Red Sox Surging; PawSox Leaving?

Jul 11, 2018

July Fourth has come and gone, and the Red Sox and PawSox are on my mind.

The Red Sox returned to Fenway Park Monday night after a 7-2 road trip and shut out the Texas Rangers, 5-0, on Steve Pearce’s two-run homer in the first inning, his first at-bat at Fenway Park in a Red Sox uniform, and J.D. Martinez’s three-run shot in the eighth. Eduardo Rodriguez didn’t get out of the sixth inning because of the pitch count but still won his 11thgame against 3 losses. Four relievers preserved the victory, the shutout Boston’s league-leading ninth of the season.

Tuesday night, the Red Sox combined explosive offense and spectacular defense for an 8-4 victory over the Rangers. They scored five runs in the third inning and frustrated the Rangers with a Mookie Betts home run-robbing grab at the bullpen fence in right and a Jackie Bradley Jr. diving catch in center and a nifty Xander Bogaerts scoop at second base and relay to first for a double play. 

That victory was Boston’s 15thin its last 18 games since June 21 and its eighth in a row.  This is Boston’s third eight-game winning streak this season. The last time that happened was 1978, also the year Boston blew a 14-game lead and lost a one-game playoff to the Yankees. We won’t go there today.

Now, the Sox are in first place with a 64-29 record, the best in Major League Baseball, and 3½ games ahead of the Yankees in the A.L. East. 

If the Red Sox keep winning at this pace, they will finish with 111 victories.  Only three teams in franchise history have won 100 games: 1912, 105; 1915, 101; 1946, 104.

Simply put, this team is good and fun to watch. Five Red Sox are All-Stars. Outfielder Mookie Betts leads the majors with his .346 batting average. Martinez, designated hitter and part-time right fielder, is hitting .331 with 28 homers, tops in the majors and four more than Betts’s team-leading 24 in 2017, and 77 RBI. First baseman Mitch Moreland is hitting .285 with 11 home runs. Lefty Chris Sale is 9-4 with a 2.36 ERA and 176 strikeouts in 122 innings. Closer Craig Kimbrel has 27 saves in 29 opportunities.

Left fielder Andrew Benintendi could be Boston’s sixth All-Star if he prevails in Major League Baseball’s Final Vote. Fans have until 4 p.m. Wednesday to cast their ballots. Benintendi is up to .298 with 14 home runs, 25 doubles and 17 stolen bases. 

The buzz is clearly back at Fenway and should last well into October. How exciting!

I wish I felt the same about the Pawtucket Red Sox, but I fear the old ball game at old McCoy Stadium is coming to an end. I fear the Pawtucket Red Sox will become the Worcester Red Sox before long. 

Can you say WorSox?

The silence from McCoy Stadium in the wake of the General Assembly’s passage of a stadium finance bill on June 22 pushed by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has been deafening, and ominous. I don’t blame the PawSox owners for taking their time in deciding whether to stay or go. The General Assembly took three years to get its financing act together.

We can blame Curt Schilling and the catastrophic failure of his 38 Studios for this debacle. Rhode Island, from the General Assembly to the general store, remains paralyzed when it comes to public-private partnerships, thanks to Schilling’s 38 Studios. The state got stuck with Schilling’s $75-million loan when his video game company struck out. Even though the state recovered a significant portion of that money, narrow-minded citizens do not want to hear a word about another deal involving sports figures or private entities.

Never mind that 38 Studios had no track record while the Pawtucket Red Sox organization has been a Rhode Island icon for more than four decades, a model corporate citizen, and a community partner; the City of Pawtucket, not the ball club, would own the new stadium, just as it owns McCoy; the owners of the ball club would put up $45 million of the estimated $83 million for construction of the new stadium, an unprecedented arrangement in minor-league baseball; the deal proposed by the ball club in 2017 is dramatically better than the deal pushed by Jim Skeffington in 2015, months before his untimely death; the facility would be used for events other than baseball, and development might, I emphasize might, occur around the ball park just as it has around the state-owned Dunkin’ Donuts Center and Rhode Island Convention Center in downtown Providence.

Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien championed the Ballpark at Slater Mill from the outset, other political leaders not so much. Gov. Gina Raimondo’s support has been lukewarm. Mattiello flip-flopped when a poll showed voter resistance to the financing plan. In the end, his proposal without state backing of bonds carried the day, but at a stiff cost.  State Treasurer Seth Magaziner estimated that without state guarantee, repaying the principal and interest on the bonds could hit $92 million over 30 years.

Mattiello also narrowed the Tax Increment Financing Area, the zone around the stadium from which taxes could be used to pay off the debt. Mattiello’s bill, passed by the House and Senate and signed by the Governor, essentially says to PawSox ownership, “Hey, here’s your finance package. What more do you want from me?”

Meanwhile, Worcester officials have ramped up their stadium plans, and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has indicated the Commonwealth will support Worcester’s effort to lure the PawSox from Rhode Island. That’s a telling sign. Massachusetts declined to back Schilling’s company, which is why he came to Rhode Island. The Bay State’s more enthusiastic response in contrast to Rhode Island’s tepid support for a new stadium may result in the PawSox heading up Route 146 into the welcoming embrace of Worcester.