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Sunday baseball notes

‘I just had the Boston teams in my blood.’ Meet Astros pitching coach Brent Strom, diehard Celtics fan

Astros pitching coach Brent Strom can thank his father for his Boston sports fandom.David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Brent Strom was born in San Diego and pitched for the University of Southern California, helping win two NCAA championships before embarking on a major league career that took him to New York, Cleveland, and back to San Diego.

As a minor league coach, his journeys took him to Albuquerque, Daytona Beach, Tidewater, Tucson, Visalia, and points in between.

Strom made it back to the majors in 1996 as the Astros’ pitching coach. That lasted one season. Then came a stint with Kansas City (2000-01) before he landed back in Houston in 2014.

Along the way he was the second pitcher to have Tommy John surgery, and married the 1979 Mrs. America, Carrie Gabriel.


He’s also one of the most passionate Celtics fans you could ever meet.

It goes back to his father, Chester, living in Worcester and making a living as a florist before moving to California. Brent adopted the teams his father rooted for, particularly the Celtics and the Boston Patriots.

“I’d be out in the driveway trying to shoot like Tommy Heinsohn or score inside like Bill Russell,” Strom said. “My favorite player was John Havlicek. I learned as much as I could about the Celtics.”

Strom attended a Lakers-Celtics game at the old Garden in 1985 and can still rattle off all the important plays 36 years later.

Magic [Johnson] was unbelievable, but the Celtics won,” he said.

Strom’s favorite Patriot was Gino Cappelletti because he marveled at his ability to excel at both kicker and wide receiver.

Strom is quite sure he was the only kid in San Diego rooting for the Patriots against the Chargers in the 1963 AFL Championship Game. The Chargers won, 52-10, but at least Cappelletti booted a field goal.

Brent Strom might've been the only kid in San Diego rooting for the Patriots over the Chargers in the 1963 AFL Championship Game.Julio Cortez/Associated Press

As Strom gravitated to baseball, he was thrilled to learn Ted Williams was from San Diego.


“I just had the Boston teams in my blood,” he said. “My father was an old-school guy from Sweden, and I followed his lead.”

What drew Strom to the Celtics was their devotion to teamwork.

“I’d look in the newspaper and see they had nobody in the top 10 in scoring,” he said. “But if you kept looking, they had five players in the top 20. That’s how you win.”

That virtue has influenced his approach to coaching. Like his father, Strom is an old-school guy. He brings an old catcher’s mitt out with him to the field every day and wears a hooded sweatshirt with his uniform pants — along with Celtics socks, on occasion.

But Strom also embraces advanced statistics and biomechanical data. It’s what made him attractive to the Astros in 2014 when Jeff Luhnow was rebuilding the organization.

Strom was an advocate of throwing four-seam fastballs high in the strike zone, something considered radical at the time that is commonplace now.

Strom is the only coach who has survived all the tumult and triumph in Houston since. He was in place when Dusty Baker became manager and they have worked well together.

“It’s been great,” Baker said. “We agree on most things. Some things we don’t agree on, which is healthy, I think. Disagreement is healthy. It gives you a different point of view sometimes.

“As a manager, I have the final say, but I’m kind of the president down there with my cabinet. Or I like to look at it as, I’m the head coach in football and my defensive coordinator is my pitching coach.”


Strom,now 73, is getting close to the end of his career. He’d like to travel more, maybe coach young pitchers in Europe, and spend time at home with his wife and their three bulldogs.

He’d also like to catch another Celtics game in person. He likes what he’s hearing about new coach Ime Udoka.

“That’s my team,” Strom said. “I’d like to get back to Boston and see them again. Once our season is over, I’ll be watching as many games as I can.”


Kranitz believed in Pivetta from the start

Nick Pivetta had his struggles in Philadelphia, but Braves pitching coach Rick Kranitz — who worked with the Phillies previously — knew the righthander would come good.Matt Slocum/Associated Press

The Phillies gave up on Nick Pivetta, using him in relief three times in 2020 before banishing him to their minor league camp. He was then traded to the Red Sox, a throw-in to get Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman.

Pivetta is since 11-8 with a 4.36 earned run average over 165 innings. That doesn’t include working 13⅔ innings this postseason and allowing four earned runs on nine hits while striking out 14.

