Saturday, October 22, 2011

What you didn't know about Ben Cherington

How does a kid from the tiny village of Meriden, N.H., grow up to become GM of the Red Sox? Hard work, vision and good genes. Ben Cherington, who will be promoted by the Red Sox on Tuesday, found inspiration from many relatives as a kid. I met with Ben's mom, Gretchen, this week and learned the following about Mr. Cherington:

His maternal grandfather Richard Eberhart taught at Dartmouth and won a 1966 Pulitzer for poetry ... Paternal grandfather Paul Cherington taught at Harvard Business School and worked in the Nixon administration as assistant secretary of transportation. Ben's middle name is Paul ... His mother's cousin, Susan Butcher, was a four-time Iditarod champion and the second woman to win the great Alaskan sled dog race.

“Ben followed her and was very close to her. She was inspiring to him,” Cherington's mother, Gretchen, said in my Sunday story. “He grew up around people on top of their field, in different fields. It's a small town, maybe 700 residents back then, but he knew there were things one could do in life.”

Ben pitched in the 1991 Class I baseball championship and was a National Merit Scholarship finalist at Lebanon (N.H.) High. As of Tuesday, there will be five New Hampshire natives working as major-league GMs: Cherington, Jed Hoyer (Cubs), Neal Huntington (Pirates), Bill Smith (Twins) and Brian Sabean (Giants).

Friday, October 21, 2011

Breaking: Red Sox, Cubs, move forward on Theo deal

It's now official that Theo Epstein has resigned from the Red Sox, taking the position as president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs. Compensation has yet to be hammered out, but both clubs have agreed to a process in which that will be resolved "in the near term," according to a Red Sox statement. The Red Sox will name Ben Cherington general manager during a press conference on Tuesday at Fenway Park.

Later, during a lunch at Harry Caray's Steakhouse, Theo and Ben can hammer out player compensation for the Red Sox.

Step to the plate, Albert

Albert Pujols made a crucial error in Game 2, but he made more news by dodging the media after the game. Earth to Albert: It's the World Series. Don't hide in the kitchen after a tough loss, forcing the media to grab sound bites from others.

You're a so-called leader. You've been paid $105 million by the Cardinals. Stand at your locker and answer some questions because that's part of your job. Tony La Russa tried to cover for Pujols today in Arlington, but, really, it all sounded quite lame.

"It's get-away day, we leaving earlier because we had an early workout. They wanted to pack for their families. If anybody had said, we need to talk to Albert, he would have stayed," La Russa said. "I heard the criticism, and it offends me because I know our attitude as an organization is 180 degrees different from the way it's being portrayed. Nobody asked for those guys, and they got out of there."

Pujols didn't own up during workout day in Arlington.

"You want me to wait 40 minutes for you guys? I was in the (kitchen)  getting something to eat," he said. "What about the night before when I spoke for an hour and a half? That's not fair ... Nobody approached me for 40 minutes, and I was on my way home."

Pujols went on to say his responsibility is to God and his family. That's weak, Albert. 

Elvis has left the stadium

Can a defensive play shift the World Series? Texas Rangers SS Elvis Andrus and 2B Ian Kinsler made some incredible plays in Game 2, but the range and glovework by Andrus in the fifth inning was some of the best you'll ever see. 
To recap: Andrus saved a run by diving into the hole deep behind second base, snaring Rafael Furcal's grounder, then flipping to Kinsler.

"The situation and being that it was a World Series game and just a run-saving play, I mean, the play was ridiculous. It was probably one of the best I've seen. Glove flip was right on the money. It doesn't get any better than that," Kinsler said. 

Added Josh Hamilton, "When we get home tonight, I'm going to watch it again."

World Series Game 2: Strategy and Mistakes

CAN'T BELIEVE I'm saying this, but Tim McCarver actually made some great points in the ninth inning as Texas rallied to beat the Cardinals, 2-1, and knot the series. 

With St. Louis leading 1-0 in the ninth, the Cards were burned by their "no doubles" defense when Ian Kinsler's high blooper dropped in the outfield. Kinsler reached because the Rangers outfielders were playing across the Mississippi, and he ended up scoring the tying run. 

