Five things we learned on Thursday

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19

Check out the latest standings, playoff odds and upcoming schedules at the world-famous Hunt for October page.

1. The Brewers can't catch a break. What started out as a solid pitching duel between current St. Louis Cardinals right-hander, Shelby Miller, and former Cardinal, Kyle Lohse, turned into a deflating loss for the Milwaukee Brewers in part to a wild eighth inning. The loss, in conjunction with St. Louis' victory, pushed Milwaukee six games behind in the NL Central, and with the Pirates' win (more on that in a bit), the Brewers dropped to 3 1/2 games out of a wild-card spot.

Miller entered the game having given up only three earned runs over his last 27 innings, spanning four starts. The 23-year-old had the hot hand early against the Brewers recording four outs within the first eight pitches he threw. Meanwhile, the young fireballer found himself trailing the veteran Lohse after a pair of errors (one of his own) put the Cardinals in a 2-0 hole.

Lohse carried that shutout into the eighth inning before being lifted for reliever Jonathon Broxton with one on and one out. Broxton promptly induced what looked to be an inning-ending double play. First baseman Mark Reynolds fielded the ground ball quickly, but he appeared to lose track of the outs in the inning. Instead of firing to second to start the twin killing, he nonchalantly strolled to first base for what he may have thought was the final out. In actuality, it was the second out of the inning and Kolten Wong advanced into scoring position. Broxton walked Matt Carpenter before surrendering an RBI-single to Jon Jay. It looked as if Broxton would escape without further damage when Matt Holliday was called out at first following a head-first slide, but the play was reversed after a lengthy replay. In a bit of controversy, Carpenter, who crossed home plate during the play, was ordered back to third. What happened next was finally the fault of Broxton. The burly right-hander walked the equally burly Matt Adams, bringing the tying run across the plate.

The Brewers had a chance to jump ahead in the top of the 11th, but Cards' reliever Carlos Martinez struck out Carlos Gomez with the bases loaded to end threat. After trading zeroes, the Cardinals finally completed the comeback when Tony Cruz singled home Adams for the walk-off win in the bottom of the 13th inning.

2. The A's situation keeps getting worse. Even with their recent free fall, the Oakland Athletics still hold the envious position of "controlling their own destiny." As a current holder of a wild-card spot, they simply need to win as many games as the team(s) chasing them. A three-game series at home against the Texas Rangers -- the worst team in the league -- seemed like just the thing Oakland needed to right the ship. Nope.

The Rangers, led by an interim manager, came to town with a record of 57-92. Naturally, Texas won the first two games of the series. After opening the set with a 6-3 victory, Texas pulled of a wild rally Wednesday. Down 1-0 in the ninth inning, the Rangers scored six in the top half of the inning to clinch the series.

Oakland sent All-Star Sonny Gray to the hill in the finale looking to avoid the sweep. But before the A's took their turn at bat, the Rangers put together five singles against Gray -- including four straight with two outs -- taking advantage of a passed ball en route to a four-run first inning. The A's briefly cut the lead in half before watching Texas run away with the 7-2 win to complete the sweep.

The loss dropped Oakland from their perch atop the wild-card race and into the second slot, a half-game behind the idle Kansas City Royals. With 10 games to go, the A's hold a one-game lead over the Seattle Mariners for the final spot after Seattle's victory over the Angels.

video 3. Pirates provide something unusual in win. The Pittsburgh Pirates opened play Thursday trailing the division leading St. Louis Cardinals by 2 1/2 games. They held the same lead over another division rival, the Milwaukee Brewers, in the race for a National League wild card. The Bucs sent Gerrit Cole to the mound against the Boston Red Sox hoping to advance -- or at least maintain -- their position in the standings.

Cole delivered his third straight win. The former first-round pick tossed seven strong innings, striking out seven and walking none. He is in firm control right now with 21 strikeouts and only one walk over his last three outings (19 innings).

The young right-hander received help from outfielder Starling Marte, who belted his 13th home run of the season and has been one of the league's best hitters in the second half. In fact, he is the only player with an OPS greater than 1.000 in the second half (minimum 150 plate appearances).

