Rapid reaction: Blue Jays 8, Red Sox 0

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
TORONTO -- Yes, they’re still in the playoff race, after all.

The Toronto Blue Jays, that is.

The Red Sox? Well, this trip was supposed to be a referendum on whether they could improbably play their way back into contention. After their third straight loss to the Blue Jays, this one by an 8-0 count, that answer is starting to come into focus.

The Sox had fanned the comeback talk with five straight wins, the last a 14-1 rout of the Jays here Monday night. Since that game, the Sox have been outscored by the Jays 21-8, cementing their place in the division basement.

The Jays, meanwhile, had been in free fall, going 15-25 since June 6, when they were 14 games over .500 and in command of the AL East. But after losing 9 of 11 games, the Jays have now won five of their last six, including three straight for the first time since a six-game winning streak at the start of June.

Thursday afternoon, they routed Rubby De La Rosa, who gave up nine hits and seven runs (six earned) and left with the bases loaded and no outs in the fifth.

Scoring runs had been an issue for the Jays, who are missing middle-of-the-order hitters Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie and Adam Lind. It ceased to be one against the Sox, as Juan Francisco singled, tripled and homered, driving in four runs and scoring two, keying Toronto’s 14-hit attack.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, managed just one hit, a bloop single by Shane Victorino, as another highly regarded Jays rookie, right-hander Marcus Stroman, took a no-hitter into the seventh. Stroman pitched seven scoreless innings for the third time in his last four starts.

The Sox had a season-high 18 hits Monday night. The one-hit Thursday was a season low.

Ortiz hurt: With two out in the ninth and a 2-and-0 count at the plate, David Ortiz evidently injured himself on a checked swing and was removed from the game. He was replaced by Jonny Gomes, who flied out to end it.

Pedroia sits: Dustin Pedroia, who had appeared in 98 of the team’s first 100 games, sat out for what manager John Farrell called a scheduled day off. Replacing him at second was rookie Brock Holt, who became the first Sox player to start games at seven different positions in a season.

A fan's case for Jon Lester

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
TORONTO -- He didn’t want his name to be used, because he likes to send ideas to the Red Sox and didn’t want to risk being cut off. But a man who describes himself as a passionate fan of the club shared a recent e-mail he sent to the Sox front office, making a case for re-signing Jon Lester. He shared it with ESPN Boston; because it’s so well-stated, we’re sharing it with you.

Some input on Lester (and I know that none of it will be particularly novel, but you've often encouraged me to keep the inputs coming):

I know it's not my money and that Lester has to be viewed in the larger context -- creating an overall salary structure, the kids on the way up, the risk that he declines over time, etc.

But... even with all that, here's one vote in favor of going well above and beyond the comfort zone, if necessary.


1. He's a legit ace and there are so few of them in baseball.

2. He's a postseason warrior and we know that guys like that -- who raise their games in October -- are rare. He's done it enough for us to safely conclude that it's real in his case, like it was with Schilling.

3. He likely has the admiration and respect of all, or nearly all, of his teammates.

4. As a fan, I understood losing Ellsbury. The Yankees' offer was stupid money and Jacoby is a nice player, a very good player, who put up ONE sensational season. And nothing more, at least thus far. From what I have heard, he was not a popular guy on the team and was one of the few outsiders on last year's tight club. As a fan, letting Salty go made sense. As a fan, I could see both sides of the Drew situation.

Losing Jon Lester would be different. It would truly hurt. It would be a painful reminder of why it's not good to invest overly in anything but the laundry. That might be the harsh reality, but sports are romantic and we fall in love with some of the players. Lester is one of them.

5. As a fan, losing Jon to the Yankees would be intolerable. Enough of that. Especially as a fan living down here, it just cannot be tolerated. The Boston Red Sox should not be a feeder club to the Yankees. Leave that for the Royals and A's and other small-market teams.

6. Other money will be coming off the books; I think, and please excuse my boldness, that suffering one possible large overpay will not break the bank or make it impossible to put forth a roster than can compete for the title.

Pedroia gets the day off

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
TORONTO -- Dustin Pedroia was not in the Red Sox lineup on Thursday, and manager John Farrell said it was a scheduled day off.

