Sale leads to first Polar Park sellout, WooSox win on Autism Acceptance Day

It was Autism Acceptance Day at Polar Park and it was a beautiful day for some baseball. The WooSox faced the Toronto Blue Jays AAA affiliates, the Buffalo Bisons. Before the game, the WooSox honored many organizations that support people affected by autism. The New England Center for Children (NECC), a leader in autism education and training (and the school that taught me to talk) was honored during the pregame ceremony. Many NECC students, teachers, and family members also received tickets to the game.

Autism Acceptance Day was also the first 100% capacity sellout at Polar Park (9,508 fans) as Chris Sale took the mound for a rehab start after undergoing Tommy John surgery back in March 2020.

While Sale’s rehab start made this game even more exciting, large crowds can be a challenge for individuals with autism. As a result, the WooSox added an additional sensory-friendly space in the DCU Club. The Unum Sensory Friendly Room was also open, as it is for every game, along the first base line adjacent to fan services.

I covered the game and events of the day on behalf of the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism. I was focusing not only on the game but also on the inclusive environment Polar Park had created.

I caught up with Jared Bouzan, NECC’s Chief Development Officer, before he was honored on the field. I also spoke with Jeff Arnold, a member of the NECC marketing team. Both Jared and Jeff were excited for the events of the day and very appreciative of the WooSox.

Marie Roy, an autistic WooSox employee, was working at the nacho stand. I met Marie last month during the Polar Park open house and caught up with her again at this game at the nacho stand where she works:

Joe Bradlee, WooSox VP of Baseball Operations & Community Relations invited me to come to the park at 1 p.m., three hours before the game, to catch batting practice (BP). It was a pretty incredible experience to be welcomed on the field to cover BP along with several other press members. Many extra media members came to Polar Park for Chris Sale. Red Sox utility player Marwin Gonzalez, like Sale, was also on a rehab assignment and took BP with the team. After BP, I had the chance to interview WooSox first baseman and designated hitter Josh Ockimey as well as WooSox coach Bruce Crabbe.

I also had the chance to speak with reporters like Joe McDonald of the Worcester Telegram (who I had originally met in 2015 during my first press box experience with the Bruins), and Alex Speier, a Boston Globe baseball writer and researcher who is frequently on NESN during Red Sox games to provide unique insight on the players. I was surprised to learn that despite the wealth of information that Alex shares during a game, like the percentage of change-ups a pitcher has thrown all season, that he is a one-man research team. He noted that he comes up with the good questions and then finds the data on the internet.

After covering BP and the pregame ceremony, I found a spot behind home plate next to the press box to watch the game. I was able to see Sale’s warm-up in right field in front of the Worcester Wall, and the game began shortly afterwards.

In the top of the first, the crowd roared as Sale took the mound. Even though he let a couple of baserunners on in the first, he kept the Bisons scoreless. Marwin Gonzalez, who I saw smash a few balls to right field during BP, gave the WooSox an early lead by crushing a solo homer over the Worcester Wall in the bottom of the first.

Over the first three innings, Chris Sale struck out six batters and he looked very sharp in the third inning when hitters Christian Colon, Corey Dickerson, and Tyler White all went down swinging for strike three. I performed some play-by-play from the stands during the top half of the second inning.

The fourth inning wasn’t as easy for Sale as he struggled with his fastball command. Sale gave up his first run in this inning on a pair of doubles. However, if it weren’t for center fielder Tate Matheny leaping up against the wall to rob Kevin Smith of a home run, the Bisons would have taken the lead. Matheny also had a running catch for out #2, with the third out coming on Sale’s seventh strikeout.

In the bottom of the inning, Matheny showed how great defense can lead to offense by hitting a two-run shot over the wall and onto the left field berm. Michael Gettys, who had reached base in all four of his at bats, scored on the HR blast.

Sale left the game with the score 3-1, after throwing 81 pitches, striking out seven, and giving up one run in five innings. Shortly after Sale was done, several media members exited the press box and a few of them asked me if I wanted to go see Chris Sale, so I followed them out of the ballpark.

The WooSox set up a temporary press tent just outside the ballpark specifically for the Chris Sale post game interview. He spoke to the media during the bottom of the 6th inning. I was told that I could observe, as Joe McDonald and Alex Speier asked the bulk of the questions, but I was encouraged to take a spot up close on the side of the tent just before Sale came out to speak.