Closer Mark Melancon, facing his former team, made things interesting after a hit batter and a single set up first and third with no outs in a 3-2 game. What happened next is a "can't predict baseball" moment. With pinch-runner, Jemile Weeks, 90 feet from tying the game, Will Middlebrooks grounded a ball down the third-base line. The ball hit Weeks in fair territory -- resulting in an automatic out. Melancon struck out the next batter before inducing another ground ball out to seal the deal.

video 4. The Dodgers' offense showed some life. The Los Angeles Dodgers are clinging to a slim lead in the NL West. With the status of Hyun-Jin Ryu uncertain, and his fill-in (Carlos Frias) getting wacked, the Dodgers need strong a performance from the rest of their rotation. Zach Greinke did not have one of those against the Chicago Cubs, but his teammates let him off the hook. Greinke's evening got off to a rough start. Chicago started the game with a single, error, walk, single, and another single resulting in two runs before registering their first out. There would be a three-inning reprieve before the Cubs tacked on two more in the fifth on the strength of four consecutive base hits.

Luckily for Greinke and the Dodgers' faithful, the offense would soon wake up. Using five hits -- including two doubles -- and benefiting from an error, Los Angeles pushed five runs across the plate in the top of the seventh inning to take a 6-4 lead. A quartet of relievers worked the final four innings to cap off the 8-4 win that gives the Dodgers a 2 1/2 lead over the San Francisco Giants.

video 5. The D-Backs are playing their way down toward the top pick. Addison Reed is doing his best to improve the Arizona Diamondbacks' draft standing. The erstwhile closer gave up two runs to the San Francisco Giants in the top of the ninth Wednesday before serving up a two-run, two-out, walk-off home run to Wilin Rosario of the Colorado Rockies in the ninth inning Thursday night. The pair of losses dropped the Diamondbacks into a tie with the Rockies for the worst record in the NL, and they're now just a game behind the Rangers for the top spot in next year's draft.

Tommy Rancel blogs about the Tampa Bay Rays at the SweetSpot network affiliate The Process Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @TRancel.

Sox flagged for interference, swept by Bucs

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
BOSTON -- The magic number remains stalled at four, and the way the Boston Red Sox lost Thursday night, you wonder if a certain former Sox manager has a John Farrell voodoo doll on his athletic director's desk.

There are nine games left in Boston's misbegotten season. They need to win four to finish with a better record than Bobby Valentine's 69-93 2012 team, which featured, in Bobby V's words, "the weakest roster we've ever had in September in the history of baseball."

[+] EnlargeJemile Weeks
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarStruck by a fair ball while sliding back into third base, Jemile Weeks was called out for runner's interference.
Don't expect Farrell to issue a similar pronouncement should the Class of 2014 finish with a worse failing grade than the Class of '12; World Series champions or dregs of the AL East, Farrell has accorded his players the same degree of respect.

But after the Sox fell 3-2 to the Pirates and former Sox reliever Mark Melancon on Thursday night in PNC Park, Farrell may wonder what pitfalls may yet await the Sox before the season mercifully draws to a close a week from Sunday.

The Sox have been miserable with runners in scoring position all season, but they invented a novel way to sabotage a budding rally in the ninth inning Thursday.

The Sox were on the verge of tying the score after Allen Craig led off the ninth by being grazed by a pitch and pinch-runner Jemile Weeks bolted to third on a single by Daniel Nava. The next batter, Will Middlebrooks, chopped a ball down the third-base line that struck Weeks as he tried diving back to the bag. He was called out on runner's interference, Farrell failing to persuade plate umpire Mike Muchlinski that Weeks was not in fair territory when the ball struck him.

Even if Weeks was on the bag and in fair territory, he would have been out. Crew chief Mike Winters said the play was not reviewable.

Melancon, with runners on first and second and one out, then snuffed out Sox hopes by striking out Jackie Bradley Jr. and retiring Christian Vazquez on a ground ball to second.

It was another galling night for Bradley, who went 0-for-4, left six runners on base, and is just 1-for-27 since his recall from Pawtucket on Sept. 5. The rookie center fielder is batting .203, which would be the lowest average ever for a Sox rookie with at least 350 plate appearances, breaking a record that has stood for 107 seasons (Heinie Wagner, .213, 1907).

Bradley is starting to tilt precariously close to the mythical Mendoza line (.200 average). Only six rookies in big league history with 350 or more plate appearances have finished with a batting average under .200. The last was shortstop Dick Schofield, who batted .193 for the Angels in 1984.