Rick Kranitz saw it coming.

“Like a lot of young pitchers Nick needed to mature and figure out who he was going to be,” said Kranitz, the former pitching coach of the Phillies who now has the same job with the Braves.

“The problem today is everybody wants it to happen right away. But it takes time. There was no doubt he had all the ability in the world. It was more about him believing in what he could do.


“That’s why it was such a pleasure watching him pitch for the Red Sox this season. I was like, ‘Oh my God, there it is.’ It was something I always thought would happen.”

Pivetta has a four-seam fastball, curveball, and slider, with a changeup on occasion. His curveball, which has tight spin, is a strikeout pitch that is rarely hit well when put in play.

“He has three above-average pitches. He has what you need to be a successful starter,” Kranitz said. “Nick went through some adversity and that was good for him. It brought out his best.”

Pivetta plays with emotion, much more so than usual for a pitcher, and learning how to channel that was another hurdle.

“I’ve talked to him. He feels at home in Boston,” Kranitz said. “Being somewhere where they want you is important. I’m not so sure that was the case in Philly at the end. He needed a change of scenery.

“Now all that emotion is being used the right way. I think he’s going to get even better.”

A few other observations about the Red Sox:

▪ The surprise decision by Oakland to let respected manager Bob Melvin jump to the Padres feels like the start of a rebuilding period for the Athletics.

Matt Olson, Sean Manaea, Matt Chapman, Chris Bassitt, and Frankie Montas are all projected to get significant raises via arbitration. With Melvin gone, this offseason represents an opportunity to rebuild a fallow farm system.


Can the Red Sox take advantage of that? Second baseman/left fielder Tony Kemp has the versatility Chaim Bloom prizes. Bringing Montas back to the organization could be a cost-effective way to add to the rotation.

Even if the Sox retain Eduardo Rodriguez, going into the season assuming both Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock will succeed as starters is a big risk.

Christian Vázquez’s $7 million option should be an easy choice for the Red Sox. He led the majors with 1,051⅓ innings this season. Only eight catchers had 900 or more innings.

A big part of value at that position is being able to stay on the field.

That said, Vázquez does need to improve his conditioning and become more of the contact hitter he was from 2019-20 (.278/.327/.472) as opposed to the power-hungry approach that failed him this season, when he posted a .659 OPS.


Gold and Silver are tarnished

How can Joey Gallo be a silver slugger finalist at a position he barely played?Adam Hunger/Associated Press

As any veteran member of the BBWAA will tell you, voting for awards is a tricky business. You can spend hours researching who should be MVP or receive the Cy Young and some fan base is sure to think you’re a mindless hack no matter how much work you do.

For those who believe managers and coaches would be better at it, we present the finalists for the Silver Slugger Award.

At DH, the managers and coaches selected Yordan Alvarez, Nelson Cruz, Joey Gallo, Shohei Ohtani, and Giancarlo Stanton.

Ohtani should be a runaway winner when the announcement is made on Nov. 11. But that isn’t the point. Gallo started only 14 games as a DH this season, four after the All-Star break.

He’s a finalist at a position he didn’t play.

Meanwhile, J.D. Martinez had a higher OPS and more RBIs than Alvarez, Cruz, and Stanton.

Maybe this makes up for Martinez winning the Silver Slugger as a DH and outfielder in 2018. He started only 57 games in the outfield that season.

Louisville Slugger needs to fix its system.

Then there are the forever flawed Gold Gloves. Their system is to create a pool of qualified players as determined by the SABR Defensive Index before the managers and coaches vote.

Somehow Kiké Hernández escaped their attention. No defensive metric is perfect, but Defensive Runs Saved comes close, and it had Hernández second in the American League with 14 in center field despite playing only 716 innings there.

Maybe Hernández was slighted because he’s viewed as a utility player.

The Fielding Bible Awards, which encompasses both leagues, includes a multi-position award. Hernández was their choice. Rawlings should consider adding that category.

The only Red Sox finalist for a Gold Glove was right fielder Hunter Renfroe. He had 0 DRS and committed 12 errors.

Renfroe is a good outfielder, but was too casual on some catches, and all too often tried to show off his arm with needless throws to the plate or third base that allowed the trail runner to move up. Sometimes the right play is to hit the cutoff man.

