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108 Stitches Newsletter with Alex Speier

Saturday, August 19, 2017
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There’s something familiar about the notion that the Red Sox and Yankees once again are playing games that matter. There’s very little that’s familiar about the form that those games have taken thus far.

For decades, the height of the rivalry has featured reciprocal bludgeoning, the club of a caveman seemingly a more appropriate symbol than a simple bat. In many respects, the Red Sox’ 11-10 victory over the Yankees on July 24, 2004 – which included the famed introduction of Jason Varitek’s mitt to Alex Rodriguez’s face – serves as the embodiment of 21st century contests between the teams.

This year has been different – very, very different. The season series to this point has been defined by dominant pitching on both sides, a fascinating departure not just from the two teams’ shared history but also from the prevailing offensive environment in baseball.

I outline the stats behind this trend here.

Ian Browne of writes that the Yankees feel a sense of opportunity and urgency given their position four games behind the Red Sox.

Drew Pomeranz will try to continue the Red Sox’ suppression of Yankee offense on Friday. The lefthander tells Peter Abraham that he feels like he’s never been better as a starting pitcher.

To the links!

ABOUT LAST NIGHT: The Red Sox had the night off, while the Yankees beat the Mets to move within four games of the Red Sox in the AL East.

NAME CHANGE FOR YAWKEY WAY? Red Sox principal owner (and Globe owner) John Henry wants to seek a name change for Yawkey Way in order to further distance the franchise from the racist legacy of its former owner. Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald broke the story.

The Yawkey Foundations suggested that they were “disheartened” by the idea of being made a party to a political controversy, writes Mark Arsenault.

DEEDS OF DEVERS: Peter Abraham writes that Rafael Devers saw a glimpse of hope as a 16-year-old in 2013 while watching the Red Sox in the World Series, where the presence of a 20-year-old Xander Bogaerts on the game’s greatest stage offered a sense of possibility. Now also 20, Devers is bringing those early-career visions to fruition.

TWO PATHS DIVERGENT: On the morning of Dec. 1, 2015, Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak believed that he was going to sign lefthander David Price to the largest contract in his team’s history. Hours later, Price signed his record-breaking deal with the Red Sox. I talked to Price and Mozeliak about how close the lefthander came to signing with St. Louis.

YANKEES, RED SOX FEATURE BIG (AND LITTLE) STARS: Tim Britton of the Providence Journal has a great look at the stereotype-defying rosters of the Red Sox and Yankees, in which players both big (Aaron Judge) and small (Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts) have assumed central roles in spite of frames that run counter to scouting prototypes.

Within his preview of the Red Sox/Yankees series, Scott Lauber of notes that the Sox appeared ahead of the curve in their plan of attack against Judge.

Judge has now struck out in 34 straight games – the longest streak by a non-pitcher in big league history. Still, those occasions when he makes contact remain awe-inspiring, writes Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. (Within the story, Wily Mo Pena is displaced as the King of Batting Practice.)

IMPOSSIBLE DREAM TEAM REMEMBERED: In 1967, Tony Conigliaro became the second-youngest player in baseball history to reach 100 homers, doing so at 22 years and 197 days. Yet weeks after reaching a milestone that seemed like one of many along a Hall of Fame path, the iconic 22-year-old suffered one of the ugliest injuries in baseball history when he was drilled in the eye by a Jack Hamilton pitch. Eric Moskowitz, in the third installation of his excellent series on the Red Sox’ “Impossible Dream” season of 1967, revisits that horrific incident and the team’s resolve in its wake.

PEDRO PITCHES IN FOR A CAUSE: Pedro Martinez took part in the Old Time Baseball Game in Cambridge on Thursday in support of NESN cameraman John Martin, who was diagnosed last year with ALS. Ian Browne of looks at Martinez’s return to the mound.

THE BUGS BUNNY CHANGEUP: From time to time, Red Sox lefthander Fernando Abad conjures images of one of the most famous changeups in baseball history. Matt Kelly of puts Abad’s slo-mo super changeup – an untouchable weapon thus far this year – under the microscope.

THROW THE BRAKES ON STANTON: Within his beat writer’s notebook, Peter Abraham questions whether Giancarlo Stanton should be a target for the Red Sox this winter.

MINOR DETAILS: The Red Sox have received just five starts from homegrown pitchers this year (all by Brian Johnson), and barring injuries to their entire staff, they’re all but certain to have their fewest homegrown starts since 2005. The development is in no small part because Dave Dombrowski has continued a longstanding pattern of using up-and-coming minor league pitchers to trade for young but established big league starters. My minor league notebook examines how the dearth of upper-levels homegrown starting pitchers in the Red Sox organization has gone from a failure of a blueprint to part of that blueprint.

Jeremy Barfield has been fantastic since joining Double A Portland from an indy league team, but the 29-year-old acknowledged to Olivia Healy of that at 29 years old, the standards by which his performance is judged are different than they would be for an up-and-coming prospect.

In Triple A Pawtucket, Blake Swihart went 0-for-5 with a walk and strikeout. In his first four games back with the PawSox since early July, he’s 1-for-15 with three walks and four strikeouts.

In one of the best outings of his professional career, lefthander Trey Ball threw seven scoreless innings, matching career highs in innings and strikeouts (9). He walked one and allowed four hits. Ball sporadically has flashed the ability to excel, but has yet to demonstrate a consistent ability to do so in Double A. He has yet to produce a run of as many as three straight starts this year in which he’s allowed fewer than four runs.

That said, he is striking out a career-high 7.8 batters per nine innings while his 4.1 walks per nine are down more than 20 percent from a year ago in High A Salem (5.2 walks per nine). There are signs of progress with the 2013 first-rounder, but they’ve been of a sufficiently incremental sort that it remains unlikely that the Red Sox will add him to their 40-man roster this winter for the purposes of protecting him from the Rule 5 draft.

In Single A Greenville, lefthander Jay Groome had his second straight seven-strikeout game and his fifth straight outing in which he punched out at least six. However, he also gave up four runs on seven hits (including a homer) in four innings. In 10 starts with Greenville, Groome has a 6.53 ERA but an eye-catching 12.0 strikeouts per nine innings.

Alex Speier can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @alexspeier.

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