Pedroia broke an 0-for-17 skid with a first-inning single Wednesday night, but is batting just .083 (2 for 24) since the All-Star break.

Brock Holt, who sat Wednesday, is playing second base, which will make him the first Sox player ever to start games at seven different positions (all except pitcher and catcher).

Status quo in Lester talks

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
TORONTO -- It’s curious that after weeks of silence on the topic, Red Sox majority owner John W. Henry finally weighed in on the Jon Lester contract situation, emailing the Boston Herald to say that the sides have agreed to “put off” further negotiations until after the season. But it’s a stretch to say that Henry’s comments are a sign that Lester is a goner or that the Sox will not ultimately make an offer more in line with the current market for a top-of-the-line pitcher.

What it means is that informal conversations in recent weeks between the sides have not led to a resumption of negotiations, which already were “tabled” after spring training. CEO Larry Lucchino had said before the All-Star break that the club intended to approach Lester, but it hasn’t proceeded to the stage of making another offer. There is still time to do so, and sources on both sides still maintain that both the club and Lester want the pitcher to remain with Boston.

Clearly, the closer Lester comes to becoming a free agent, the chances that he will test the open market increase, but there still is a window for the Sox to conduct substantive negotiations before the start of the free-agency period.

Assuming that he is not signed before then, Lester will become a free agent at 9 a.m. on the day after the last game of the World Series. A “quiet period” follows, in which the Sox hold exclusive negotiating rights, but other teams can discuss their interest in him.

During the “quiet period,” the Sox can make Lester a one-year qualifying offer, equal to the average salary of the highest-paid 125 players in the game. Last year that figure was more than $14 million. Lester would then have seven days to accept or decline the offer; if he declines it, the Sox would receive a first-round sandwich pick as compensation, while the club signing him would sacrifice a first-round pick.
BOSTON -- The rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees is considered one of the greatest in all of sports.

It's built on incredible moments, amazing comebacks, plenty of bench-clearing brawls, and memorable triumphs and heartbreak. Both sides have experienced it all. This rivalry was at its peak during the 2003 and 2004 seasons.

During Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS, Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez hit the Yankees' Karim Garcia in the top of the fourth inning at Fenway Park. The benches cleared, but order was quickly restored. In the bottom of the inning, Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens delivered a pitch high and inside on Red Sox hitter Manny Ramirez.

The benches and bullpens emptied again, only this time punches were thrown. The melee escalated when Martinez grabbed Yankees coach Don Zimmer by the head and tossed him to the ground.

The Yankees eventually won that series on Aaron Boone's walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game 7 at Yankee Stadium.

In 2004, another epic chapter was written in the history books. On July 24 at Fenway Park, Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo drilled Yankees cleanup hitter Alex Rodriguez with a pitch in the top of the third inning. Rodriguez had words with Arroyo, before Red Sox captain and veteran catcher Jason Varitek stepped in and shoved his mitt into A-Rod's face, inciting another bench-clearing brawl.

“I knew it would never get any better than that,” Arroyo said in a recent phone interview. “I was 27-years-old and I was seasoned enough in the big leagues where I didn’t feel totally uncomfortable, but I was still young in my career. I knew it was never going to be any better than playing against those guys 19 times a year. It felt like a playoff game every time.

"Things like that dramatize it even more and that was one year removed from the whole Don Zimmer and Pedro Martinez fight, so it was like a heavyweight boxing match all the time, the electricity of a Mike Tyson fight all the time, because you never knew what was going to happen. It was definitely fun to be just in the place, much less in uniform. It was just high drama all the time.”

In October of that season, the Yankees held a 3-0 series lead on the Red Sox in the ALCS, but Boston mounted a historic comeback to win in seven games, before sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals for the Red Sox's first World Series title in 86 years.

There's been plenty more to add to this rivalry since the '04 season, but the fisticuffs subsided.

In August 2013, Rodriguez was able to play after he appealed a suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. This did not sit well with many players in the majors, including most everyone on Boston's pitching staff. So, on Rodriguez's first trip to Fenway Park after his appeal, Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster drilled Rodriguez with a fastball.