Meanwhile, Gallo is a finalist in right field even though the Yankees moved him to left field because Aaron Judge was so good in right. Judge would have been a better choice.

Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mookie Betts were all finalists at their positions. Because he hit so poorly, Bradley started only 79 games in center field for Milwaukee, but as usual excelled defensively.

Extra bases

Rob Manfred's verdict on the "tomahawk chop" was weak and evasive.Bob Levey/Getty

Rob Manfred doesn’t need to pick another fight with the state of Georgia after taking the All-Star Game out of Atlanta. But was defending the outdated “tomahawk chop” at Truist Park necessary? “The Native American community in that region is wholly supportive of the Braves’ program, including the chop. For me, that’s kind of the end of the story,” Manfred said. “In that market, taking into account the Native American community, it works.” At this point, most high schools, college, and professional teams have dropped Native American-inspired nicknames and imagery. A predominantly white crowd making a chopping motion and doing a fake chant like something out of a cartoon is corny and offensive, and Manfred knows better than to defend it. Or at least he should … Remember when Mets fans were thrilled Steve Cohen bought the team? Thirteen months later executives from other teams are practically lining up to turn down a chance to become his president of baseball operations and Cohen is getting advice from Chris Christie, as if that will help. The Mets made the mistake of letting everybody know they were after Billy Beane, Theo Epstein, and David Stearns without checking first if the interest was reciprocal. It wasn’t, and now they’re digging into assistant GMs, including Raquel Ferreira of the Sox … Discounting the 2020 World Series, which was played at a neutral site, visiting teams won 10 games in a row before the Astros beat the Braves at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday. Prior to that, the last team to win a Series game at home was the 2018 Dodgers in Game 3 against the Red Sox … Dusty Baker played his first game in Atlanta as a 19-year-old outfielder in 1968. He returned as a 72-year-old World Series manager this weekend. “I was the same person. I was just wild,” Baker said. “How many guys, 19, 20, 21 years old, a little money in your pocket, a pretty car, and single wouldn’t have been kind of wild, you know what I mean? I believe in having fun, but I also believe in working towards my goal because I had to help support my family. So I was never too wild, but I liked to have a good time. I always had Hank Aaron tell me to go to bed and go to church, and my roommate Ralph [Garr], he’d make me go to church. I was focused, but I knew how to, and I believed in having a good time at the same time” … It’s inevitable ownership will advocate for playoff expansion in the new CBA because it’s what their television partners want. That would be a mistake. The current 10-team system strikes a good balance of preserving the integrity of the regular season while creating opportunity. Adding teams also could turn the World Series into a slow-pitch softball tournament as pitching staffs get beaten up in October … Two 16-member Hall of Fame oversight committees will meet this fall. The Golden Days committee covers managers, umpires, executives, and players whose biggest impact came from 1950-69. The Early Baseball Era is for the period before 1950 and encompasses the Negro Leagues. Any choices will be announced on Dec. 5. A leading candidate for the Early Baseball Era group will surely be the late Buck O’Neil, a former Negro League player who became the first Black coach in Major League Baseball and was a tireless advocate in keeping alive the legacy of the Negro Leagues … Atlanta righthander Jesse Chavez got the final out of the sixth inning in Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday, retiring Martín Maldonado on a popup to shortstop to leave two runners stranded. It was an unremarkable moment until you consider Chavez is 38, a 42nd-round draft pick in 2002, and had spent 20 years in pro ball with nine organizations before making his World Series debut. He was the oldest pitcher to make his Series debut since 39-year-old Gerry Staley in 1959 for the White Sox … Happy birthday to Mike Napoli, who is 40. He had a .785 OPS in 356 games for the Red Sox from 2013-15. His seventh-inning home run off Justin Verlander in Game 3 of the 2013 ALCS that gave the Sox a 1-0 victory at Comerica Park was one of the biggest hits of that championship run. Napoli walked the streets of Boston shirtless after the Sox won the Series. Anthony Varvaro is 37. The righthander was in the majors from 2010-15, appearing in nine games for the Red Sox in his final season. He left baseball in 2016 to become a Port Authority police officer in New York … Finally, a very Happy Halloween to Ricky Bones, Candy Maldonado, John “The Count” Montefusco, Mike Myers, Doug Strange, and Brandon Webb.

Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.