April 2010

So What Happens With Alan Embree on April 15th?

Most Red Sox fans can probably identify Keith Foulke as the pitcher who recorded the final out of the 2004 World Series.  But can you name the pitcher who got the final out in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS?


It’s Alan Embree who retired Ruben Sierra on a ground out to second baseman Pokey Reese to complete the greatest comeback in baseball history, as the Red Sox rallied from a three games to none deficit to beat the Yankees.


“I got called in and they pinch hit for John Olerud and I was like, ‘Thank you – you’re doing me a favor.  John is a pretty good hitter.’  Embree told me.  “I had faced Ruben quite a bit and I knew that if I threw a pitch down and away, he would be trying to hit a home run and could roll over on it.  Fortunately, he did roll over on it and it was the longest ground ball I think I’ve ever been part of.  I’m thinking, ‘Get to the glove, get to the glove, get to the glove . . . OK, good throw, good throw, good throw . . . OK, it’s over . . .Thank God.’  It was slow motion for me.”


Alan Embree re.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


Embree pitched in six of seven games in that series and in 11 of Boston’s 14 playoff games that year, allowing 2 ER in 7.1 IP.


“That time of year, what are you going to do – say, ‘No, I need a day off?’  Embree said with a laugh.  “I take pride in my post-season numbers and giving our team a chance to win, and I did everything I could to be ready no matter if I felt good or bad.”


He’s hoping to fill a similar role this year.


The 40-year-old lefty returned to the Red Sox organization for the first time since 2005 when he signed with Boston as a free agent with roughly one week to go in spring training.  After allowing 10 ER in 2.1 IP in 3 spring training outings with Boston, Embree agreed to begin the season in Pawtucket and tossed a hitless and scoreless inning in the season opener on Thursday.


“I felt good,” Embree said.  “I went in with the game plan that I was going to work on my fastball command and for the most part I did that.  Everything feels pretty good.  I’m close . . . but I still feel like I need some more touches.  Other than that, it was a good day.”


Embree is likely to get plenty of work on the PawSox season-opening homestand because his contract with Boston includes an opt-out clause on April 15th.  If he is not promoted to Boston by that date, he is free to explore opportunities with other MLB teams.


“Hopefully things go well and I get enough appearances that on the 15th, that won’t be the issue,” Embree said.  “The issue will be that I’m going to Boston – which is ultimately what the goal was.  But that being said, baseball is a business and if for whatever reason they didn’t feel I was fit, I would have to move on from there.  So it’s one of things where I’ll evaluate it on that day.”


I asked Embree if he would consider staying in Pawtucket beyond April 15th if the Red Sox said, “We think you can help the major league club, but don’t think you’re quite ready yet.”


“I’d have to explore the other options before I would consider that,” Embree told me.  “I’m very grateful that the Red Sox gave me the opportunity that they did.  Calling me as late as they did and giving me the chance to come down here and work out some bugs.  But usually around the 10th appearance, I’m usually ready so that’s kind of what I’m gauging it on and the next few outings will tell.” 


* * * * *


After being rained out for the first time this season on Friday, the PawSox host Rochester in a doubleheader on Saturday afternoon at McCoy Stadium.  Daisuke Matsuzaka will make a rehab start in Game One and Adam Mills will take the ball in Game Two.


Our radio coverage begins at 12:50 on the PawSox radio network and PawSox.com.


I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.


And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

McDonald Stars In Opening Night Romp

I spent six days in spring training and saw Pawtucket play four times.  In those four games, the PawSox scored a total of 10 runs.


I guess the hitters were waiting until it counted.


With 11,306 patrons in attendance on Opening Night at McCoy Stadium (I won’t call them “fans” until The Masters is over); the PawSox scored 11 runs on 12 hits and hammered the Rochester Red Wings 11-3.


(Not for nothing, but the PawSox have won all 5 season openers since I’ve been part of the broadcast team.  Every major league club that lost its opener this year should consider that in the off-season).


The star of the show was Darnell McDonald who went 4-for-5 in his PawSox debut, with a double, home run, and 5 RBI.  The 31-year-outfielder is in his 10th International League season and Pawtucket is his 7th I.L. team.


Darnell McDonald re.jpg 

“Everyone that puts on a uniform in the minor leagues has the same goal – to play in the big leagues and that’s obviously my goal,” McDonald told me.  “But I just love playing baseball – it doesn’t matter where it is.  Pawtucket has always been one of my favorite places to play.  We have great fans and a lot of support.”


While McDonald began the season with a huge night, it wasn’t as memorable for him as Opening Day one year ago.  For the first time in his pro career, Darnell made a major league roster to begin the season and started in centerfield for the Cincinnati Reds.