If it's any consolation to Bradley, Schofield lasted 14 seasons in the big leagues, mostly because of his glove, which is also Bradley's greatest asset.

There was little comforting Sox rookie Brandon Workman, who walked in an unearned run in the first, gave up three straight hits for a second run in the fourth, and coughed up a home run to Starling Marte in the fifth. Workman is now 1-10.

The Pirates, winners of four straight and seven of eight in trying to lock down a playoff spot, outhomered the Sox in this series, 6-to-0. The Sox were 2-for-23 in the series with runners in scoring position.

Notes: Magic number 4 to beat Bobby V

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
PITTSBURGH -- Quick hits from PNC Park, where the Red Sox will attempt to avoid being swept in a series for the 11th time this season.

• Last season, the Sox were swept just once, a three-game set in Texas Oct. 3-5. That was their fewest multi-game sweeps in a season since 1955, and it was the first time the Sox had played an entire season at home without being swept.

The Sox have been swept at home eight times this season; they have been swept twice on the road: the Rays took three straight in the Trop May 23-25, and the Indians took three straight June 2-4 in Cleveland.

• The Sox are 9-10 in interleague play. A loss Thursday, and the Sox will finish with a losing record against National League teams for the first time since they went 5-13 in 2002. Since then, they have led the majors in interleague winning percentage (139-80, .635).

• The “magic number” remains four: The Sox must win four of their remaining 10 games to finish ahead of the Bobby Sox of 2012, who went 69-93.

Brock Holt, who was examined by concussion specialist Dr. Micky Collins on Thursday, showed improvement, but it’s still uncertain whether he will return to the Sox lineup before the end of the season, manager John Farrell said. If he is unable to do so, Farrell said, the Sox may ask him to play in a couple of games in the Florida Instructional League just to satisfy any lingering concerns that he is fully recovered.

Holt has not played since Sept. 5.

• Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo, who went 1-for-4 in his major league debut Wednesday, was not in the lineup Thursday, Castillo giving way to Jackie Bradley Jr. in center field. Bradley is 1-for-23 since his recall from Pawtucket 13 days ago. Farrell said the club will spread out Castillo’s days of rest over the last 10 games; he will continue to play after the season is over, with the Arizona Fall League appearing to be the most likely destination.

Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, who was in town for pregame ceremonies in which his brother Frank, a Pittsburgh judge threw the ceremonial first pitch with LL catching, was among the first to greet Castillo upon his arrival in the team’s hotel Wednesday.

• Farrell said Steven Wright’s knockabout inning in relief Wednesday will have no effect on whether the club finds a way to give him a start before the end of the season. Farrell said Joe Kelly and Clay Buchholz will each get two more starts, and will fill in around them.

David Ortiz was back in the starting lineup Thursday after sitting out the first two games of the series. Ortiz needs one RBI for his eighth 30-HR, 100-RBI season, the most in club history, one more than Ted Williams.

ESPN Boston reporter Gordon Edes discusses Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo's first game as he faced the Pirates.

Sox lineup: Castillo out tonight

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18

A day after going 1-for-4 in his major league debut, Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo has the night off Thursday against the Pirates. Jackie Bradley Jr. is taking his place in center field.

Here is the rest of the Red Sox lineup:

1. Mookie Betts, 2B
2. Xander Bogaerts, SS
3. David Ortiz, 1B
4. Allen Craig, RF
5. Daniel Nava, LF
6. Will Middlebrooks, 3B
7. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
8. Christian Vazquez, C
9. Brandon Workman, RHP

How far the mighty A's, Red Sox have fallen

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18

I can remember when it used to be a compliment to be called “the best team in baseball.” Ha. Not anymore.

Now, all of a sudden, it’s an indication you’re about to roar off a cliff -- in about the next 20 minutes.

Which brings us to the latest edition of our ever-popular September History Watch. Our subjects: The A’s and Red Sox -- two teams we were referring to, not so long ago, as “the best team in baseball,” but now cause us to ask:

What the heck happened?

Where do their unbelievable falls rank among the most historic in baseball? Take a look.

The collapse of the mighty A's

On Aug. 10, with just 45 games to play, the A’s still led the Angels by four games in the AL West. You can look it up. Boy, those were the days.