Moments later, a failed relay catch by Albert Pujols allowed Elvis Andrus to advance to second after singling. That was huge! Andrus would score the game winner on Michael Young's sac fly. 

"Scrabble" Update: Ex-Fisher Cat Marc Rzepczynski has now retired four Rangers, all righty bats, in the Fall Classic ... Tony La Russa removed Jason Motte a little early, ya think? For all the talk about TLR and his Hall of Fame-managing, Ron Washington got heeeem in Game 2.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Roberto Clemente Award

WAS PULLING for Ricky Romero, but congrats to division foe David Ortiz for winning the Roberto Clemente Award today. Big Papi will receive his award before Game 2 of the World Series at Busch Stadium.

About the Roberto Clemente Award, presented by Chevrolet: It recognizes players who best represent the game of baseball through positive contributions on and off the field, including sportsmanship and community involvement. The award pays tribute to Clemente's achievements and character by recognizing current players who truly understand the value of helping others.

Ortiz has long been committed to helping children in need of medical care through hospital visits, fundraisers and personal donations.

World Series postgame: Chris Carpenter

I've been covering Chris Carpenter during my 17-year career and never seen him mesmerize a press corps like he's doing this postseason. More insightful answers after Game 1, on catcher Yadier Molina:

"I read a book called 'The Blind Side,' and they talk about the left tackle covering the quarterback's blind side, and if it wasn't for the left tackle, he wouldn't have the time to get that pass off to make the quarterback a star or that wide receiver a star, because he's not doing his job. That's what Yadi is -- secretly behind the scenes. He just makes it that much easier.

"He makes me be able to go out there and do the things that I do with zero concern, knowing that he is just on the same page and doing the same things that I'm doing, studying hitters, studying our game plan, knowing that he prepares, knowing all the information that he keeps inside, paying attention to what each at-bat is all about. He's phenomenal."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chris Carpenter surpasses Bob Gibson

CARPE DIEM! New Hampshire native Chris Carpenter picked up another postseason win by defeating the Rangers, 3-2, in World Series Game 1. That's now eight postseason wins, tying with Mariano Rivera for the most among active pitchers. 

The win also moves Carpenter ahead of St. Louis Cardinals great Bob Gibson for most all-time in club history. (I know what you're thinking: Gibson didn't have the NLDS or NLCS. He made nine postseason starts.)

Regardless, Carpenter (13 starts) has shut down the Phillies, Brewers and Rangers in a clinic on the mound. Game 1 was a chilly 40-something degrees, and the ace adjusted by commanding two-seam fastballs with Maddux-like movement. Other pitchers struggled with their off-speed stuff because the cold baseball felt slick. 

"Carp" didn't throw a deuce until his 31st pitch. And how about the Trinity High graduate diving into first base to make the out. Gamer.

CHRIS CARPENTER dives into first base and gets the out
 after catching a throw by Albert Pujols.  Reuters Photo

"That ball in the first, I think we need to work on that one next spring," Carpenter said in postgame. "It was just an instinct. He threw that ball, it was a little out of my reach and I dove. I was like 'I'm going to go get it, and it turned out to work out."

BIRD FEED: Rangy Albert Pujols was tremendous at first base, making an impact with his glove instead of his bat ... Mad scientist Tony La Russa did it again, successfully pinch-hitting for Carpenter and having Allen Craig drive in the go-ahead run.

Lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski became the first ex-Fisher Cat to play in the World Series. "Zep" struck out a pair of righties to end the 7th.

Chris Carpenter focused on Game 1

I had a really nice talk with Chris Carpenter's dad, Bob, and his high school coach, Eddie Poisson, while working on this feature story. It's amazing how much focus young Carp showed at an early age:

“Let me tell you a story,” said Bob Carpenter, who coach Chris through Little League and into Babe Ruth. “He got invited to a Brockton (Mass.) invitational as a senior and pitched against juniors and seniors in college. There were people and scouts everywhere. After the game, I said, ‘Can you believe how many people were watching you?