Sale said he was very encouraged by the results and that this was different than the previous rehab outings. He said he “felt normal” for the first time in a long while during this game. He knows what the Red Sox are doing is special and that he needs to be ready to help them when he rejoins the club.

While Sale was speaking, the WooSox continued to build on their lead as #2 Red Sox prospect (according to MLB.com) Jeter Downs, hit a huge solo shot into deep left field and well past the berm seats.

Buffalo made the game closer in the seventh inning. Nash Knight who had already knocked in the first Bisons run, tripled for his third hit before scoring on a Rodrigo Vigil groundout.

However, Durbin Feltman came in to pitch the last two innings, and prevented the Bisons from scoring any more as the WooSox secured a 4-2 victory. Sale was the winning pitcher with his first official win since August 2019.

After the win, fans headed onto the field for the Sunset Catch. Fans are invited to play catch after every Saturday WooSox game at Polar Park.

I had a thrilling day at Polar Park as I had the opportunity to enjoy all the events of the day as a press member, a fan, and a member of the autism community. I’ll be back at Polar Park again on Friday August 13 to see the game and watch fireworks afterwards, something Polar Park does for every Friday night game. If you haven’t had the chance to go to a game yet, I highly recommend it.

MLB Trade Deadline: What Red Sox, other teams should do

The Red Sox return to the field to this weekend following a boycott due to longstanding systemic racism in America. But they may be in their final days before some significant changes to their roster. The MLB trade deadline is coming up, and as a 10-21 team, the Red Sox are likely to be one of a handful of sellers. However, the Red Sox are in a different situation compared to other teams with a similar record.

Teams like the Orioles, Royals, Tigers, Mariners, Giants, and Pirates are in the midst of multi-year rebuilding phases. Teams like the Angels and Red Sox, who are also struggling mightily, are likely out of contention for this year, but could contend in the near future if they make some moves to put them in that position. No, I’m not suggesting the Red Sox should buy at the deadline. But there’s a certain way to go about selling that could allow the Sox to contend in the next year or two.

Chaim Bloom is not new to situations like this. He rebuilt the Rays very quickly, in just a couple of years, by trading older players for underrated players on the verge of cracking the majors, also known as 4A players.

Next year, the Red Sox will have Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez back to join Nathan Eovaldi and Martin Perez. In addition, prospects like Jeter Downs, Bobby Dalbec, Jarren Duran, Tanner Houck, and Bryan Mata are on the cusp of cracking the majors. With a couple good trades, the Red Sox can keep the future bright by adding some younger players in exchange for older players with soon expiring contracts.

I think the team needs to build around four players, and it appears that the front office agrees. These four players are SS Xander Bogaerts, 3B Rafael Devers, OF Alex Verdugo, and C Christian Vazquez. Devers and Verdugo are younger players who can contribute a lot to this lineup for years to come. Bogaerts is our superstar, and he’s in his second year of an 8 year contract. Vazquez is a top 5 catcher in this league, and would be hard to replace.

You could make a case to trade OF/DH J.D. Martinez, as he has a player option at the end of the season. He’ll likely want to stick with his $22 million per year contract though, and he can put up good production for this lineup in 2021 and 2022. It would also be unwise to trade starting pitchers, as starting pitching has been our downfall.

But there are a handful of players we could trade. Below I have proposed two trades the Red Sox should make at this year’s deadline:

Red Sox: Mitch Moreland is making the best out of the MLB shutdown
1B Mitch Moreland could be traded by the Red Sox at this year’s deadline.

  • Twins get: 1B Mitch Moreland
  • Red Sox get: SP Devin Smeltzer, MiLB P Dakota Chalmers

  • Padres get: OF Jackie Bradley Jr.
  • Red Sox get: RP Adrian Morejon, MiLB OF Jeisson Rosario

I’ll explain each of these trades. So, the Twins are legitimate World Series contenders with a pretty balanced roster. However, they have needed to use a platoon of other infielders at first base, including Miguel Sano and Marwin Gonzalez. Gonzalez is a utility guy, and Sano could be used at third base until Josh Donaldson returns. Donaldson and Gonzalez also both have experience at second base, where youngster Luis Arraez starts most days. Having a true first baseman like Moreland adds more depth to this Twins lineup and allows them more flexibility. Moreland is under contract for this year and he has a club option for next year too.