But we woke up Thursday morning to video montages of the Angels spraying champagne -- and the A’s trying to figure out how they managed to drop 15.5 games in the standings sooooo fast.

[+] EnlargeOakland Athletics in the dugout
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaThe tumbling A's lost 17 of 29 games last month.

So how rare is it for a first-place team to plummet that far in the standings in the final weeks of the season? I ran that topic past the Elias Sports Bureau. Here’s what it reported:

• Just eight other first-place teams since 1900 have lost 15 games or more in the standings at any point in August. They include three of the most infamous collapsers in history: the 1969 and ’77 Cubs, and the 1914 New York Giants.

• Three of those teams actually dropped by at least 18 games in the standings once they began tumbling: the ’77 Cubs (22.5, in the final 58 games), the 1905 Cleveland Naps (19.5, in the final 65 games) and 1977 Twins (18.0, in the final 42 games).

• But wait. Only three of those teams held an August lead, at any point, that was as large as Oakland’s, or larger -- the 1969 Cubs (9.0 ahead), the 1914 Giants (up 6.5) and a 1977 White Sox team (led by 4.5 on Aug. 1) that crumbled in sync with those ’77 Twins, in the most historic parallel swan dives in history. So we’ve just narrowed the field dramatically.

• And when we look at just those teams’ final 45 games, it turns out there’s really only one team that parallels the fall of these A’s. And anybody who was A) alive in the '60s and B) living in Chicago could tell you all about it. Only those ’69 Cubs went into the final 45 games with a hefty lead (plus-9.0) -- and then dropped 17 games in the standings, finished 8 behind the Mets and broke 4 million hearts.

None of the other teams on this list led by more than half a game with 45 games left in the season. So if the A’s lose a couple of more games in the standings in the next week and a half, uh-ohhhhh. That means they’d actually surpass the collapse of the ’69 Cubs, a team that scarred its fans for life. Hard to do.

But as my buddy Buster Olney has argued, if this Oakland team not only loses its division but misses out on both wild-card slots, that would be the worst collapse in history, by pretty much any standard.

We wouldn’t wish that on anybody. But it’s still scary. And now here’s something that’s just as scary:

The 111-loss team that zoomed by the World Series champs

A mere 11 months ago, the 2013 baseball season ended with the Boston Red Sox partying in Fenway Park -- and the Houston Astros gearing up to make the first pick in the draft.

The Red Sox were (ahem) “the best team in baseball.” The Astros had just lost 111 games -- a loss total matched or exceeded by only 12 other teams in the World Series era (1903-present).

But then “next year” arrived. By which we actually mean “this year.” And a funny thing happened. It was shrewdly detected by my friend Gar Ryness (aka The Batting Stance Guy) in a tweet a few days ago:

And that got me to thinking, which is always a dangerous development:

Has there ever been a team that lost 111 games or more one year and then won more games than the defending World Series champs the next?

Well, here’s your answer: No. Not even close.

If we exempt the 1904 Senators team that lost 113 in a season when there was no World Series, there have been 11 other teams that lost at least 111 times in a season when a World Series was played. Here’s how they fared the next year:

• Eight of them finished more than 20 games behind the defending champs.

• Four of them finished at least 35 games behind the defending champs.

• Two of them -- Pinky May’s 1942 Phillies (61 back of the Yankees) and Choo-Choo Coleman’s 1963 Mets (53 behind the Yankees) -- actually finished more than 50 games behind the defending champs.

• Their average finish was 31 games back of the champs.

• And the closest any of them came to catching, let alone outwinning, the reigning champs was 11 games, the margin that Dmitri Young’s 2004 Tigers finished behind the Marlins.

But now let’s check our handy-dandy ESPN standings page for this season. And what do we find? We find this amazing news:

The Red Sox have won 66 games.

The Astros have won 67 games.

And they each have 10 to play.


I’ve chronicled many wild and crazy developments over the years in the September History Watch. But I’m pretty sure I’ve never been more riveted by any of them more than I am by the thought of how this one will turn out.

A 111-loss team outwinning the team that just finished parading through the confetti? This might be the best race in baseball.

Butterfield: Pedroia 'toughest guy I've seen'

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
PITTSBURGH -- Brian Butterfield admits that he can’t be certain what the future holds for second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who recently underwent wrist surgery, the second consecutive year he has had a major procedure done on his left hand. Last year, it was surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his thumb.