“He said, ‘I never saw them. All I saw was the glove. I didn't even know who was hitting.' That's when it donned on me, when I realized how he goes about pitching.”

You know how the Brewers have tried agitating Carp? They failed. Zack Greinke said “a lot of guys on our team don't like Carpenter.” Last month, Nyjer Morgan tossed a wad of chewing tobacco in Carpenter's direction, inciting a bench-clearing incident.

“(The Brewers) tried to chirp and chirp and get to him, but he's too focused to get the out. None of that other stuff matters,” the father said.

In 2003, an assortment of elbow and shoulder injuries nearly ended Carpenter's career. Released by the Blue Jays, he signed a minor-league contract with the Cardinals and spent the entire season on a comeback mission.

“It goes back to his determination and drive,” Poisson said, in the New Hampshire Union Leader. “After the Blue Jays let him go, he sat down with his wife and cried and said, ‘What's the next step?' Next thing you know, the Cardinals gave him one more shot.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Arizona Fall League Notebook

BRYCE HARPER went 0-for-13 with four punchouts to start the Arizona Fall League, but the Scottsdale Scorpion finally broke out tonight. Harper doubled off A's prospect Tyson Ross, then homered on a 2-1 pitch against A's farmhand Anthony Capra, a lefty, for a two-run shot to left field. Going "Oppo-Taco" off a southpaw is an impressive feat, even at the homer-happy Phoenix diamond.

Chicago Cubs prospect Josh Vitters, a potential target for the Red Sox as compensation for Theo Epstein, has been raking (.405, 2 HR, 10 RBI) in the AFL. 

Blue Jays prospect Travis d'Arnaud, who suffered torn ligaments in left thumb, underwent surgery in Phoenix on Monday and should make a full recovery before spring training. d'Arnaud was playing for Team USA in Panama when he sustained the injury behind the plate, receiving a pitch. I spoke with one Blue Jays executive today who was optimistic about d'Arnaud's return. 

Thank you, Curt Schilling

Normally, I ignore comments made by Curt Schilling because he tends to be a blowhard and wasn't all that genuine while I covered the Boston Red Sox in 2004, but he gave a great reaction to Jon Lester's comments about drinking beer in the clubhouse.

Schilling pointed to a lack of leadership couldn't believe Lester talked about needing "more structure" in comments made to the Boston Globe.

"That kind of boggles my mind that [Lester] said that, because at the end of the day, these are grown men," Schilling told listeners on WEEI in Boston. "Do you need a manager to tell you? They all knew, and you always know, when you’re doing something questionable or wrong.

Lester added himself to the list of Red Sox employees throwing Terry Francona under a Greyhound. At one point, he said, "People knew how Tito was and we pushed the envelope with it. We never had rules; we never had that iron-fist mentality.’’

But thank you, Mr. Schilling, for calling out Lester after the lame confession.

"They chose not to correct it, and because they chose not to correct it, I think some of them were absolutely not in good enough shape to pitch through September and help them win games," Schilling said. "That’s embarrassing, and that’s sad. That basically says, at the age of 28, 29, 30, I need an adult more mature than me to give me rules and guidelines."

Monday, October 17, 2011

Three triples for Hech ...

... And surgery for Travis d'Arnaud. 
Two significant stories today for the Blue Jays: Adeiny Hechavarria went 4-for-4 in the Arizona Fall League and had three triples. Now that makes a pretty headline, but the fact remains Hech is batting .214 at the bottom of the order. Still no plate discipline and no leadoff skills. Don't get too ga-ga over Hech's offense.

In the meantime, d'Arnaud returned to Arizona for surgery to repair torn ligaments in his left thumb. The injury occurred at Panama while d'Arnaud, the 2011 Eastern League MVP, was playing for Team USA, according to the Toronto Sun's Bob Elliott ... I will have more reaction on the injury tomorrow after talking with the Blue Jays.

Red Sox targeting Trey McNutt

There's no way the Chicago Cubs should give up Trey McNutt as compensation for Theo Eptein, who leaves behind a quagmire of terrible signings: Carl Crawford, John Lackey, Bobby Jenks and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

McNutt, Chicago's top pitching prospect, revved up his fastball to 95-96-mph this year and has been rusty yet effective in two AFL starts (one earned run). Cubs need starting pitching and might be better served dangling OF Brett Jackson in talks with the Red Sox. Reports out of Chicago have the Cubs targeting McNutt.

