BOSTON -- We don’t do this for every interleague opponent; let’s face it, the novelty has worn off.
On the other hand, the Red Sox have faced the Cincinnati Reds just six times since interleague play began in 1997, only once in Fenway Park. That was in 2005, when the Sox invited Carlton Fisk to the Fens to officially rename the left-field pole the “Fisk Pole,” in honor of the Game 6 home run he hit to beat the Reds in 1975, the last time they had been in Boston.
The Sox have played their National League “natural rivals,” the Braves and Phillies, 54 and 53 times respectively, since interleague play began in 1997. Yet the Reds, the famed “Big Red Machine” of yesteryear that beat the Sox in seven games in a 1975 World Series still regarded by many as the greatest ever, have faced the Sox only twice, the last time a three-game set in Cincinnati in 2008.
The Red Sox swept three from the Reds on their last visit here, outscoring them, 23-4, and outhitting them, 36-15. The Reds never led in the three games. David Ortiz is the only player left from either team who played in that series. Young Reds slugger Wily Mo Pena struck out seven times in 10 at-bats, while Sox pitcher and crooner Bronson Arroyo won the series finale, which did not keep GM Theo Epstein from swapping Arroyo for Pena after the season.
(Where are they now: Pena, incredibly still just 32 years old, has 10 home runs in 128 plate appearances for the Orix Buffaloes, only one home run behind former Brave and Yankee Andruw Jones for the Japan Pacific League lead. It’s still all or nothing for Pena; he has 31 strikeouts. Arroyo, meanwhile, signed a two-year, $23.5 million deal with Arizona that at the moment ranks as one of the worst signings of the offseason: Arroyo, 37, has a 6.03 ERA in six starts for the last-place Diamondbacks.)
The current attractions
The Reds come in with a 15-16 record in the NL Central, 5 1/2 games behind the division-leading Brewers, but kept from falling into a bigger hole by taking three of four from the Brewers last weekend. They just lost outfielder Jay Bruce, who underwent surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee and is expected to be out for a month.
Reds you should know
* Homer Bailey, who starts Tuesday night and signed a six-year, $105 million contract with a $24.5 million option for a seventh season. That contract was thought to be something of a baseline for Jon Lester, who is a year older than Bailey but has a more impressive track record, though Bailey has authored two no-hitters. Bailey has won two of his last three starts to show signs of recovering from a slow start, one in which he has allowed seven home runs in 34 1/3 innings.
* Billy Hamilton, who may be the fastest baserunner in the game, is a highly regarded defender, but still an equally suspect hitter, posting a .245/.280/.330/.610 slash line. He also has been thrown out stealing five times in 16 attempts, nobody’s idea of a good success rate. He also hurt the middle finger of his left hand sliding headfirst early in the season, an injury he aggravated over the weekend, leaving his status for the Sox games uncertain.
* Joey Votto. The Reds’ best hitter and a former NL MVP (2010) is the kind of player the Red Sox baseball ops people draw up in their dreams: He has led the league in walks and on-base percentage in each of the last three seasons. So far this season, the first baseman has drawn a league-leading 27 walks, and his on-base percentage is .429.
* Aroldis Chapman. If Hamilton is the fastest player on earth, Chapman is the fastest in the air. After July last season, his fastball averaged 100 mph. He will not pitch against the Sox, however; in spring training, he was struck in the face by a line drive that required plates and a dozen screws to be inserted to stabilize the bones around his left eye. He is on a rehab assignment and scheduled to be activated on Friday.
* Brandon Phillips. The Reds’ second baseman, whose Twitter handle is DatDudeBP, has some shared history with Grady Sizemore. Phillips was traded along with Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Lee Stevens by Montreal to Cleveland for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew, the third Drew brother. Sizemore became a four-time All-Star with the Indians, Lee won a Cy Young Award for the Indians, but Phillips didn’t blossom until the Indians shipped him to the Reds, where he has been a three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glover. His game has shown signs of slippage, but he can still do a lot of things to beat you.
The Red Sox and Reds may not have played each other much, but 160 players, by my unofficial count, have played for both franchises. Check out some of the names:
First basemen: Todd Benzinger, Sean Casey, Walt Dropo, Reggie Jefferson, Deron Johnson, Tony Perez, Nick Esasky
Third basemen: Bucky Walters (he also pitched), Bill Werber (he roomed with Babe Ruth in his short time with the Yankees and lived to be 100).
