When the Red Sox took a quick 1-0 lead against the Tigers Monday night, full-service manager Alex Cora delivered a bag of sunflower seeds to Red Sox Hall of Famers David Ortiz and Manny Ramírez, who were seated next to him in the owner’s box with their grown-up ballplaying children.
Seeing Red Sox royalty in uniform brought back memories of championships past.
Red Sox de facto captain Xander Bogaerts is optimistic about this season despite a 10-19 start.
“I am [happy] about where we are now, just because of the way we started,” says Bogaerts. “I think everyone expected us to be better in the beginning of the year, but from the way that we started to the way that we are now, I think it’s something to be satisfied about.”
For Celtics, Bruins, and US Open fans who are just tuning into this Red Sox season, you’ve missed a lot.
The Sox have won 16 of their 20 games in June, against mostly weak teams, and are in wild-card contention.
Bogaerts and Rafael Devers have flourished despite being banged up, each hit by pitches four times this season.
In late May, Bogaerts got plunked by a 94-mile-per-hour fastball in the same spot that was still sore from colliding with left fielder Alex Verdugo.
“It hurt,” says Bogaerts, though he doesn’t think the pitch was intentional. “I wasn’t happy about it because it just aggravated it a bit in that spot.
“The other day, I hit a home run and the next at-bat, the first pitch, the guy hit me. That was the only one I was a little sketchy about. He was a rookie, so maybe he was just a little nervous I was going to hit another one.”
Devers in particular is seeing a lot of up-and-in pitches.
“I feel like Devers is one of the guys who has really been hit a lot, especially lately,” says Bogaerts.
Los Angeles Angels pitcher Michael Lorenzen blames Major League Baseball for “slippery baseballs.” Other pitchers agree.
“I don’t know,” says Bogaerts. “A lot of pitchers say it’s the balls. I don’t know what it is.”
As spring turned to summer, some things heated up at Fenway Park. Franchy Cordero, previously underperforming, is now scorching the ball. He’s also smiling more, revealing his metal braces.
“Nobody teases me about it,” he says, laughing. “I’m not the only one [in the majors] to have them. My dentist says I have to wear them for a year.”
Maybe braces will become fashionable. US Open winner Matt Fitzpatrick wears them.
Chris Sale’s 32-pitch simulated game at Fenway Park last week was met with the same reverence as Sir Paul McCartney’s recent appearance. Red Sox players, staff, and management gathered in the infield, the dugout, and the stands hoping Sale can get back to where he once belonged.
The ever-smiling Devers watched from the field boxes, tossing a red weighted baseball, the better to make those long throws from the hot corner.
Kiké Hernández stood in at home plate as an unswinging human target in the batter’s box.
“He looked good,” says the center fielder. “Very, very good.”
There also may now be a solution to the closer problem. Tanner Houck has given the Sox, um, a shot in the arm in his ninth-inning appearances. (But he will miss the team’s upcoming trip to Toronto because of Canada’s COVID vaccination policy.)
Second baseman Trevor Story is working hard, despite a subpar batting average and paltry fan support during pregame introductions. He leads the team in RBIs with 48. Story often swings and runs with his tongue out, like Michael Jordan. During batting practice, he is the one player guaranteed to sign autographs.
J.D. Martinez’s videotaping of batting practice is well-documented, but another of his routines is not. Minutes before every game, he trots all the way out to the padded center-field wall for stretching, then he crosses himself and points to the sky before running back to the dugout.
Catcher Christian Vázquez has learned to love the PitchCom technology, with which he relays the signs and locations to pitchers with a small gadget hooked on to his shin guards. He also wears an earpiece that makes him look like a Secret Service agent.
The Fenway Faithful have been energized by center fielder Jarren Duran, who is running the bases like the second coming of a young Jacoby Ellsbury since being called up again from Worcester. It is a comparison he chooses to ignore. Instead, he talks about “just having fun.”
“Do not be afraid” is tattooed in flowery script on Duran’s left wrist and hand.
The unmasked Fenway crowds are especially festive this year. The field is stunning, although the grounds crew is still mourning the loss of Drago, the beloved German Shepherd service dog who helped chief groundskeeper Dave Mellor cope with his PTSD.
On Monday, Christian Arroyo, rejoining the Red Sox from COVID protocol, emerges from the dugout into the sunshine. He slowly surveys the scene and tilts his head back toward the heavens.
“This place is gorgeous,” he says to his teammates.
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.