The benches and bullpens emptied, but no punches were thrown.

This season, with Rodriguez serving a season-long suspension, the rivalry seems a bit different. Red Sox veteran DH David Ortiz believes he knows why.

"People right now still question a lot if the rivalry's still going on just because they're not seeing [fights]," he said. "What people need to understand is that right now there are so many rules and so many suspensions that in case something happens with a guy like myself, and I decide to charge a pitcher, I already know I'm going to miss five games at least, and if I miss five games out of that lineup it's going to hurt us.

"Everybody's trying to stay away from that. MLB is trying to keep everybody away from that. MLB has been doing an unbelievable job when it comes down to sending the right message to the fans and there's so many big suspensions because of that. Plus, another thing I believe, you know how pitchers back then used to get mad and angry when you take them deep, and next thing you know they were hitting somebody on purpose, but that's not part of the game anymore, because you know the minute [MLB] finds out that you hit somebody on purpose you're going to have to pay a fine and be suspended, too. So, there's a lot of different things going on right now compared to what the game was 10 or 11 years ago, and that has confused the fans when it comes down to the rival thing. I believe the fans need to pay attention to that a little more."

Peavy drew a crowd; other moves loom

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays, of course, won. The Rays won their seventh straight. The Yankees won a rain-shortened affair. And although the division-leading Orioles lost in Anaheim, the Red Sox were assured of being in last place when they go to Tropicana Field Friday for this weekend’s series against the Rays.

They fell back to seven games under .500 (47-54) with 61 to go, seven of those games coming before the July 31 trading deadline. The Sox had hoped this 13-game stretch against division rivals would give some closure to the back-and-forth of whether they can still contend this season or should retool for 2015 and beyond.

Jake Peavy remains the most likely trading piece. Scouts from the Pirates, Brewers, Giants and Royals all were in attendance for Peavy’s start Tuesday night. The Cardinals, who had scouted him earlier, were not, but one major-league source insisted they retain some interest.

The White Sox have a scout here too, Chicago perhaps looking to interest the Red Sox in outfielder Dayan Viciedo. The Royals, in the market for a right-handed bat, also have been linked to Jonny Gomes. Teams in the market for relief are hoping that the Sox might move Andrew Miller, who is three months away from free agency. Felix Doubront is available. Questions remain whether the Sox would move Stephen Drew, call up Will Middlebrooks, who homered again Wednesday night for Pawtucket, and move Xander Bogaerts back to short.

These are all situations awaiting some resolution. The trade market has begun to accelerate; if there is to be deal-making by the Sox, it should be coming soon.

Jon Lester contract talks tabled

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24

Boston Red Sox president Larry Lucchino confirmed Thursday morning that the team and ace Jon Lester have agreed to table contract negotiations until after the season.

"It's done in part out of respect for Jon Lester and his desire to postpone this until after the season," Lucchino said in an interview with Boston sports radio station WEEI. "He's on an extraordinary roll. His last five or six games, his ERA is I don't know, 0.90 or something like that.

"He's leading this team, leading the rotation, and his very strong preference ... was not to have his family and himself distracted and focused on something other than pitching and winning baseball games."

Red Sox owner John Henry made a similar proclamation Wednesday night in an email to the Boston Herald.

"I'm not going to discuss Jon's situation out of respect for both Jon and [general manager] Ben [Cherington] other than to say that both sides have put further discussion off until after the season," Henry wrote. "It's clear that both Jon and our organization would like to see Jon back next year if possible."

Lester told the Boston Globe on Thursday that the postponement of the contract talks won't impact his desire to stay with the Red Sox -- even for a relative discount.

"Doesn't mean anything," Lester said told the Globe. "There's been plenty of guys who have taken less to come back. Mikey Lowell had more years and money with the Phillies, and he came back. It's not the end-all for everybody. I've expressed to them I want to be here."

The Red Sox and Lester had negotiated during spring training, and the two sides spoke on at least a few occasions during the season. But apparently there will be no deal struck between now and the end of the regular season. If the sides do not come to terms before November, Lester will become one of the most coveted free agents in baseball.