“I really can’t put it into words what it meant because when you work so hard and so long to accomplish something and it finally comes true – it meant the world to me,” McDonald said.  “A lot of people probably thought that it wouldn’t happen, but I always saw that light at the end of the tunnel and I had that belief in myself that I could play in the big leagues and to get that opportunity meant a lot to me.  It’s something that I replay in my head all of the time, and I’ll never forget the feeling of running out on to the field on Opening Day.”


McDonald was one of the most decorated prep athletes in Colorado state history as he led Cherry Creek High School to 3 state titles in both football and baseball.  In baseball, Darnell batted .606 as a senior and was named the National High School Player of the Year by Baseball America.  In football, he rushed for 6,121 career yards and was set to play running back for the University of Texas.


But after being a first round draft pick by the Orioles, McDonald chose to play professional baseball directly out of high school.  Of the 1,397 games he has played in as a pro, only 68 have been at the major league level, but Darnell describes himself as a late bloomer.


“I feel like the last few years I’m just coming into a lot of the things that I knew that I could do,” Darnell told me.  “People develop at different speeds and now I feel like I’m in my prime.  I feel like I have a lot of good years left in me.  My body feels good and I feel like I’m learning and developing into the player that I knew that I could be coming out of high school.  I just try to cherish every moment and appreciate where I am and just try to enjoy it.”


After getting 4 hits and driving in 5 runs, it’s safe to say that he enjoyed his PawSox debut. 


The patrons certainly did.


I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.


And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

Where The Dream Begins . . . and Often Ends

When the Red Sox prospects walk toward the playing fields at the team’s minor complex in Ft. Myers they are greeted by a big sign that points out that Fenway Park is 1,249 miles away and City of Palms Park is 2.6 miles away. 


Ft Myers sign.jpg 


The message is obvious:  Show that you have what it takes at the minor league diamonds and your dream of playing in the major leagues will eventually come true.


Unfortunately, the minor league complex is also where that dream often ends.


28-year-old Brett Harper is one of several players who are hoping for good news as camp winds down as he battles for a spot on Pawtucket’s opening day roster.  The left-handed hitting first baseman had a pair of doubles and a walk in the PawSox 15-4 loss to Rochester on Thursday.


“I find out tomorrow if I make the team or not,” Harper told me.  “We’re all competing for jobs out here right now and getting your swings in and leaving it all on the field right now is the way to go.  I haven’t been told anything yet – I don’t think they’ve made their final rosters.  But you can’t worry about things that you can’t control.”


Brett Harper re.jpg 

Harper signed with Boston as a minor league free agent in February after spending the last two seasons in the Pacific Coast League.  Last year, he hit .292 with 25 doubles, 19 HR and a .508 slugging percentage.  In 2008, he hit .315 with 32 doubles, 20 HR and a .577 slugging percentage.  Brett hit a career high 36 HR in 2005 in the Mets’ minor league system.


“The year before that was actually my breakthrough year (.306 in 2004 with 30 doubles and 17 HR),” Harper said.  “I really started to come into my own with my swing and learned how to hit with power.  The next year I hit a lot of home runs and really started to figure out my swing.”


Brett’s career minor league batting average of .296 is almost identical to his father’s career major league average.  Brian Harper batted .295 in 16 big league seasons with the Twins, Pirates, A’s, Angels, Cardinals, Tigers and Brewers.


Brett’s father was the starting catcher for Minnesota when the Twins won the World Series in 1991 and is remembered for holding on to the ball on a key play at the plate.


Harper and Lonnie Smith re.jpg 


“He got run over by Lonnie Smith in Game 4 of the 1991 World Series and it was a pretty nasty collision,” Brett said.  The picture was in Sports Illustrated – he has it displayed in his office.”


While Brett has vivid recollections of being on the field and in the clubhouse after the Twins won the World Series that year, he is still looking to make his own major league memories.  I asked him if Thursday will be a sleepless night as he waits to find out if he has a job with Pawtucket to begin the season.


“Not really,” Harper said.  “It’s not in my hands – if it were I’d make the team for sure.  In fact, I’d be in the big leagues.  But it’s not in my hands and there’s really nothing more I can do.  I have a beautiful wife and a beautiful daughter at home and if it doesn’t work out, we’ll be just fine without baseball.


“If you’re lucky you might play until you’re 35 or 36.  I’ve played 9 years of professional baseball, so I consider myself pretty lucky to have played this long.  A lot of people don’t get that opportunity and I’ve had a pretty good career.  I can look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘I gave it my best every day and I had fun doing it.”


It’s not mentioned on the sign, but Pawtucket is 1,212 miles away.