It would have been an interesting enough game.
The Red Sox kept the pedal to the metal when it comes to abusing the Phillies' pitching, this time pounding out a 10-2 victory over Philadelphia, which included 16 hits to give the hosts 33 over the first two days of the three-game set.
(It was, after all, the first time the Red Sox have compiled as many as 10 runs and 16 hits in consecutive games since 2004, with all nine Sox starters garnering at least one hit for the first time season.)
But what could have been a very innocuous, high-scoring afternoon of damp and dreary baseball actually turned into of the most intriguing afternoons of the season. Who knew that when WEEI's Joe Castiglione told Daniel Nava to hit the first pitch he saw out of the park during the pregame show the rookie would actually follow instructions?
Here are some reasons we won't forget this Saturday any time soon:
NAVA FINDS HIS WAY TO THE BIG LEAGUES
This wasn't any ordinary promotion. When Nava was summoned to replace Josh Reddick on the Red Sox' 25-man roster it marked the culmination of a most-inspiring journey. It was one which, as WEEI.com's Alex Speier pointed out, began for the Sox with perhaps one of their smartest $1 investments of all-time.
In 2007, the Sox — at the encouragement of GM Theo Epstein, Assistant to the GM Allard Baird and Assistant Director/Professional Scouting Jared Porter — made a decision that they wanted to scout independent leagues more heavily, believing that there could be overlooked prospects to mine. While the team had signed indy leaguers in the past as minor league filler, Nava was one of the first players whom the team signed as a prospect.
The Sox did not have a scouting report on Nava from his college days at Santa Clara, when he led the Division 1 West Coast Conference in batting average and OBP. But they had seen his statistical profile, and became intrigued by a switch-hitter who was named the MVP of the Golden Baseball League while leading the Chico Outlaws to a championship in 2007 with a line of .371/.425/.625 with above-average defense.
Typically, the Sox inquire about the warts associated with indy leaguers before they sign them — perhaps defensive shortcomings, an inability to hit pitchers on one hand or another, does he have a bad plate approach, etc. — but with Nava, there were no such blemishes. The Sox had never scouted him in person, but based on recommendations of Golden Baseball League officials, Nava appeared a good bet to be an undervalued player, and so the Sox acquired the rights to him, sight unseen, for $1, with the understanding that the team would pay an additional $1,499 if it kept him out of spring training.
The Sox had an area scout look at Nava work out before the start of spring training, and determined it would be worth bringing him to Fort Myers in 2008. There, he played well enough to convince the Sox’ player development decision makers that he deserved a spot with High-A Lancaster of the California League. And so, the Sox paid the $1,499 to the GBL to keep him, while giving Nava a salary of $1,100 per month.
“The rest,” said a team source, “is history.”
And so it was …
BEFORE NAVA'S HISTORY, THERE WAS DAISUKE
Of all the surreal things that has popped up in regards to Daisuke Matsuzaka, what occurred minutes before Saturday's game appeared, on the surface, to be a cake-taker.
Just before the first pitch, a Red Sox media relations director came over the press box intercom informing the masses that the day's scheduled starter, Matsuzaka, was headed to the 15-day disabled list with a strained right forearm and Scott Atchison would be taking his place.
The move seemed curious, to say the least, considering Matsuzaka had been seen not only heading out the Red Sox' bullpen, but actually was witnessed to have thrown at least some pitches. Evidently, well, let Red Sox manager Terry Francona explain:
"Daisuke, when he was warming up, he felt some forearm tightness. We just weren’t comfortable, and again, this was happening fast. It’s five-to-four. Johnny called back down to the dugout, we corralled Atchison got him out there, Daisuke was still kind of throwing. We weren’t comfortable doing it. He was talking that he could pitch but he’d have to change his arm slot a little bit. That wasn’t going to be a good idea. We decided we’d start Atch and again, it’s now five after four, or 4 o’clock. We weren’t comfortable with potentially our innings for the game. So we had to DL Daisuke and brought up [Dustin] Richardson. That was, again, he was examined by Mike Reinold quickly and his strength looks good, all that. Again, it’s a little bit, we have a chance to really get in a bind with our pitching when you lose a starter 10 minutes before the game.”
From Matsuzaka's point of view, despite the alarming nature of the transaction, the injury shouldn't be cause for concern.
“After coming out of the game, the trainers took a look at me and things didn’t seem that bad,” Matsuzaka said. “It’s not a joint issue. It’s muscle soreness, so I don’t think it’s going to take that long. We’ll take some time, see how I feel tomorrow, and take it from there.”