Just before the All-Star break, a major league source told ESPNBoston.com that the Red Sox were having "conversations" that could lead to another offer for Lester, but it is unclear whether they took a serious run at him.

The club's offer to Lester in spring training was in the neighborhood of four years and $70 million, far lower than what he could command on the open market and apparently below what Lester was looking for even when factoring in his willingness to take a discount to stay in Boston, a desire he said in January.

All along, Lester has added a caveat to his preference that the Red Sox not reopen talks until after the season. He said it last month in New York after he outdueled Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka

(Read full post)

A hole in the Sox lineup -- no Holt

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
TORONTO -- There was something noticeably different about John Farrell’s lineup card Wednesday night.

Brock Holt was nowhere to be found. Not in left field, right field or center field. Not at first base, second base, short or third. And not batting leadoff, something Holt had done in each of the team’s previous 54 games, a span in which he’d delivered more hits (77) than any player in the game.

The rookie who is the only player in the big leagues this season to have appeared at every position but pitcher and catcher was on the bench, manager John Farrell having decided after Holt failed to hit the ball out of the infield four times Tuesday night that he could use a night off. Especially with a day game following on Thursday.

“He’s played every inning since sometime back in May (May 23 to be exact),” Farrell said. “The last couple of days, you’re starting to see it a little bit in his play. He’s deserving of a day off.”

Holt will be back in the lineup Thursday, Farrell said. Shane Victorino batted leadoff and singled and scored ahead of David Ortiz’s home run in the first, then was retired on his last four at-bats in Boston's 6-4 loss.

Buchholz escapes injury, can't dodge loss

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23

TORONTO -- There was a dazed aspect to Clay Buchholz’s pitching Wednesday night, and that was even before he took a comebacker from Munenori Kawasaki off the side of his head.

The Boston Red Sox barely had time to savor the 3-0 lead David Ortiz gave them with his fourth home run in three nights before Buchholz gave it all back in the bottom of the first, foreshadowing what would become a 6-4 Sox defeat to the Toronto Blue Jays.

"I’ll take the blame for this one, for sure," Buchholz said.

[+] EnlargeClay Buchholz
Peter Llewellyn/USA TODAY SportsXander Bogaerts checks on Clay Buchholz, who was hit near the temple with a comebacker in Toronto's three-run first inning.
With a chance to put the Sox back in a winning mode, Buchholz instead went Jose Reyes single, Melky Cabrera four-pitch walk and Jose Bautista RBI double to the first three Toronto batters. The Sox cut down one run at the plate on a fielder’s choice, but Bautista beat Mike Napoli’s throw to the plate for a second run and Kawasaki kept the inning alive with his base hit off Buchholz’s noggin, Josh Thole followed with a ground-rule double, and the game was tied.

"I was lucky to get out of it without giving up more than I did," Buchholz said.

He also was fortunate to escape injury on the comebacker that missed his glove.

"Funny," he said. "As a pitcher, when the ball is hit at you. it looks like it’s coming back a thousand miles an hour or really slow. I felt like I got my glove up, but I was sort of falling away and it went over my glove."

The ball struck him in the temple, said Buchholz, who expressed relief it did not hit him in the face.

"I was dazed, for sure," said the right-hander, who was attended to by manager John Farrell and a trainer but remained in the game after throwing a couple of practice tosses. "Any time you’re hit by the ball, it’s going to take a second."

Farrell said he was satisfied that Buchholz could remain in the game.

"We checked him between innings," he said. "There were no lingering effects. For someone wondering about a concussion, he checked out with all field tests and was able to continue on."

But the night was anything but easy for Buchholz. Twice he hit the No. 9 batter in the Jays' order, Anthony Gose, with a pitch to lead off an inning. Buchholzwalked four, after walking just one over his previous five starts. And with the Sox leading 4-3 in the sixth, he left a changeup over the plate to Ryan Goins, who tripled into the gap to tie the score at 4-4 and scored the go-ahead run on a throwing error by Xander Bogaerts.

