The Red Sox's season is in its most perilous position yet

ANAHEIM, Calif. — As Xander Bogaerts tugged his navy blue batting practice pullover down over his muscular shoulders inside the visitor’s clubhouse at Angel Stadium on Thursday night, the Red Sox shortstop snuck into an exasperated smile.

A pregame interview had arrived at the topic of Boston’s inability to win low-scoring games; of the offense’s firepower carrying a struggling pitching staff; of the offense’s firepower inhibited by a struggling pitching staff.

Bogaerts’ eyes got wide, and, incredulous, he shook his head.

“How many games we won like that?” he asked, knowing it hadn’t been many. “I don’t think we won a 1-0 game yet, eh?”

Bogaerts was slightly mistaken. Boston beat Atlanta 1-0 back on April 25. But his sentiment was spot on. Coming into Thursday, the Red Sox were 2-27 in games in which they had scored three runs or fewer. By comparison, the Orioles were 11-28; the Tigers were 8-30; the Yankees were 13-41.

Now the Sox are 2-28.

David Price, who had been part of the problem, did his best to make it 3-27. The lefty threw eight stellar innings and handed Brad Ziegler a 1-0 ninth-inning lead. But Ziegler and Hanley Ramirez threw the game to the Angels.

David Price was great Thursday, but his Red Sox have lost six of seven. (Getty Images)
David Price was great Thursday, but his Red Sox have lost six of seven. (Getty Images)

They also threw Boston’s season into arguably its most precarious position yet. The Red Sox are staring up at Baltimore and Toronto in the American League East. A four-game skid, their first of the year, has left them just a half game ahead of the Astros for the second AL wild card spot.

Boston has the best offense in baseball by a significant margin. It has the most expensive pitcher ever. It has two formerly-middling starters, one a journeyman knuckleballer, who are a combined 25-7 this season. Its front office has traded for two late-inning relievers, a front-of-the-rotation starter and bats in the past nine months.

And yet here we are. There Ramirez’s throw is, sailing past a lunging Sandy Leon. There are the Angels galloping out of their dugout. There’s Bogaerts, his head down, trudging past a pile of Gatorade-stained ice behind the mound, crestfallen after the very type of loss he had rued five hours earlier.

“We feel like this is a complete team, when you look at balance from a position players standpoint, and the guys in our rotation,” manager John Farrell had said perched on the top step of the dugout before the game. “It’s up to us to go out and execute and perform to our abilities.”

Translation: We’re really good. We’re too good to be in the position we’re in.

That position is even more perilous due to the shape of the Red Sox’s schedule, which is back-heavy with road games. Thursday night’s in Anaheim was the first of 11 on the West Coast. The Red Sox will then play 21 of their next 27 away from home, and 40 of their final 62, more than any other team in baseball.

Boston also finds itself 10 games into a brutal stretch of 43 in 44 days.

Especially with injured closer Craig Kimbrel due back soon from the DL, Farrell thinks his team is prepared to handle the rigors.

“We like the depth of the bench that has been assembled with some of the acquisitions,” he said before Thursday’s game. “The ability to rotate a number of guys through will be on display here… Whether it’s position players or guys in the bullpen, those opportunities are going to present themselves.”

Farrell says he’ll sprinkle in off days for 40-year-old slugger David Ortiz, the first coming this weekend against a lefty, and for others over the next month. But he also acknowledges the difficulty of the next two months.

“Some of our players are going to be going through a playoff race or a pennant race for the first time,” he said. And when asked what he can do to prepare them, he continued: “I don’t think you can replicate it anywhere. They’re gonna draw upon the experiences of our veteran guys who have been through it many times before.”

There’s no time for a learning stage either. If the deals for Drew Pomeranz, Ziegler and Aaron Hill don’t say “win-now mode,” nothing does. And rumors say Boston still could be a buyer before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

The Red Sox should make the playoffs. They have the second best run differential in the American League. Their last seven losses have come by either one or two runs. Microcosms of that poor luck were on display Thursday. Up 1-0 in the fourth, with two on and one out, Jackie Bradley Jr. ripped a liner right at second baseman Johnny Giavotella. Giavotella dropped it… which allowed him to turn a double play.