In 2012, Pedroia also had a pin inserted to repair a torn ligament in his right pinky finger.

But Butterfield, the Red Sox third-base coach and infield instructor, says before anyone speculates about Pedroia’s future, they should acknowledge what they have witnessed over the last two seasons. Wednesday, Butterfield did it for them.

[+] EnlargeBrian Butterfield, Dustin Pedroia
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsBrian Butterfield said no one comes close to Dustin Pedroia in terms of relentlessness and mental and physical toughness.
“He’s been playing with one hand for two years, and it’s amazing,” Butterfield said. “I’ve been telling people in my own family, he’s the toughest guy I’ve ever seen in my life.

“If he was able to play with two hands, he’d be dominant. It’s unbelievable what he can do with 160 pounds, and the injuries he’s been playing with in his hands.”

Can the Sox expect a full recovery from Pedroia?

“I'm very optimistic about what he's going to be,” general manager Ben Cherington said here Wednesday afternoon. “If I was going to bet on one player in Major League Baseball, he'd certainly be in the very small group of guys I'd bet on.”

Pedroia’s last full season in which he was healthy was 2011, and it shows. His production has been in steady decline, culminating in a career-low .712 OPS this season. That is not an encouraging track for a player still owed $96.5 million over the next seven years.

But Cherington explained why he is bullish about a Pedroia recovery.

“Because he's been banged up, I don't think we've seen everything he’s capable of doing on the field,” Cherington said. “Despite that, he’s still been a very valuable player, including this year. In aggregate, he’s clearly one of the better second basemen in the game.

“So my bet is, based on the information I have anyway, [these injuries] are not things that are chronic or lasting things; [they are] things he’ll recover from. I think his ability to be productive playing through stuff is pretty remarkable.

“If he can get past the issues he’s been fighting, which we think he will, I don’t have any reason to think he’s not going to be one of the very best second basemen in the game for a long time.”

If past is prologue, Butterfield said, Pedroia will be a Sox mainstay for a long time to come.

“Just about everybody I’ve read about who had the same type of injury [torn thumb ligament] shut it down, had it operated on and missed most of the season,” Butterfield said. “How many games did [Pedroia] play last season? One hundred sixty? He fought through it and never complained once. The most noble athlete I’ve ever come across.

“He’s reached unattainable heights in my eyes. That’s toughness beyond toughness. That’s one of the things I admire about him so much, his relentlessness and physical and mental toughness. No one comes close. Whoever is second, I can’t even see with binoculars.”

And while his injuries affected his performance at the plate, Pedroia still played splendid defense, committing just two errors this season.

“Maybe the best performance at that position this year I’ve ever seen,” Butterfield said. “Some of the [defensive metrics] I pay attention to, some I don’t because I don’t understand them that well.

“But what I do understand is his ability to take away a hit, his ability to rip some skin to take away a hit, his ability to hang in and pivot and make the double play with a guy breathing on him. He’s got tremendous courage.”

Rusney Castillo center of attention

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18

Rusney CastilloJustin K. Aller/Getty ImagesIn his big league debut, Rusney Castillo joined fellow Cuban Yoenis Cespedes in the Red Sox outfield.

PITTSBURGH -- At El Oriental de Cuba, the popular Cuban restaurant on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain, the owner had the night off Wednesday. The TVs were tuned not to Red Sox baseball, but vintage Spanish-language travelogues describing the enticements of the island.

Ah, Juan Seoane says, but come back before lunchtime, when the fanáticos, with creased faces, gather for conversation and café con leche, and you will discover that what took place here Wednesday night in PNC Park in Pittsburgh did not pass unnoticed.

Two sons of the island, Yoenis Cespedes and Rusney Castillo, made history here. This was the first time the Red Sox have ever had two Cubans sharing the same outfield. Cespedes, who played left field, has been here since Aug. 1. Castillo, who played center field, made his major league debut and collected his first big league hit, an infield single in the fourth inning off Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano.

(Read full post)

Rusney Castillo debuts for Red Sox

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18

PITTSBURGH -- Rusney Castillo, the 27-year-old center fielder from Ciego de Avila, Cuba, who last month signed a seven-year, $72.5 million contract with the Boston Red Sox, went 1-for-4 in his major league debut Wednesday night, a 9-1 loss to the Pirates at PNC Park.