A 'Bogey' is not just a bad hole in golf

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
TORONTO -- Before anyone offers Xander Bogaerts’ tie-breaking error Wednesday night as further proof that the Red Sox should have never moved him to third base, remember that he made game-deciding errors at shortstop too, like the throwing error he made on a cold night in Chicago in April that resulted in a walk-off White Sox win.

But it’s fair to say that the 21-year-old rookie, asked to transition to third two months into the season, has had his fair share of head-hanging moments, which was his reaction Wednesday night when he bounced a throw to first baseman Mike Napoli on what should have been an easy inning-ending play on Jose Reyes’s ground ball in the sixth.

[+] EnlargeXander Bogaerts
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesXander Bogaerts' throwing error in the sixth, which allowed the go-ahead run to score, overshadowed what was otherwise a good night for the rookie.
Instead, it allowed Ryan Goins, who had tripled in the tying run, to score the go-ahead run in what would become a 6-4 Blue Jays win, Boston’s second straight loss after a five-game winning streak.

“Reyes was probably still two full body lengths away from the bag,’’ manager John Farrell said. “It was that in-between play. The spin off the bat takes the ball to his backhand side, he fielded the ball in good shape, but it seemed like he didn’t get his feet set to deliver a fine throw.’’

With the Red Sox facing a 12:30 start Thursday, Bogaerts did not linger in the clubhouse after the game, though it’s likely he probably didn’t mind skipping an opportunity to discuss his misplay.

The error spoiled what might have otherwise been a good night for him: two hits, including a two-out RBI double in the fourth (his first double since June 6) that tied the score at 4, and a nice barehanded pickup and throw on Munenori Kawasaki’s sacrifice in the third.

Bogaerts has shown the ability to make reaction plays at third -- he charges the ball well and brings good hands to the position -- but he also has made nine errors in 38 starts at third, five of which have come on throws. In defensive WAR, which represents how many more games a team would win with him at the position rather than an average minor-league replacement, Bogaerts began the night with a minus 1.2.

The advanced defensive metrics weren’t kind to him at short either, assessing him a minus 1.2 at that position, but we’re talking a relatively small sample size at both short and third.

“Recognizing the number of errors, I can’t say there’s exactly one reason that links them all together,’’ Farrell said. “It’s not for [a lack of] effort or intensity in making a play.’’

The Red Sox are not worried that Bogaerts will give them at least average defense at whatever position he ultimately winds up at; his value primarily resides in his bat. And with five hits in 13 at-bats in the first three games of this series, they’re hopeful he’s emerging from what has been a horrific 36-game slump (18-for-136, .132 average entering play Wednesday).

Rapid Reaction: Blue Jays 6, Red Sox 4

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23

TORONTO -- The one-hop grounder that Clay Buchholz took off the side of his face in the first inning Wednesday night was more painful. But a second straight loss here to the Toronto Blue Jays may have left the more lasting bruise.

The Red Sox, who can ill afford such reversals during this 13-game stretch against division rivals, took a little more air out of the “They Can Climb Back Into This” movement, losing, 6-4, to the Blue Jays.

Staked to a 3-0 lead by David Ortiz’s fourth home run in three nights, this one off knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, Buchholz gave it right back in the bottom of the first, an inning in which he gave up four hits, a four-pitch walk and was dazed by Munenori Kawasaki’s comebacker that glanced off his glove and slammed into his cheek.

The Sox regained the lead on two-out doubles by Daniel Nava and Xander Bogaerts in the fifth, but an inning later the Jays were ahead to stay. Buchholz issued a one-out walk to Josh Thole, Ryan Goins hit a Buchholz changeup for a triple into the gap, and third baseman Bogaerts threw away a routine ground ball by Jose Reyes for the go-ahead run.

Jose Bautista hit Andrew Miller’s first pitch for a home run in the seventh to make it 6-4, and the last 13 Sox batters were set down in order, six by Aaron Sanchez, the Jays’ top prospect whose 98 m.p.h. fastball provided a jarring contrast to Dickey’s floaters.

The Sox, who had pummeled the Jays, 14-1, in the series opener, remain in last place in the AL East, with the series finale Thursday afternoon.

