He’s allowed himself to dream about a Boston-Pittsburgh World Series.
North Conway, N.H., native Jeff Locke, an All-Star lefthander for the Pirates, would love to pitch against the Red Sox in baseball’s most spectacular setting.
“I’ve allowed myself to think about it since I was traded over here,” said Locke, who was traded from Atlanta to Pittsburgh June 3, 2009, along with Gorkys Hernandez and Charlie Morton for Nate McLouth. “I was a Red Sox fan. I loved to watch Pedro Martinez. I know he throws righthanded, but his demeanor was that he attacked guys, went right after them throwing down and away, and then he’d throw one at your chin. Nobody was going to push him around. People tell me he was a great guy off the field, always looking to help somebody.”
Locke is the embodiment of the Pirates, a young pitcher who has come out of the blue, become an All-Star, and now is a key figure in their future fortunes. The Pirates own the American team sports record with 20 consecutive losing seasons.
With the Pirates atop the National League Central, that streak will likely not continue in 2013. It would take a catastrophic collapse for the Pirates not to finish above .500. The only legitimate concern is can they hold on to first place being in the same division as the Cardinals?
Locke, a finesse lefty, entered Saturday 8-2 with a 2.15 ERA on a staff that also includes A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and James McDonald. Locke was unable to make his last start before the All-Star break because of lower-back stiffness, and attended but was held out of the All-Star Game.
“Timing and luck just like everybody else,” said Locke when asked how he’s become an All-Star pitcher. “Getting to the big leagues is one thing. I was up in 2011 and 2012 and struggled, struggled, struggled. Just never there long enough to figure things out. I knew if I had an opportunity to break with the team in April, get comfortable, learn the ways of how things were done, I knew I could help somehow.”
How did he do it?
“I added a turn in the top of my delivery to add a little bit more deceptiveness, hide the ball a little bit better,” he said. “That’s a work in progress because any time you adjust something mechanically it’s hard to repeat it perfectly every time, but I just want to be as consistent as I can in my delivery. It’s allowed me to throw a two-seamer that works.”
Locke had languished in Triple A for two seasons, and the only reason he made the team out of camp was because of an injury to McDonald.
“I came into the season as the No. 5 guy knowing how much talent we had on the disabled list and knowing if the guy comes back and you’re not holding your spot, you’re probably going to have to go and work my way back up,” Locke said. “I knew it was going to happen that I would stick at some point, but I needed the opportunity to show what I was capable of, and I got that chance by making the team.
“The season has been unbelievable. The attention I’ve received doesn’t do a whole lot for me. I just like to play baseball and go about my business the best I can. But every one of our guys was so deserving of it. We had five All-Stars and we have a few other guys who could have made it, too. It goes to show how much talent and strength we have. We have a club unlike the clubs we’ve had in a long time.”
Locke, who attended Kennett High School in Conway, suffered the same fate as many New Englanders who play baseball, it’s tough to get noticed. The Tom Glavines and Chris Carpenters are few and far between.
“Some people say that you’re a little bit more raw,” said Locke. “They tell you you’re worse than those kids in California and Florida because you don’t do it as often. On the positive side, I guess it’s a chance to be more fresh or unused a little bit. I take every opportunity I possibly can to make the most of it because it’s hard enough being from that area. You get one notice from a scout and you think you’ve made it, but it doesn’t happen like that. It’s an honor to be from there and doing what I’m doing and being in this position.”
Being from outside of Boston, Locke understands the passion of fans.
“It’s certainly nice to feel that buzz in the city, and the recognition we get, it’s nothing we don’t deserve,” he said. “Some of our guys play with a chip on their shoulder because now that we’re doing well, everybody loves us. Everybody’s wearing Pirates hats. This city has a lot of passion for its sports teams. I know when the Bruins were playing the Penguins it would take me 45 minutes to go about four-10ths of a mile because of the traffic in the city. I know how passionate people are about their team. People are coming out and they believe in us.”
Apropos of nothing
1. Players Association executive director Michael Weiner, whose brain cancer has left him in a wheelchair, remains a passionate spokesman for the players. His words to the Baseball Writers Association of America last week were inspiring: “I get up in the morning and I feel I’m going to live each day as it comes. I don’t take any day for granted. I don’t take the next morning for granted. I look for beauty, meaning, and joy. If I find beauty, meaning, and joy, that’s a good day.”
2. So much promise for former Red Sox farmhand Lars Anderson, but he never could get it together. He was released by White Sox last week.
3. Got to give the Rangers some love for hanging in there before the break. Thirty-eight of their last 67 games are within the division. So far, they are 25-13 against the AL West, including 7-2 against Houston, and have 10 more games against the Astros. It was a losing record vs. the West after the break last season (14-17) that caused the Rangers to fade. They have also endured injuries to Ian Kinsler (who is back) and Lance Berkman, and four pitchers in their rotation have spent time on the disabled list.
4. Get the feeling July 31 — the non-waiver trading deadline — is going to be a crazy day. A lot of teams still feel they’re in it, but a few teams, such as the Phillies, Mariners, and Giants for sure, are going to have to make quick decisions because teams want their players.
5. Great to see Keith Olbermann back in sports hosting a show for ESPN.
6. Yes, it will be odd seeing no players honored in Cooperstown next week, but there’s plenty to come from 2014-16. In 2014, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Luis Gonzalez, Jeff Kent, Mike Mussina, and Frank Thomas will be eligible. In 2015, Nomar Garciaparra, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Gary Sheffield, and John Smoltz become eligible. And in 2016, Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman become eligible. Not to mention, holdovers such as Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, and Roger Clemens. And just to add, we sometimes forget how incredible Garciaparra was with the Red Sox. He won back-to-back batting titles in 1999 and 2000, hitting .357 and .372.