The Red Sox’s inconsistent starting pitching also should improve. David Price’s peripheral numbers suggest he will, and Thursday was a nice start down that path. Pomeranz could be the previously-missing piece to a strong top four.

But as the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy wrote Wednesday, the Red Sox’s season is at a crossroads. Farrell all but acknowledged as much Thursday.

“Every game we play has a measured amount of importance,” he said. “The deeper we go into the season, the fewer opportunities you get to continue to climb up in the standings. We’re very much in the thick of this.”

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Mike Trout pays tribute to David Ortiz with gold chain, sunglasses

If David Ortiz and the Boston Red Sox hadn’t been in town, you might have looked at Mike Trout’s pre-game garb Thursday night and wondered if he was wearing some sort of Run-DMC costume.

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The gold chain. The sunglasses. All he needed to do was start chanting, “I’m the king of rock, there is none higher … I won’t stop rockin’ til I retire.”

Ahh, but this was about retirement — specifically Ortiz’s. With Big Papi in Anaheim for the final time in his playing career, the Angels joined the retirement-tour party and gave Ortiz a nice send-off. Aside from a present (a cool portrait that had “Big Papi” scrawled across it), Trout and Angels coach Alfredo Griffin put on sunglasses and gold chains to mimic Ortiz’s flamboyant style.

The Angels gave David Ortiz this portrait as a farewell gift. (AP)
The Angels gave David Ortiz this portrait as a farewell gift. (AP)

For someone like Trout, who is usually as plain as it gets, this was both a surprising and entertaining turn.

Baseball definitely needs more dookie-rope chains.

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Police helped Rangers' top prospect Joey Gallo get to game on time


Texas Rangers top prospect Joey Gallo was called up to the major leagues Tuesday and inserted into the starting lineup while he was still miles away from the ballpark fighting his way through traffic hoping to make it to the game on time.

The Rangers pulled some strings and Gallo received a police escort from a Texas state trooper for the final 27 miles of his trip from Round Rock, where he had been playing for the team’s Triple-A affiliate. Fortunately, the Rangers’ game against Oakland was delayed by an hour because of storms and Gallo was able to arrive on time.

The A’s ultimately won the game 6-3, but Gallo, one of the premier power-hitting prospects in the minor leagues this season, made his presence felt with a 448-foot home run in the fifth inning, going opposite field.

Stefan Stevenson covers the Rangers for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and had some fun on Twitter. keeping fans updated on Gallo’s progress toward the stadium before the game.

All indications are that Gallo is now in the major leagues to stay. So Tuesday is a day he’ll probably never forget.

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Kyle Ringo is a contributing writer to Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

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Amar'e Stoudemire was so much more than his highlights

ïPHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 11: Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks smiling during a game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on January 11, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
ïPHILADELPHIA, PA – JANUARY 11: Amar’e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks smiling during a game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on January 11, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

History will not view the newly retired Amar’e Stoudemire as one of the best players of his era, but he is sure to go down as one of the memorable. Few big men have ever dunked with such ferocity, commitment, and constancy. Every time he took the court provided the opportunity for a fantastic highlight, and more often that not he gave us one.

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It’s to Stoudemire’s credit that all those incredible moments seem more like the punctuation to his fantastic NBA career than they do the substance. There’s a reason that many people took to social media to post their favorite Amar’e dunks in the aftermath of his retirement announcement, but it’s not as if anyone thought they would speak for his full career. The videos were just the most readily available evidence of his greatness.

At one time, the knock on Stoudemire was that he would be too inconsistent to make a major pro impact. He transferred high schools six times, attending five different schools in two states in a search for stability during his mother’s troubles with the law. Not surprisingly, that difficult upbringing hurt Stoudemire’s draft stock when he declared in 2002. He fell to the Phoenix Suns at No. 9 — past Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Dajuan Wagner, and Chris Wilcox — in a sign that he was considered a project and risk.