Buchholz was an inefficient mess for most of the night, allowing six hits, walking four and hitting two batters in six innings.

Papi's pace: Ortiz, 38, is on pace to hit 38 home runs this season, which would be his most since hitting a club-record 54 in 2006. Only six players in major league history have hit 38 or more home runs in a season at 38 years or older: Barry Bonds (twice), Darrell Evans, Hank Aaron, Frank Thomas, Rafael Palmeiro and Ted Williams. Aaron, Thomas and Williams are Hall of Famers (Thomas's induction comes Sunday). Bonds and Palmeiro have been discredited by their links to performance-enhancing drugs.

Varitek/A-Rod brawl, 10 years later

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23

BOSTON -- The image of Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek shoving his mitt into the face of Alex Rodriguez has become an iconic symbol of the storied rivalry between Boston and the New York Yankees.

The picture hangs in sports bars, restaurants and man caves all over New England. It is sold in memorabilia stores -- even though both players refuse to add their autographs to the print -- and it represents to Red Sox Nation all that went right that season.

It's been 10 years since those two players ignited a bench-clearing brawl on July 24, 2004 at Fenway Park. The Red Sox, who had fallen to the Yankees in a heart-wrenching seven-game ALCS the year before, were trailing 3-0 with two outs in the top of the third inning when pitcher Bronson Arroyo drilled Rodriguez on his heavily padded left elbow with an inside fastball.

As Rodriguez slowly started toward first base, he stared down Boston's pitcher and had words for Arroyo.

"Throw that [expletive] over the [expletive] plate," Arroyo recalled in a phone interview. "Then he said the exactly same thing again."

Rodriguez then turned his attention to Varitek, who was telling the Yankees' cleanup hitter to shut up and go to first.

"I told him, in choice words, to get to first base," Varitek said at the time. "And then it changed from him yelling at Bronson to [us] yelling at each other, and then things got out of hand."

That included Rodriguez throwing out a string of profanities to Varitek. 

(Read full post)

Shawn Anderson runs a fun site called The Hall of Very Good -- a great way of honoring those who fall just short of Cooperstown status. This year's inductees are Luis Tiant, Tony Oliva and ... The San Diego Chicken. Here's Shawn's post introducing the class of 2014.

I don't have much to say about the Chicken, but Tiant actually has a pretty interesting case for Cooperstown, especially when compared to two pitchers his career overlapped with:

Tiant: 229-172, 3.30 ERA, 114 ERA+, 66.1 WAR
Don Drysdale: 209-166, 2.95 ERA, 121 ERA+, 61.2 WAR
Catfish Hunter: 224-166, 3.26 ERA, 104 ERA+, 36.6 WAR

So why Drysdale and Hunter instead of Tiant? All three were certainly famous in their time, although Drysdale and Hunter had the advantage of playing for World Series champions, while Tiant played for just one World Series participant, and his Red Sox lost. It may be as simple as that, but there were several other factors that played in to Tiant's not getting in:

1. His best seasons were spread out. He went 21-9 with a league-leading 1.60 ERA for the Indians in 1968, but followed that up with a 20-loss season and then two partial seasons due to injury issues. Healthy again with the Red Sox in 1972, he went 15-6 and led the AL with a 1.91 ERA. From 1973 to 1976, he won 20 games three times and had a 3.31 ERA while averaging 281 innings per season and completing more than half his starts. But his worst season in that span was the 1975 pennant year for Boston, when he went 18-14 with a 4.02 ERA.

If he'd had his 1966-68 seasons alongside his 1972-1976 years his record would look more like Hunter's, rather than having that three-year gap of ineffectiveness mixed in. If 1975 had been one of his best seasons, it would have had a larger impact than his forgotten great 1968 season.

2. Not understanding park effects. Why is Tiant's WAR higher than Drysdale's or Hunter's? He pitched in Fenway, a great hitter's park in the '70s, while Drysdale and Hunter spent many of their prime seasons in great pitcher's parks in Dodger Stadium and Oakland. Today, voters would consider this more than when those guys were on the ballot in the 1980s.