In return, I have the Red Sox receiving SP Devin Smeltzer and pitching prospect Dakota Chalmers. The Twins have a lot of young pitching talent, a group that is headlined by Jose Berrios, Randy Dobnak, and prospects Jhoan Duran and Lewis Thorpe. They can afford to give up Smeltzer, who is a capable mid to back end starter but likely no more than that. Him and Chalmers are valuable for the Sox though, who are in desperate need of pitching depth. Smeltzer could be given his chance in the Sox rotation right away and be considered for the #5 spot next year when Sale and E-Rod return. Chalmers is a longer term investment but should be ready for 2021.

The second trade is a smaller one, in which the Red Sox send OF Jackie Bradley Jr. to the Padres. With Tommy Pham hurt, the Padres could use more OF depth. In turn, they can give Boston young reliever Adrian Morejon as well as OF prospect Jeisson Rosario. Rosario, however, would have to be classified as a player to be named later, since he is not in the Padres 60-man player pool.

With JBJ leaving, the Sox still have Kevin Pillar for the rest of the year. But they could try and work current OF prospect Jarren Duran into the mix. For San Diego, these are both expendable players, so the trade would be worth it for both sides. The Sox can start Michael Chavis at first down the road while using Jose Peraza among others at second. Soon, they’ll also have Downs and Dalbec to work with in this infield, and there’s no harm in giving them some MLB experience this year if need be. I could also see pitching prospect Tanner Houck making his debut.

I’ve also included three other potential trades that could happen around the league:

1. Braves acquire SP Kevin Gausman

  • Braves get: SP Kevin Gausman
  • Giants get: C Alex Jackson, MiLB P Daysbel Hernandez, MiLB OF Greyson Jenista

Like Rosario in the Sox-Padres deal, Hernandez and Jenista would need to be classified as players to be named later. But the Braves could absolutely contend for a title with some more starting pitchers, and they are familiar with Gausman, who’s one of the better options on the In return, the Giants get three young players, including C Alex Jackson. With Buster Posey getting older by the day, the Giants would be smart to add more young catching options alongisde Joey Bart. The Giants could theoretically buy at the deadline, but I don’t see them as being in a good spot to make the playoffs, and Gausman is in a contract year so he’s somewhat expendable, especially with all the young pitching talent in the Giants system right now.

2. Dodgers acquire 2B Jonathan Schoop

  • Dodgers get: 2B Jonathan Schoop
  • Tigers get: MiLB OF D.J. Peters, MiLB P Edwin Uceta, MiLB P Brett de Geus

The Dodgers haven’t gotten much production out of 2B Gavin Lux, and it seems he needs more time to develop. Acquiring a rental second baseman would not be a bad idea for the Dodgers. In return, the Tigers get three lower end prospects, one of which (de Geus) would need to be a player to be named later. Peters could contribute right away for Detroit, while the others would need more development.

3. Brewers upgrade rotation, catching staff

  • Brewers get: SP Julio Teheran, C Jason Castro
  • Angels get: 2B Luis Urias, MiLB P Trey Supak, MiLB P Zack Brown, MiLB C Payton Henry, MiLB P Alec Bettinger

The Brewers are right around .500 right now. If they want to contend, they need to upgrade their starting rotation. Teheran has struggled this year, but a change of scenery might be what he needs to bounce back. I also have the Brewers getting Castro here, as C Omar Narvaez has not lived up to expectations at the plate. In turn, I have the Angels getting a package of 5 young players, all of which are ready or almost ready to play in the majors and are in Milwaukee’s player pool. Urias will be joining his third team in two years, adding depth to the infield. Supak, Brown, and Bettinger will help brighten the Angels future as they could all be future rotation contributors. Henry is a longer term catching option for the Angels, and he’s not even Milwaukee’s top catching prospect so he’s expendable.

That’s all for my coverage of this year’s trade deadline. I’m intrigued to see what the Red Sox and other teams will do, and I’m intrigued to see what will differ from normal at the deadline in this unique season. Be sure to check out my updated MLB power rankings and MLB update podcast from last week.