Still, even then, he could do this:

Stoudemire proved pretty much immediately that Phoenix had made one of the best selections of the draft. In addition to becoming a nightly fixture on highlight shows, Amar’e put up strong numbers on his way to claiming the 2003 Rookie of the Year award. Further improvement in his sophomore season set him up for future stardom. This dunk on Michael Olowokandi (with an ace supporting turn from Stephon Marbury) displayed much of his promise:

It is a standard part of the Stoudemire story that he reached stardom when paired with point guard Steve Nash, one of the best pick-and-roll point guards of all time, starting in 2004-05. But Amar’e was just as perfect a match for Nash. His soft hands allowed him to catch alley-oops and bounce passes in tight spaces, his incredible athleticism let him finish over and around countless defenders, and his speed ensured that the Seven Seconds or Less attack would never plod.

Amar’e would still be a highly memorable player if he had just continued in that fashion for several seasons. Imagine a taller version of Shawn Kemp, a player who faded as he grew older but nonetheless stays prominent in the mind of anyone who watched the NBA regularly in the 1990s. However, what makes Stoudemire uniquely fascinating is the way in which he adjusted to several new realities as his knees and other body parts betrayed him.

His 2005 microfracture knee surgery occurred at a time when the procedure was far from common and had led to several severe dowturns for players before and during their comeback attempts. Yet Stoudemire returned in the 2006-07 season as an equally effective, but different, player. Although he still relied on his elite athleticism, Stoudemire no longer had the springiness to run at the basket with abandon and assume he’d succeed. The lost season appeared to provide perspective, and Amar’e came back with an improved jumper and the ability to beat defenses in different ways.

Future seasons with the Suns brought more hazards and challenges. The February 2008 trade of Shawn Marion for Shaquille O’Neal moved Stoudemire to the power forward position for more minutes and appeared to deprive him of crucial space inside. Trade rumors followed for several seasons, and Stoudemire appeared to take them to heart. His numbers stayed strong, but his reputation began to stagnate. If the Cleveland Cavaliers had chosen to trade J.J. Hickson in 2010, Stoudemire may have gone into free agency fresh off a title challenge alongside LeBron James.

Instead, he ended up doing so with Nash, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, and the rest of a Suns squad that exceeded expectations in pushing the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers to six games in the conference finals. Amar’e appeared refreshed after the trade deadline, playing his best ball of the season in March, April, and the playoffs. He picked shots with intelligence, attacked the rim when needed, and even improved his defense enough to hold his own against the Lakers’ league-best frontcourt of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom. Those final months in Phoenix acted as a reminder that Amar’e was still one of the league’s elite players and would be a coveted member of the best free agent class in NBA history.

The Suns were proven right in their decision to let Stoudemire move to the New York Knicks at a five-year max-level salary. But it’s important to remember how quickly and thoroughly he won over Madison Square Garden. A fan base hungry for a functional team warmed to the Amar’e-led squad immediately, grateful for a legitimate All-Star and a roster that seemed to enjoy playing together.

Perhaps Knicks fans just jumped to love Stoudemire because they were desperate following years of neglect at the hands of Isiah Thomas and James Dolan’s dysfunctional front office. That’s at least partially true, but Stoudemire also proved a great fit for the role of quasi-savior because genuinely seemed to love playing in New York. He represented the team with pride, became a fixture in the broader social scene of the city, and appeared set to bring several more stars to the team as it rounded back into a championship contender.

Things obviously didn’t work out as planned. While Carmelo Anthony joined the Knicks later that season, his acquisition came at the expense of too many starters and rotation players and put far too much pressure on Stoudemire at a time when his body began to break down. Amar’e never again played as well as he did during those first few months in New York, and his rapidly deteriorating defense often made him a net-negative no matter his offensive production. The Stoudemire experience reached its nadir when he injured his hand after punching a fire extinguisher during the 2012 postseason, and the next couple years went poorly enough that no one seemed especially upset when he had the last months of his contract bought out in February 2015.