Batting seventh in the lineup, Castillo tapped out in front of the plate in the second inning in his first at-bat. Then in the fourth, he beat out a ground ball that struck the heel of second baseman Neil Walker's glove, Walker unable to pick up the ball cleanly fast enough to make a play.

Castillo's first two at-bats came against Pirates veteran left-hander Francisco Liriano. In the seventh, batting against left-hander Justin Wilson, Castillo flied to center. His final at-bat came in the ninth, when he grounded to short on the first pitch he saw from right-hander Jeanmar Gomez.

"I'm pretty satisfied with that being my first game; obviously you would like a better outcome in terms of winning the game, but I was pretty satisfied with my overall approach and the way I stepped in today and had some results," Castillo said through translator Adrian Lorenzo.

Castillo signed the largest contract ever awarded to an international amateur on Aug. 23, then completed a three-week apprenticeship in the Sox minor league system. Before that, he hadn't played a game in 14 months, since he participated in a provincial tournament near his hometown in Cuba. Even so, he said he didn't feel nervous on baseball's biggest stage.

"Not really. Approach it like another game," he said.

He also didn't quibble over his first hit being a squibber.

"You'd always like to hit the ball hard and be a line drive, but a hit's a hit," he said. "Glad I got one."

The speedy Castillo wasn't really tested in center field, although he made a nice running catch on a drive to left-center by Liriano in the fifth.

"That's a play a major league center fielder has to make," he said. "I thought got pretty good bead on it."

Castillo seemed just as comfortable before the game, when he was the center of attention for a team long out of the pennant race.

"I actually feel in a pretty good place, baseball-wise," Castillo said. "Yes, yes, I've been pretty happy with the way things have worked out, not just with the success on the field but the relationships I've been able to develop with the coaching staff and clubhouse staff and teammates."

Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington was on hand for Castillo's debut. Asked what the team can discover about Castillo over the last 11 games of the regular season, Cherington said, "I don't think it's the results that you learn from. It's just watching him around the team, pregame, interacting with people, questions he asks, all that stuff has been positive so far.

"Even if you just start with the time he was in Miami, and the showcase and go from there, the signing, the minors, being in Fort Myers, Portland, Pawtucket, he's met a lot of people and played games in a lot of different places, and he's handled it all well."

Castillo wasn't the only Red Sox rookie to take home a souvenir ball from his first big league hit. Bryce Brentz, promoted with Castillo after Tuesday night's Triple-A championship game, pinch hit for Sox starter Clay Buchholz

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Pirates 9, Red Sox 1

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17

PITTSBURGH -- The man from Ciego de Avila, Cuba left PNC Park Wednesday night with a souvenir from his major-league debut, the baseball he struck for his first hit, an infield single in the fourth inning.

The man from Crossville, Tennessee left PNC Park Wednesday night with a similar souvenir, the result of the pinch double he ripped into the left-field corner for his first hit, one inning later.

[+] EnlargeCastillo
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsRusney Castillo's first major league hit came on an infield hit in the fourth inning.
But beyond those mementos for Rusney Castillo and Bryce Brentz, there were no takeaways worth mentioning for the Boston Red Sox, 9-1 losers to the Pittsburgh Pirates before a crowd of 34,785.

Castillo, the 27-year-old center fielder who last month signed a seven-year, $72.5 million contract with the Sox, went 1-for-4. He tapped out in front of the plate in the second inning, then beat out a ground ball that struck the heel of second baseman Neil Walker’s glove, Walker unable to pick up the ball cleanly fast enough to make a play.

Castillo’s first two at-bats came against Pirates veteran left-hander Francisco Liriano. In the seventh, batting against left-hander Justin Wilson, Castillo flied to center. His final at-bat came in the ninth, when he grounded to short on the first pitch he saw from right-hander Jeanmar Gomez.

Brentz, promoted with Castillo after Tuesday night’s Triple-A championship game, pinch hit for Sox starter Clay Buchholz in the fifth inning and reached second with a headfirst slide. He advanced to third on a fly ball by Mookie Betts and scored on Xander Bogaerts’s grounder to short.

Buchholz gave up six runs (five earned) in just four innings, yielding home runs to rookie Gregory Polanco and Walker. He gave up four straight hits in the second after an error by first baseman Mike Napoli.