3. Timing. Consider this: When Drysdale hit the ballot for the first time in 1975, he received 21 percent of the vote. When Tiant hit the ballot in 1988, he received 30.9 percent. From there, Drysdale's support increased and he was elected on his 10th try. Tiant, meanwhile, fell to 10.5 percent in his second year and never recovered. Hunter sailed in more easily, topping 50 percent his first year in 1985 and getting elected in 1987.

So what happened? In 1975 and 1976, Robin Roberts and Bob Lemon were both on the ballot and Drysdale didn't get much support. After those two were elected in 1976, Drysdale's support increased more than 20 percent in 1977 as he was regarded as the best pitcher on the ballot. (Jim Bunning was the best new name on the ballot.) From there, Drysdale made steady upward progress until 1981, when Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal joined the ballot. Gibson made it into the Hall his first year as Drysdale's percentage dropped in 1981 and 1982. Marichal made it in 1983. Cleared of those two, Drysdale then gained elected in 1984.

Hunter joined the ballot in 1985. Hoyt Wilhelm was elected that year and Bunning was the only other strong pitching candidate. Hunter made it in 1987 -- a pretty weak ballot overall. Billy Williams was the top vote-getter (in his sixth year on the ballot) and Hunter was the other player elected, while Bunning, Orlando Cepeda and Roger Maris rounded out the top five. The overall lack of strong candidates undoubtedly helped Hunter.

That gets us to Tiant in 1988. He did OK for a first-timer; as mentioned, he started from a better place than Drysdale. Willie Stargell made it that year and Bunning just missed. But then look what happened:

1989: Gaylord Perry and Fergie Jenkins joined the ballot (along with Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski, who got elected).

1990: Jim Palmer (elected).

1991: Perry and Jenkins elected, Rollie Fingers joined the ballot. (Bunning, who had peaked at 74.2 percent in 1988, fell off to 63.7 in his final year.)

1992: Tom Seaver and Fingers elected.

1993: Phil Niekro joined the ballot.

1994: Steve Carlton elected, Don Sutton joined the ballot.

1997: Niekro elected.

1998: Sutton elected.

By then, Tiant's momentum had long since ended, memories of his best days more than 20 years in the past. Drysdale and Hunter had missed the rush of Palmer, Jenkins and all the 300-game winners. Tiant paled in comparison to that group and his case died. Such is the way Hall of Fame voting often works with the borderline players.

* * * *

As for Oliva, he had half of a Hall of Fame career -- he won three batting titles and led the AL in hits five times with the Twins while twice finishing second in the MVP vote -- but bad knees eventually hurt his productivity and shortened his career. Like Tiant, his voting percentage peaked in 1988 (47.3 percent) but then declined as bigger stars came on the ballot. From 1964 to 1971, he had 42.2 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference.com, ninth among position players. Seven of the eight ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame (Dick Allen being the exception) as are several below him who played all those seasons (Willie McCovey, Billy Williams, Harmon Killebrew, Pete Rose, Al Kaline, Lou Brock, Willie Stargell).

Oliva was a good one.

David Ortiz reaches 1,500 RBIs

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23

TORONTO -- With his fourth home run in three games here Wednesday night, Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz became the 53rd player in major-league history to drive in 1,500 or more runs in his career.

Ortiz lined a knuckleball from Toronto's R.A. Dickey off the facing of the fourth deck in Rogers Centre for a three-run home run in the first inning. The distance was calculated by ESPN Stats & Information as 425 feet. By their calculations, the ball would have landed 89 feet beyond the right-field fence.

The home run was the 24th of the season for Ortiz, pulling him into a tie with Mike Trout of the Angels for fourth most in the AL, five behind league leader Jose Abreu of the White Sox (29)

Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia had singled before Ortiz's home run, which gave him 72 RBIs this season and 1,501 in his career. He began the night ranked seventh in the majors this season in RBIs with 69, eight behind major-league leader Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers.

According to Red Sox researcher Jon Shestakofsky, Ortiz broke the 1,500 RBI threshold in his 2,067th game, making him the 14th-fastest player in history to accomplish that feat.

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