It’s a testament to Amar’e’s character and approach to life that he remained a likable presence through most of his worst moments. Many of the most random stories about Stoudemire — to name three: his unexpected alliance with Israel and Jewish culture, his love of wine baths, and his friendship with Anna Wintour — could have come across as goofy tales about a man in love with publicity. With Amar’e, though, they seemed like an expression of his vitality.

Similarly, Stoudemire maintained a strong self-awareness whenever his career took a difficult turn. His injury comebacks with the Suns will remain his most successful transitions, but Amar’e managed to ease into a late-career life as a role player while holding onto his dignity and a degree of on-court significance. Taken as a whole, his career is the story of a player who initially seemed to be a one-dimensional athletic marvel and proved many times that he held multiple layers and an ability to adapt.

The highlights will always speak loudest and serve as the greatest reminder that Amar’e Stoudemire was a player of great ability. However, he will be remembered fondly — not just remembered at all — because of the way he went about his business. Athletes are rarely so joyful and thoughtful at the same time.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Kevin Durant's Oklahoma City restaurant is rebranding

Kevin Durant of the US sets up a play against Argentina during their exhibition game at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, on July 22, 2016 (AFP Photo/Ethan Miller)
Kevin Durant of the US sets up a play against Argentina during their exhibition game at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, on July 22, 2016 (AFP Photo/Ethan Miller)

We’ve written several times in this space about Oklahoma’s abrupt and intense breakup with Kevin Durant. When the best player in Oklahoma City Thunder history left for the Golden State Warriors several weeks ago, it brought on lots of heartache and more than a few price-cutting super sales. It’s been a reminder that cities forge real bonds with star athletes that cannot be ignored as soon as they change teams.

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As one of the NBA’s best two or three players, Durant had stronger connections to OKC than most free agents. His departure has caused some headaches for colleagues and business associates, including those involved with KD’s, his restaurant. Now that the Durant name isn’t so strong in OKC, the eatery has closed to rebrand itself. From Brianna Bailey for The Oklahoman:

Kevin Durant’s Bricktown restaurant closed Sunday, just three weeks after Durant announced plans to leave Oklahoma City for the Golden State Warriors. However, Kd’s Restaurant, operated by Norman-based Hal Smith restaurant group, vows to reopen with a new theme after Labor Day. […]

“It has been an honor — and a lot of fun — to partner with Kevin Durant at Kd’s these last few years,” Hal Smith, founder and CEO of the Oklahoma-based restaurant group said in a statement. “We wish him the very best as he takes a new direction in his career.”

Although the restaurant has remained popular since Durant announced his relocation to another state, it has always been part of Smith’s plan to be flexible and offer a new concept in that space should circumstances change over time, the company said.

Durant said he was a 25 percent owner in Kd’s when the eatery was first announced in 2012, but it is unclear if he will maintain any ownership stake in the new restaurant.

The closure is apparently serious enough that the KD’s website no longer works, but a quick glance at the menu shows that only one item, the “Thunder Sticks” starter of chicken tenders with assorted dipping sauces, had any sort of basketball or Durant-affiliated name. Smith said that his group does not intend to overhaul the menu and will continue to serve the same grill and soul food standards.

Yelp reviews suggest that many Oklahomans will be happy to eat the same food under a different name. However, one take from a “Rick R.” of Spreckels, California suggests that the Durant name carried the restaurant for years:

Horrible. Not sure if the people who left glowing reviews were mesmerized by the fact that this is Kevin Durant’s restaurant, or they are huge fans of Church’s fried chicken and thought it was even better because it arrived on a plate vs. in a bucket.

Rick’s review was posted on May 29, just one day before the Thunder lost to the Warriors in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. Many of the reviews that followed Durant’s decision to change teams weren’t about the food at all, so it’s as yet unclear how the city’s diners will react to the new incarnation.

In the meantime, Thunder fans will have to spend their time at Westbrook’s, a local diner where chefs throw food directly into the faces of patrons.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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