering 2020.

The Venezuela native should be a rotation-filler in Boston, projecting as Boston's fifth starter behind Chris Sale, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi with Rick Porcello leaving to join the New York Mets in free agency.

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