THEN THERE WAS ATCHISON'S SIDE OF THINGS
The 34-year-old hadn't started since he was moved to the bullpen for good in his first year in Japan during the 2008 season. About 20 minutes before Saturday's game that would change.
“I was in here dressed, 20 or 25 minutes before the game, I guess, just kind of waiting. [Bench coach] DeMarlo [Hale} came in and said, 'Atch get your glove. Let's go.' I said, 'Where we going?' He said, 'We need you out in the bullpen, something might be up.' I was already dressed so it wasn't that big a deal from that point,” Atchison said. “I got out in the dugout and Tito said, 'Head out to the bullpen. We're not exactly sure what's going on.' So I went out there and Dice was still throwing. I guess they called in and they were like, 'Get going, you're going to start this thing.' It was kind of exciting because I've never started a game in the big leagues. I was able to put a '1' where all the '0's' used to be in the columns.”
The veteran righty held his own, all things considered, going three innings, giving up two runs. Prior to Japan, Atchison’s experience as a starter consisted of one start with Triple A Fresno in ’07, with the last regular run as a starting pitcher in the United States coming in ’02 with Triple A Tacoma.
“I had done it somewhat before, so I guess I knew what I was getting myself into,” he noted.
“I had plenty of time. I'm a reliever. I probably could have waited actually a little longer, but they said 'Get going' and I hadn't look at the clock. There were a thousand things running through my mind as to what was going on. I tried to treat the warm-up for the most part like I would if I was getting loose to come in and pitch an inning. I figured that was the best way to go about it.”
NAVA TRULY SPICED THINGS UP
The story was good enough on it's own. That's why pregame stories were being written by dozen, with nary a mention of any big league home run. (Click here to see WEEI.com's version.)
But then came the kind of punctuation that has only occurred twice in baseball history: A rookie hitting the very first major league pitch he saw out of the park for a grand slam.
But before Nava turned on Joe Blantons' fastball there was …
VICTOR MARTINEZ MAKING HIS OWN HISTORY
In a day of unbelievable events, this might be the most mind-shattering of them all …
After Nava hit his grand slam on the very first major league pitch he ever saw, there have now been four players in big league history to claim home runs with the bases loaded in their initial major league game — Bill Duggleby (1898), Jeremy Hermida (‘05) and Kevin Kouzmanoff (‘06).
Of the group only Kouzmanoff and Nava hit their grand slams on the first big league offering they saw. Pretty good, right?
Well, Martinez can top that.
The Red Sox catcher can claim to having not only been present for both of the historic first-pitch home runs, but he has also has proof that he predicted both would take place just prior to their completion.
Saturday, while sitting up in the Red Sox’ clubhouse during the second inning, Martinez offered his prediction of Nava’s blast.
“He was standing right next to me when he said, ‘First pitch, bomb!’” said Red Sox DH David Ortiz. “I came up to get some batting gloves because of the rain and Vic was here. He said, ‘Watch this, first pitch grand salami’ There you go.”
But before you surmise that it was just a lucky guess, understand Martinez has a history with such things. That was thanks to Kouzmanoff’s first-pitch blast sat a member of the Cleveland Indians back on Sept. 2, 2006.
When he first got there I said, ‘If I was you I would swing at the first pitch.’ He said, ‘You think I should do that?’ I said, ‘Why not? You play in Double A and Triple A, but you haven’t played against the Rangers so those they probably didn’t have a good scouting report on you from the minor leagues. So if I was you i would swing at the first pitch.’ So guess what? First at-bat, bases loaded, off of Kevin Millwood — first-pitch grand slam.
“When he walked to the plate I called a grand slam.”
When asked if he had duplicated his effort this time around, Martinez resounded, “When you see David ask him.”
Hence, the Ortiz confirmation, and another legend to build on to Nava’s historic day.
“Unbelievable,” Ortiz said.
WHY DON NAVA WAS PUTTING BAND-AIDS ON HIS EYES
Don Nava is a coach, a life coach.
He has always been big on lists, such as documenting goals of what he wanted to accomplish throughout his life. Now he can cross off, "Raise kid who will hit the first major league pitch he sees for a grand slam," off the list.
"I was overwhelmed," said the elder Nava. "The emotion of us coming up here. We were heading back to California. We ended up at Indianapolis airport. We're saying goodbye to him. The Red Sox were flying us out here for three nights to watch him play, and we were just really happy, like this must be Kansas. Then, we missed our flight. We get to the ticket counter, and they said we're not going to get here until 5:45. I said, 'Ma'am, my son is playing left field for the Boston Red Sox today, batting ninth, in front of the Green Monster. I can not miss it.' And she got us on. We got here when he was running out on the field. I was overwhelmed with emotion. My eyes need Band-Aids I've been crying so much.
