Keeping Score: The Post-Papi era begins in Beantown

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good morning!

As soon as Forrest Gump uttered, “Life is like a box of chocolates,” it went straight to the waste bin of cliches.

That brought us to mixed nuts. Big Papi was a Brazil nut, the biggest nut in the can. Last season he hulked his aching, 240-pound body into the batter’s box 626 times and led the league in doubles, RBIs and slugging percentage. He batted .315 and cranked out 38 home runs.

It’s early — real early — but the Red Sox are losing their swagger without the Big Guy looming over the plate. They’re hitting for average — second-best in the AL at .267 — but their power numbers have taken a precipitous dip. At this writing, Boston was ranked last in the majors in home runs (4) and 20th in slugging percentage.

Yes, we’re a mere 5½ percent of the way into the season, but Red Sox fans can always find a reason to worry. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval has two of Boston’s four dingers, including a meaningless two-run blast against Baltimore on Wednesday that snapped an 0-for-13 slump, but overall he’s hitting .133 and Brock Holt -- his would-be replacement -- is batting .091.

Going into Friday night’s game against Tampa, Mookie Betts didn’t have an RBI or extra-base hit, Xander Bogaerts had seven hits — all singles — and three RBI, and Jackie Bradley Jr. was on the DL after stubbing his toe and twisting his knee rounding first base in Detroit.

It’s not all bad. Jerry Remy likening Andrew Benintendi to Carl Yastrzemski wasn’t unreasonable. He carried the Red Sox to their Opening Day win against the Pirates with a three-run moon shot and his over-the-shoulder catch with the bases loaded, and helped key the winning rally against Pittsburgh on Thursday. He’s a player who’s average should seem higher than it is (.235) because his hits matter. 

Dustin Pedroia’s his usual self, hitting safely in eight straight games and fielding flawlessly, Mitch Moreland leads the majors in doubles, and the catching tandem of Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez has thrown out six of seven would-be base stealers while batting a combined .419.

Betts led the league in total bases last season and Ramirez hit 30 home runs and drove in 111. Those are important stats because this is the post-Papi Era and somebody’s gotta do it.

There’s always reason to worry; October’s right around the corner.

Greenfield native Joe Martino emailed a photo of his wife Ginger and himself dining with Pete and Janice Duffy at Davenport’s Restaurant in Cumberland, R.I.

Both are YMCA lifers whose friendship was kindled in Greenfield. “Funny to think that Pete’s the guy who gave Aerosmith their second paying gig of all time,” said Martino. “They played at the YMCA teen dance and Pete promised if they came back he’d pay. They backed their van into Pete’s car in the Y parking lot with Janice inside. You can’t make this stuff up.”

Several NMH folks watching Tuesday’s Orioles-Red Sox game probably recognized 30-year-old reliever Oliver Drake from when he pitched at NMH. 

The 6-foot-4 Gardner native lettered in baseball and hockey and subsequently majored in quantitative economics at the U.S. Naval Academy. Drake pitched for the Midshipmen and was taken by Baltimore with the 1,286th pick of the 2008 draft.

During Tuesday’s relief stint he fanned two of the first three hitters but wound up allowing three runs on an assortment of bloops and bleeders. In the NESN booth, Dennis Eckersley riffed on Drake’s unusual breaking pitch: “That’s the gyro ball! Goes the other way … See it? Zroom! That is nasty!”

UMass AD Ryan Bamford let a top young basketball coach off the hook by either lacking the personal touch or thinking he had the upper hand. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey was 35 minutes from taking the job when he did an about-face and returned to South Carolina.

“When you want a guy, you gotta sell the place,” said a longtime college insider. “This is culture shock. Keep him busy. Don’t give him time to think. Don’t leave him alone. Make him feel like everyone at UMass loves basketball.”

Bamford missed a golden opportunity to make the program better, which is a classic case of UMass being UMass.

Paul Dickson’s biography “Leo Durocher — Baseball’s Prodigal Son” recounts the scrappy Durocher’s rough upbringing in West Springfield, across the river from where his mother stitched baseballs at A.G. Spalding & Son.

“He gambled, he womanized and Babe Ruth accused him of stealing his watch,” wrote Dickson.

Durocher was a lout with a knack for good quotes. “God watches over drunks and third basemen,” he said.

When commissioner Hap Chandler asked him if he knew mobster Bugsy Siegel, Durocher said yeah and called him a “nodding acquaintance.”

“Don’t nod at him anymore,” replied Chandler.

Amherst College has ended its affiliation with Lord Jeff, the despicable 18th-century British officer who suggested biological warfare against Native Americans during Pontiacs War in 1763.

Sort of anyway, the college and town are still named Amherst — as in Lord Jeffery Amherst. 

Amherst’s new nickname is the Mammoths — again, sort of. The college’s ultimate frisbee team has long been called the Mammoths.

“I put in for the Zephs,” said Williams College SID Dick Quinn. “Zephaniah Swift Moore founded Amherst. We’re the Ephs (for Ephraim Williams). The Ephs versus the Zephs, why not?”

“Brockmire” on IFC stars Tufts grad Hank Azaria as Jim Brockmire, a former big league announcer who disappeared after an on-air meltdown. The show debuts with Brockmire’s return from Thailand to be the PA announcer of a minor league team called the Frackers (after the notorious fracking industry).

The team’s owner (played by Amanda Peet) hopes fans will come to hear his bawdy rants, and they do. So have the TV viewers, considering the show was recently renewed for a second season.

Squibbers: When the Orioles hit four home runs in an inning-and-a-third off knuckleballer Steven Wright on Wednesday, NESN analyst Dennis Eckersley called it, “One of the biggest lunch jobs I’ve ever seen.” Only the Eck can make a nonsequitur make sense. ... Orioles manager Buck Showalter bristled at Boston’s grandstanding about the flu bug. “Everybody in the league has that issue. Our guys have done a good job not broadcasting it to the world.” ... The Detroit Red Wings failed to make the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in 26 years. ... Former Delaware coach K.C. Keeler is 33-9 at Sam Houston State. Keeler guided the Fighting Blue Hens to the 2003 I-AA championship and began his coaching career at Amherst College. ... Can’t wait to get my Red Sox ticket for Wally Toothbrush Holder Day on May 14. ... Jack Eichel of Chelmsford, the Sabres’ top draft choice in 2015, stood to make a $2 million bonus by finishing in the top 10 in points per game. He finished 11th at 0.934, which left him .005 behind Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl at 0.939. ... The Yanks led 8-4 with two out in the ninth, Aroldis Chapman’s fastball was eviscerating the Rays’ hitters and broadcaster John Sterling was winding it down. “Here’s the 1-1, swung on and missed. Boy, did he throw it by him! Ho! I don’t envy these hitters ... That was the old Linda Ronstadt song, The blew by you.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached by email at sports@recorder.com.