Milwaukee says goodbye to Prince

Great moment as Milwaukee fans gave a standing ovation to Prince Fielder in his final at-bat with the Brewers before moving on to free agency. The Brewers simply can't compete with baseball's large-market teams that will shell out perhaps $200 million on Fielder's next contract.

Asked about taking off Milwaukee jersey for perhaps the last time, Fielder showed real emotion:

"I had to clear the throat once, but it was all right. I love these guys. I've been playing with most of them since I was 18. So this organization has been great to me. Yeah, man, it's just been good. It's been real," said Fielder, who added more reflection on his time in Milwaukee: "It's been cool. I've kind of grown up a little bit. My kids have gotten older. That's about it, really. Just gotten older. Every year has been a learning experience. I don't know, it's been cool, man. Hopefully I'm here for more years to come. But if not, it's been cool."

It's not. Scott Boras will make sure of that.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

World Series: Rangers vs. Rally Squirrels

A FEW THOUGHTS while watching the Cardinals advance to the Fall Classic:
  • Ron Darling is just as good in the broadcast booth as he was in Shallow Hal. Seriously, that was on Sunday night.
  • Texas is the only team in MLB that hasn't played at Busch Stadium? Didn't know that.
  • To quote Mr. Darling, it's an "embarrassment of riches" to have Mike Napoli (.320, 30 homers, 75 RBI) batting sixth for Texas. And still surprises me to see Nelson Cruz batting seventh. The ALCS MVP had six home runs and 13 RBI, both records for a postseason series. 
  • That's now 121 career postseason games for manager Tony La Russa. Chris Carpenter, asked about the skipper, said, "Tony is the most prepared person I've ever been around. He lives and dies by numbers, by matchups, by lineups."
  • Carpenter goes for a franchise-record 8th postseason win in Game 1 of the World Series at St. Louis. Likely C.J. Wilson for the Rangers. As Tom Verducci reminded us, the Cards have home-field advantage thanks to Prince Fielder's homer off Wilson in the All-Star Game. That's awesome.
  • The Rangers won the ALCS without a starting pitcher earning a victory.
  • Front Row Amy gave it her best shot.
  • That Shaun Marcum for Brett Lawrie trade is looking better and better for the Blue Jays.
  • Good luck to Game 6 winning pitcher Marc Rzepczynski, the first New Hampshire Fisher Cat to reach the World Series. Now if I only I'd grabbed one of those squirrel T-shirts at Busch.

Catching up with "Zep" in the NLCS: That's the face of Prince Fielder's worst nightmare.

Big Ben to the rescue

WHAT A MESS. Red Sox owner John Henry came out swinging yesterday, taking the airwaves at 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston and speaking to the media outside the Brighton studios. 

The usually quiet and private owner, in response to getting "hit below the belt," said the media has created a frenzy over the Red Sox' collapse. That tends to happen when a team with Boston's payroll and tradition suffers the worst September collapse in baseball history. 

Now it's up to New Hampshire native Ben Cherington to rescue a scrambling front office. Cherington, hired as a scout by Dan Duquette in 1999, is the only choice to succeed Epstein.

“He's been in the organization for a long time. He knows the people, and he's learned a number of different jobs to learn the business from the ground floor up,” said Red Sox GM Dan Duquette, who hired Cherington in 1999.

Duquette spoke with me at length yesterday, talking about Cherington's rise to the top and what qualities distinguish him from other top baseball execs. 

“Ben really has a passion for baseball and works well with other people and because he has a steady, even-keel personality, I think he's a big asset in this market. Most importantly, what probably distinguishes himself is he knows talent," Duquette said. 
“He has a real good instinct for players. I also think one of his best qualities is that he's a good listener. Executives that can listen are rare.”

Cherington, climbing the ladder to farm director and assistant GM, helped build Boston's farm system that produced all-stars Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon and Dustin Pedroia.