"He wasn't a prospect. He's never been a prospect. He washed uniforms for two years at Santa Clara. He's called me between the washer and the dryer. I say, 'What are you doing?' He says, 'I've got a pocket full of quarters. I'm going from the washer to the dryer.' The guy is getting kicked out of the laundromat on a Saturday night in Compton, Calif. For him to go to junior college and hang in there, and then get cut from an independent league team the first time and then go back, we're so grateful to the Red Sox. It's been a fantastic organization that's believed in him. I mean, [Red Sox principal owner] John Henry comes down today and sits down with me. That's class. It's been -- pinch me, please."
Nava wasn't alone in his astonishment. A clubhouse full of smiling baseball players took time to relish in the kind of moment you simply don't witness more than once or twice in a lifetime.
But, fortunately, for the Sox' rookie, one player, Manny Delcarmen, had his wits about him enough to secure a most important moment.
DELCARMEN'S WEB GEM
In high school, the Red Sox reliever played very little outfielder, usually either pitching or catching. Saturday, his glove was as good as gold.
"Pretty good catch, I would say," said Delcarmen, who snagged Nava's drive. "There’s been so many times they hit the ball in the bullpen and I’m a little late grabbing my glove. I happened to look at it and it was coming right for us and I knew it was his first big league at-bat, too. If that ball bounces, we might have people going in there chasing that ball down, so it was a pretty good catch. Hopefully it makes the highlights."
While Delcarmen was describing making his leaping grab, his bullpen-mate, Daniel Bard sheepishly admitted that he had been absent from the drama, having been in the bullpen's bathroom.
"I missed the whole thing," Bard said. "I saw him cross home plate."
ABOUT THAT BASEBALL
Hermida -- one of the few members of the "First At-Bat Grand Slam Club" -- recalled that former Marlins reliever Todd Jones had actually ventured into the stands to get the ball the outfielder had launched into history. (His home run came on the third pitch, a changeup from Al Reyes. "I swung as hard as I could at the first one and missed it," he said. "I wanted to get that first one out of the way.")
Thanks to Delcarmen, such endeavors weren't necessary. He had his ball without nary a negotiation. But what should be noted that it was the second home run ball he had been presented by the Red Sox this season.
Consider this passage from another Speier story, this one written during spring training:
John Lackey seemed to shrug off the home run that he allowed in a minor league camp game to Daniel Nava on Monday. He was, after all, just getting his work in, building up his pitch count towards the start of the regular season.
The right-hander, Boston’s $82.5 million offseason prize, had even gone so far as to say that he was happy to give up a run before the curtain lifted on the regular season.
But that cavalier attitude belied the sordid truth that lurked beneath the surface of Nava’s opposite-field rocket on fastball up in the zone.
“We have a history,” Nava explained earnestly, before breaking into laughter.
It turns out that the 27-year-old was not seeing Lackey for the first time. Near the start of the 2008 season, when Lackey was on a rehab assignment with Rancho Cucamonga of the Hi-A California League, he had faced Nava’s Lancaster JetHawks twice.
In the second game (Lackey’s last rehab outing), Nava yanked a first-inning double down the right-field line. In his next at-bat, Lackey hit the switch-hitter with a pitch in the knee.
“He hit me and said something to me as I ran down the line,” Nava chuckled. “[This spring, Lackey] said, ‘Yeah, I probably did say something like that.’ But every time I’ve talked to him, he’s been great.”
Nava was a strikeout victim in his third and final at-bat against Lackey that day. So, in Tuesday’s game in Red Sox camp, Nava -- who also grounded to short against Lackey in the camp game -- finally got a chance to extract his own pound of flesh from the big Texan.
Not that Nava treated it as such.
“Blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while. … I made sure to sprint about those bases as fast as I could. Head down, no eye contact, no smiles, bite my tongue,” Nava said. “Afterwards, I got a ball in my locker that said, ‘Don’t you ever do that again.’ [Lackey] signed it. It was a joke.”
Nava insisted that his slice shot down the line against Lackey would not have been a homer but for the stiff wind to left. Nonetheless, Nava’s ability to square up a ball and drive it to the opposite field against one of the top starters in the majors – a pitcher who had yet to give up a run this spring – offered a notable reminder of his improbable minor league success store.
Asked after Saturday's game if Lackey remembered facing Nava, the pitcher initially failed to recall such a meeting. Then, just as he was to exit the clubhouse, the righty doubled back and said, "He was the one who hit a home run off of me and then I signed a ball for him, right?"
Yes, it was not a normal day in the least.