Castillo's focus: 'Take things as they come'

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
PITTSBURGH -- Rusney Castillo, the 5-foot-9, 205-pound outfielder whose professional career in Cuba ended 14 months ago in a provincial tournament near his hometown of Ciego de Avila, pronounced himself ready to embark on his major league career with the Red Sox Wednesday night.

“I actually feel in a pretty good place, baseball-wise,’’ the 27-year-old Castillo said a couple of hours before taking the field against the Pittsburgh Pirates, playing center field and batting seventh for the Sox.

[+] EnlargeRusney Castillo
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicRusney Castillo said he is pleased with the relationships he's already developed with his coaches and teammates while in the Sox system.
“Yes, yes, I’ve been pretty happy with the way things have worked out, not just with the success on the field but the relationships I’ve been able to develop with the coaching staff and clubhouse staff and teammates.’’

Castillo, who signed a seven-year, $72.5 million deal on Aug. 23, the largest contract ever awarded to an international amateur, completed a three-week apprenticeship in the Sox minor-league system by hitting a home run for Pawtucket Tuesday night in the Triple-A championship game in Charlotte, N.C., his first home run in pro ball in the States.

“I’ve been counseled very well just to stay within my own game and don’t feel pressure, just focus on what I know how to do and take things as they come, not get too overexcited or feel too much pressure,’’ Castillo said through translator Adrian Lorenzo.

His debut was witnessed by Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, who returned to his hometown of Pittsburgh to catch the ceremonial first pitch thrown by his brother Frank, a longtime judge in the Pittsburgh court system, and Sox general manager Ben Cherington.

“I don’t think it’s the results that you learn from,’’ Cherington said when asked what the club can discover about Castillo over the last 11 games of the regular season. “It’s just watching him around the team, pregame, interacting with people, questions he asks, all that stuff has been positive so far.

“Even if you just start with the time he was in Miami, and the showcase and go from there, the signing, the minors, being in Fort Myers, Portland, Pawtucket, he’s met a lot of people and played games in a lot of different places, and he’s handled it all well.’’

Manager John Farrell said he met with Castillo Wednesday afternoon at the ballpark.

“I had a chance to sit down and talk with him, with the help of some interpretation,’’ Farrell said. “And just walking through our expectations, particularly when it comes to the running game. We know he’s an aggressive player, and just wanted to set the expectations of what we hope to get out of the remaining games available to us.’’

Castillo will bat seventh in debut

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
PITTSBURGH -- Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell said that Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo will play center field and bat seventh on Wednesday night in his major league debut.

Castillo, who signed the biggest contract ever for a Cuban player, will debut at PNC Park when the Red Sox take on the Pittsburgh Pirates. Farrell confirmed his lineup spot in his weekly interview on Boston sports radio station WEEI on Wednesday afternoon.

Dallas Braden breaks down the expectations for outfielder Rusney Castillo.

Baird among D-backs GM candidates

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17

PITTSBURGH -- Allard Baird, the Red Sox vice president of player personnel who played a leading role in the signing of Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo, interviewed Tuesday with Diamondbacks executive Tony La Russa for the vacant Arizona general manager's position, according to a published report.

Baird is the second of GM Ben Cherington's top lieutenants to interview for a general manager vacancy this summer. Earlier this year, Red Sox vice president and assistant general manager Mike Hazen interviewed for the San Diego Padres' GM job. The Padres hired former Rangers executive A.J. Preller.

La Russa also met Tuesday with former major league pitcher Dave Stewart, while Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine has taken his name out of the running for the Arizona job, the report said.

Stewart has emerged as the favorite for the job given his history pitching for La Russa in Oakland during the A's dynamic run in the 1980's, as well as his multifaceted experience as a player agent, pitching coach and assistant general manager, the report said.

Baird, 52, was hired by former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein as a special assignment scout in July 2006, two months after he was fired as GM of the Kansas City Royals, a position he held for six years (2000-2006).

Baird was promoted to assistant GM by the Red Sox that November, ran the team's pro scouting operations and also served as a special assignment scout. He has remained a key voice in the Sox front office and played a prominent role in the acquisition of Tampa Bay outfielder Carl Crawford, a signing that Cherington said he also championed while serving under Epstein.

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