Garza among many trade chips for Epstein
When Matt Garza is pitching well, there’s no doubt how valuable he is, but injuries and inconsistency have hampered him, which is why the Red Sox dipped into the Garza waters with the Cubs, but not all the way. At least not yet.
The Cubs and Rangers are still trying to work a deal. The Dodgers, Blue Jays, and Indians are also in it, but the Rangers and Cubs have been good trade partners lately.
Last year, the Rangers came calling for Ryan Dempster, and Cubs president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer landed righthander Kyle Hendricks and third baseman Christian Villanueva, who were both Double A All-Stars this season.
The Red Sox started to pay a bit more attention to Garza when Clay Buchholz’s return remained uncertain. Getting Buchholz back healthy would be like making a major deal, but Buchholz said, “They have to do what they have to do. This is a business.”
The Red Sox aren’t quite willing to give up three prospects for Garza, and their thinking was to wait for Buchholz. They could always wait for the Phillies to trade Cliff Lee, but that appears unlikely.
Epstein has waited a long time to trade Garza, trying to get him healthy for almost a year. Garza has pitched well lately, and Epstein knows this is the time to strike, well ahead of the trade deadline.
The next most likely Cubs to be dealt are outfielder Nate Schierholtz, a lefthanded hitter having a good season, and closer Kevin Gregg. Alfonso Soriano is doing his best to make himself attractive, although the Cubs owe him about $24 million in the deal that ends after next season.
Some or all of the aforementioned players could be dealt before the deadline. Gregg could fill a middle relief role for a contender, while Soriano is a consistent righthanded bat who would be best suited as a DH (perhaps for Texas, if it doesn’t want to deal with Manny Ramirez). The Cubs would have to eat most of Soriano’s money.
Updates on 9
1. Joe Saunders, LHP, Mariners — Should become a commodity after Matt Garza is traded. The Mariners aren’t looking to deal Saunders but will certainly listen to offers. Don’t be surprised if the Orioles look to reacquire him after he pitched so well for them late last season. He made seven starts for the Orioles, and was 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA.
2. Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Brewers — Scheduled to come off the DL Monday, but it may be a while before Ramirez plays. Once he does, he could still be traded after July 31 in a waiver deal. Ramirez will become an attractive chip, maybe interesting the Red Sox or Yankees. Ramirez hasn’t had the best of years, but if healthy he could be a force. Ramirez’s career is similar to that of Adrian Beltre. Ramirez has hit 347 homers to Beltre’s 367, has 1,253 RBIs to Beltre’s 1,270, and has an .845 OPS to Beltre’s .810.
3. Michael Young, 3B, Phillies — We’ve written in this space for weeks how much the Red Sox like Young, from an offensive and chemistry standpoint. Issues: 1. they’re not enamored with his defense and 2. the Phillies think they’re still in it and likely won’t make him available until they feel they’re out of it. Young could definitely be part of an August waiver deal if the Phillies fall out of it. Red Sox vice president Allard Baird watched Young and the White Sox’ Alex Rios last weekend in Philadelphia.
4. Tim Lincecum, RHP, Giants — Lincecum is in the final season of a two-year, $40 million deal ($22 million this season). The Giants have to decide whether to part ways, go to arbitration, or re-sign him, and there’s no way they are going to offer him near what he makes now, even though he pitched a no-hitter against the Padres. So, a trade is a real possibility if the Giants feel they’re going the other way. Lincecum would draw some interest from a few teams, as a starter or reliever. The Tigers, Orioles, Cardinals, Blue Jays, and Dodgers would likely be interested.
5. Oliver Perez, LHP, Mariners — The Braves seem to be a team that could really use Perez, given their need for a lefty reliever with Eric O’Flaherty sidelined. Perez’s funky delivery and enthusiasm have put him in demand.
6. Manny Ramirez, DH/LF, Rangers — Ramirez is proving he can still hit. Over his first nine games with Triple A Round Rock, he hit .294 with three homers and six RBIs. The Rangers haven’t been in a hurry to recall him, wanting to see a healthy sample size. But according to a source familiar with Ramirez, the 41-year-old has likely set a timetable for how long he wants to spend in Triple A. The Rangers could use his righthanded bat, though some teams wouldn’t have touched Ramirez at any price.
7. Jake Peavy, RHP, White Sox — Peavy was scheduled to return to the rotation Saturday night against the Braves, and you can bet there were a lot of scouts watching. A healthy Peavy is on a lot of teams’ lists of desirables. The Red Sox, Diamondbacks, Orioles, Yankees, Rockies, Indians, and Cardinals are among the teams who would have interest in the veteran. He would also have starts on July 25 and 30, so there’s three starts’ worth of scouting that could be done.
8. Jason Kubel, OF, Diamondbacks — The D-Backs are open to dealing Kubel if they can get a pitcher in return. Kubel, who hit 30 homers last season, had only five entering Saturday.
9. Addison Reed, RHP, White Sox — Reed is available, though the price will be much steeper than it was for Matt Thornton, or will be for Jesse Crain once he’s ready to pitch after being on the DL. Reed could draw interest from a number of teams needing a closer or late-inning reliever. There’s been a lot of speculation about the Tigers being a player for him, but would GM Rick Hahn deal him to a division rival? All indications are he would if the return was decent.
From the Bill Chuck files: “Ryan Dempster has a .524 BAA on first pitches, the worst in baseball.” Also, “The Orioles are the best first-inning-hitting team in baseball with a .321 BA, followed by Boston at .319.” . . . Happy birthday Dave Henderson (55) and Gary Waslewski (72).Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.