Outfielders: Dante Bichette, Darren Bragg, Mike Cameron, Bernie Carbo, Jonny Gomes, Tommy Harper, Billy Hatcher, Darren Lewis, Darnell McDonald, Kevin Mitchell, Keith Mitchell, Wily Mo Pena, Floyd Robinson, Cody Ross, Al Simmons, Ken Williams
The greatest all-time Reds
Here are the top seven, as ranked among the game’s 100 greatest players in the New Bill James Historical Abstract:
Five not-so-easy questions from the ’75 World Series
1. What did Don Zimmer say he was yelling in the ninth inning of Game 6? What did Denny Doyle say he heard?
2. How many times did rookie Jim Burton pitch in the World Series before Darrell Johnson had him start the ninth inning of Game 7 with the score tied?
3. Luis Tiant pitched the opener and Game 4 of the World Series for the Red Sox, then came back for Game 6. How many days’ rest was he pitching on in Game 6?
4. How many pitchers did Reds manager Sparky Anderson, a.k.a. Captain Hook, use in Game 6?
5. Who scored the most runs of any player in the World Series, and did so without a single extra-base hit?
The local Reds connection you’ve never heard about
The manager of the 1919 Reds, who won the World Series that became infamous for the Black Sox scandal was Pat Moran, who was born in the central Massachusetts mill town of Fitchburg.
Moran's name is all but forgotten now, marked by a tarnished bronze plaque near the west Fitchburg neighborhood in which he grew up. But in his time, he would be recognized as one of Fitchburg's most famous citizens, surpassing his achievements as a catcher for the Boston Beaneaters and Chicago Cubs by becoming manager of two pennant-winning teams, the 1915 Philadelphia Phillies and 1919 Reds.
Moran's life dovetailed with some of baseball's most memorable characters and events. He played on the famous "Tinkers to Evers to Chance" Cubs, the last Cubs team to win a World Series, and caught Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown. He managed Hall of Famers, including pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, who credited Moran with developing him into the immense talent he became. He was a contemporary of another Massachusetts Irishman who became a big-league manager, Connie Mack, and might have been remembered, like Mack, as one of the game's finest managers if he had not died of alcohol-related illness at the age of 48 during spring training in 1924.
Moran's death brought big-league baseball to Fitchburg, as his Reds team came to Crocker Field to play an exhibition game in his honor.
"The citizens of Fitchburg know that he did more to advertise Fitchburg than any man who ever lived in it," wrote the editor of the Fitchburg Sentinel. "This he did not by the fortunes of birth, education, or riches, but solely by force of his noble character."
1. Zimmer said he was yelling, “No, no, no!” on Fred Lynn’s one-out flyball to George Foster in left field. Doyle, the runner on third, thought Zimmer was yelling, “Go, go, go!” Doyle was easily cut down at the plate by Foster’s throw.
2. Burton, a 25-year-old rookie, pitched only one other time in the Series. That was in Game 3, when he entered in the fifth inning after starter Rick Wise had given up back-to-back home runs to Davey Concepcion and Cesar Geronimo and a one-out triple to Pete Rose. Just as he would in Game 7, he walked the first batter he faced -- Ken Griffey Sr. in both instances. In Game 3, Joe Morgan hit a sacrifice fly to drive in the run that gave the Reds a 5-1 lead. Against Burton in Game 7, he delivered a game-winning single.
During the regular season, Burton had pitched in the ninth inning only three times -- once with the Sox down six, once with the Sox down two, once with the Sox ahead by three. All of those appearances came in June.
3. Tiant was pitching with five days’ rest. He pitched Game 4 on Oct. 15, with Game 5 played the next day in Cincinnati. The 17th was a travel day, but rain postponed Game 6 an additional three days, to Oct. 21.
4. Anderson used eight pitchers in Game 6, going to his bullpen as early as the third inning, when he pulled starter Gary Nolan and used two other regular starters in Fred Norman and Jack Billingham. Clay Carroll entered in the fifth, Pedro Borbon in the sixth, Rawly Eastwick in the eighth, Will McEnaney in the ninth and Pat Darcy in the 10th, with Darcy giving up Fisk’s home run in the 12th.
5. Carl Yastrzemski scored a Series-leading seven runs, two more than Reds catcher Johnny Bench and Fisk. Yaz batted .310 (9-for-29) and also walked four times, but all nine hits were singles.