Game 28 vs. Tampa Bay Rays: 1975

Last night the Boston Red Sox celebrated the 1975 AL Champion Red Sox with a Carlton Fisk bobblehead. Throughout the game music from '75 blasted over the speakers throughout Fenway. More than 25 members of the 1975 team were on hand. It's part of a season long celebration of the 40th anniversary of that season.

Fortunately it also marked the end of a Red Sox losing streak. Thanks to Mookie Betts and his two solo home runs, the Red Sox finally stopped the bleeding.  Interestingly enough, Betts is the youngest Red Sox player to hit 2 homers in the same game since Jim Rice did it in 1975. Mookie Betts plays like his hair is on fire. He scampers around the bases like Fred Lynn in his early Red Sox days. Lynn didn't have a lot of speed, but he swiped a bag when he could. 

When I started writing this blog entry, I was going to tie Mookie Betts to Fred Lynn, the 1975 Rookie of The Year. Both center fielders, both fan favorites, both using all of their talents. Then I saw that Mookie Betts was the youngest to slug 2 homers in a game since Rice. Then I wanted to compare him to the Hall of Fame right fielder. Then I didn't think that was fair, as Rice went on to hit 382 home runs. So I considered comparing Betts to Dwight Evans. That's not really fair either. A Should-Be Hall of Famer?

So I decided to link Mookie Betts to 1975. There's a little bit of Lynn, Evans, and Rice in Mookie Betts. Perhaps less Rice, but that remains to be seen. This isn't the first entry to center around Mookie Betts, and I suspect it won't be the last for the 2015 season. Look at the stats of the 1975 team. Wouldn't it be amazing if Mookie Betts turned into even a fraction of the triple headed outfield monster that was the 1975 Red Sox outfield? 

It's only one game, and Betts has only had a few games to look amazing, The 1975 Red Sox didn't have a great April, May, or June. The team turned up late in June and ran with it the rest of the way. The 2015 pitching staff is questionable, but so was the 1975 pitching staff. On the season, no started that year had an ERA below 3.95. 

It provides some hope that the early stumble isn't the precursor of a long drawn out summer of bad baseball. Especially if Mookie Betts has anything to say about it.

Game 27 vs. Tampa Bay Rays: Wade Boggs

Wade Boggs in the ugly Tampa Bay Devil Rays jersey is almost as jarring as Wade Boggs atop a horse celebrating a New York Yankees World Series title. 

For some Red Sox fans, watching another player wear #26 is jarring each and every time. Brock Holt is the latest in a long line of 26 wearers. In total thirteen other players have worn #26 for the Red Sox since Wade Boggs left town. 

The belief that a number belongs to a certain player after a certain level of fame is reached is strong. Perhaps none stronger than the New York Yankees belief that everybody should have a retired number.  It seems there's some difference in belief, depending on the terms of which a player leaves. Nomar Garciaparra, for instance, wore number 5, which remained unused for five full seasons, and put on mothballs for another three years after Rocco Baldelli's brief time as the wearer of number 5. 

Dwight Evans's #24 went unused for six seasons, and eventually was given to Manny Ramirez. If I were deciding retired numbers, I'd retire #24 in honor of both Dewey and Manny. Number 21 has not been worn by anyone since Roger Clemens following the 1996 season. 

So how did Wade Boggs, arguably one of the top five hitters in Red Sox franchise history, end up with a uniform number so easily discarded to Aaron Sele and Rob Stanifer? Even with an ownership change, Scott Podsednik donned the Boggsian number. Boggs was a member of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for two seasons, and his number 12 has been retired. What gives?

What Gives? That's the same question we can ask about the 2015 Red Sox. Through 26 games, the man currently wearing Wade Boggs's Red Sox number is tearing up the American League, while playing all over the field. Brock Holt is averaging more than a hit per start, just like his numbersake. Meanwhile, the lowest ERA for the starting rotation is 4.71. The highest is 7.15. Add in the rest of the pitching staff and the team has a 5.04 ERA. 

Yes, it's a small sample size. However, most teams begin establishing whether they need to upgrade their team or downgrade their realistic season expectations by the time June rolls around. This means the team has a few more weeks to work out some kinks, but after five turns through the rotation, signs of worry abound.

The exception is within the scope of #26. Everybody knows Brock Holt is a super star(Brock Star) in the making, Maybe the next Ben Zobrist, even. Just like Wade Boggs. Everybody knew Boggs would smash at the big league level, whether it was during the regular season or the post season. It's too bad Brock Holt hasn't given pitching a shot yet. Wade Boggs did, twice in fact, in 1997 with the Yanks and 1999 with the Devil Rays. Sure, both times he came in for mop-up duty, but he has 2 career strikeouts under his belt. 

If Boggs is any indication, maybe Brock Holt pitching and the magic of 26 holds the answer to winning a ball game!

Game 14 vs. Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays: Rocco Baldelli

Nomar Garciaparra was supposed to have #5 retired up on the right field facade of Fenway Park, like Bobby Doerr, Joe Cronin, Johnny Pesky, Yaz, Ted Williams, Jim Rice, and Carlton Fisk before him. He was supposed to be his generation's Hall of Famer. The guy who gets 3,000 hits for the home team, outlasts Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. You get the idea. 

Well, that didn't happen. Nomar broke down, and his magical career ended much sooner than anyone expected. Despite the unfulfilled dreams, Nomar will forever have a place in the hearts of Red Sox fans who saw him crushing the American League in his peak. For five years after he was traded away from Boston, no other player wore number five in a Red Sox uniform. 

That changed when the "Woonsocket Rocket", Rocco Baldelli, arrived in Boston in 2009, coming off a World Series appearance with the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays. Baldelli was a member of the Rays going back to their days as the last place stumbling team known as the Devil Rays. In a lot of ways, Baldelli was the face of the transition between the last place laughingstock Devil Rays and upstart Not-Devil Rays. By the time the 2008 post season rolled around, Baldelli's ailments were already catching up with him. That didn't stop him from cranking a postseason home run against the Red Sox in the 2008 ALCS. Baldelli's ties to New England made it a lot easier to see someone besides Nomar Garciaparra wearing number five. That doesn't mean Allen Craig should be wearing number five, but it does mean that perhaps it's not as big of a deal as it was when no one wore it for five years.

In a twist of pathways, Rocco Baldelli ended up spending just 2009 with the Red Sox(blasting his first and last Red Sox homers versus the Rays), before returning to the Rays in 2010. Though he retired in the 2010 off-season, Baldelli can be found hanging out next to first base at every Rays game. He was named the Rays first base coach prior to this season. 

Rocco Baldelli is one of just three players who have only played for either the Red Sox or Rays. He's clearly best, as the others are Mark Malaska and Ryan Rupe. 

It's unclear if the Rays have high hopes for the 2015 season, with Joe Maddon taking his talents to Chi-Town. It's too early to tell if we can start busting out "Rocco Baldelli Ain't Walking Through That Door" jokes, but hopefully we'll find out early and often that the Red Sox offense can take care of business.