Rocco Baldelli was one of the few who truly knew that Nick Green guy who sat mostly by himself throughout the early days of spring training down at the Red Sox' minor league training facility.
"I've known Nick since 2002 when we played for the Scottsdale Scorpions," said Baldelli, who was also the shortstop's teammate in Tampa Bay. "I've always known Greenie was a talented guy who never really got a great opportunity to play in the major leagues, but he's a guy who does everything as it should be done."
Now Green sits alone no more.
There have been dribs and drabs of information that leak out on a daily basis regarding Green leading up to his walk-off homer against the Braves, Sunday, in the Red Sox' 6-5 win over the Braves at Fenway Park (recap).
- He has a twin brother.
- He lived with Alex Rodriguez, both in New York and in Miami. (By the way, check out Green's numbers compared to his ex-roommate's since Rodriguez returned -- Green: .306 batting average, .494 slugging percentage, 26 hits, 13 runs; A-Rod: .213 batting average, .456 slugging percentage, 29 hits, 18 runs.)
- He still carries a J.D. Drew model glove after having to borrow his teammate's to play his first game ever in the outfield when both played for the Braves.
- He credits the toe-tap he has implemented into his swing this season after working with Chipper Jones and Brian McCann for much of his offensive success in '09.
- He had another walk-off homer, that coming against the Red Sox while Green played for the Braves back on July 2, 2004, against then-Sox reliever Anastacio Martinez.
Yes, the knowledge regarding Green is growing by the day. Take for instance the metamorphosis the shortstop has gone through during the Sox' recent homestand. After going 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI in the series opener against the Marlins, Jason Bay watched as his clubhouse neighbor's post-game interview pushed the media in front of the outfielder's own cubicle.
"It's been tough ever since Nick Green's rise to dominance," Bay joked.
Well, Sunday Bay didn't have to worry. Green conducted his press conference in front of the clubhouse's wide-screen television, the spot reserved for players who have distinguished themselves in that day's game.
And when Green started explaining that he didn't truly realize that his first-pitch, leadoff homer in the ninth was of a walk-off variety until he his second base, the crowd -- and the player's legend -- only grew larger.
"To be honest with you, I didn't realize what was going on," he said. "I didn't even comprehend the fact that I swung at the first pitch and it was a walk-off. I just knew that we still had to hit."
So when did the reality of his second career walk-off dawn on him?
"When I hit second base and everybody is standing at home plate," Green said, "then I realized what was going on."
Suddenly, the Nick Green who sat by himself in Fort Myers seemed such a distant image.
"I'm just glad I saw him when I showed up," Baldelli said.
MAYBE NOT AN ALL-STAR, BUT A STAR
Tampa Bay manager, and manager of the this year's American League All-Star team, Joe Maddon hasn't started his round of calls to various teams to get input regarding potential pitchers for his AL club.
But, after Sunday, when (or if) Maddon does call the conversation regarding Tim Wakefield might be short. For that the Red Sox starter might ultimately have one pretty good knuckleball to Gregor Blanco to blame.
With the Red Sox holding a 4-2 lead, two outs and runners on first and third in the seventh inning, Blanco grounded a 1-0 knuckler from Wakefield back up the middle, scoring Garret Anderson with the Braves' third run.
That hit would conclude Wakefield's 82-pitch outing, but not his line, as reliever Ramon Ramirez came on to allow another RBI single, this one to Nate McLouth, tying the game and taking away what could have potentially been the Sox starter's 10th win of the season.
Now Wakefield stands at 9-3 with an ERA of 4.47. If Blanco could have somehow been retired, the hurler would have headed into his final June start tied with Toronto's injured ace, Roy Halladay, and Kevin Slowey of Minnesota for the major league lead in victories, while carrying an ERA of 4.28.
Wakefield still stands with the second-most wins in the AL, but his ERA is only 28th-best, which, unless the fans come to rescue, might not be good enough to get the knuckleballer his first All-Star appearance.
Even with the disappointment of not getting his 174th career win with the Red Sox, there was plenty for Wakefield to be proud of. He is now undefeated in his last 10 Fenway starts, a stretch that includes an 8-0 record with a 3.06 ERA. And the appearance marked his 381st for the Sox, one shy of Roger Clemens' club record.
But what should be acknowledged this time around was how Wakefield did it. Ideal conditions for the 42-year-old would include dry air, and a wind at his back. What he got Sunday was a constant mist/rain and swirling air.
"It wasn't easy to pitch," Wakefield said. "The only thing that I had a problem with was the mist in my face. I know the wind was blowing in, but it was circling back. It was tough to see the plate at times. I remember throwing a couple of pitches and thinking, 'Hopefully they don't hit it right at me because I can't see it right now.'
"The elements obviously are going to have a little bit of an effect on the movement of the ball, not how I throw, but I still have to go out and get as many outs as I can, regardless of whether it's raining, or it's windy, or we're inside or whatever. I have to make adjustments during the course of a game to get outs."
And Wakefield did, facing the minimum 12 Atlanta batters from the third inning until his final frame, in the seventh.
BAD NEWS, GOOD NEWS
Jonathan Papelbon did it again.
For the sixth time this season he pitched to a batter with the bases loaded, equaling his total from a year ago. This time it was a predicament borne out of two walks sandwiched around a single.
And for the fifth time in those six chances this year, Papelbon struck out the batter at the plate with the bases juiced. This time the strikeout of Matt Diaz to end the inning also continued a stretch this season in which he has allowed just one hit in 21 at-bats with runners in scoring position and two outs.
So while the frustration of putting runners on base continued to weigh on the Sox' closer, the end result continued the theme that has been what Papelbon calls his "most satisfying season."
"Maybe not," said Papelbon when asked if he would have been able to escape such jams on a regular basis in his previous seasons, "whereas now I'm able to harness that and use it to my advantage."
Papelbon has pitched to 75 batters with runners on base this season, just 28 shy of his total in all of '08. In such situations last season, hitters totaled a .280 batting average against him, while this time around it has been .154.
Still, even with the satisfaction of getting out of such jams, Papelbon would undeniably prefer the less dramatic route. This time, coming on with the game tied in the ninth, the reliever felt a bit out of sorts.
Papelbon, who hadn't pitched since Wednesday, attempted to shake off the rust by going a slightly different route than what he had been traveling down of late. Instead of relying heavily on his newest go-to pitch, the slider, the closer went almost exclusively with his fastball, throwing the pitch on all but one of his 28 offerings.
Still, even with the security blanket that was his heater, eliminating the uneasiness wasn't easily accomplished.
"It's been a long weekend. I've been grinding and grinding," he said. "It's been tough for me lately. I haven't been able to pitch in a routine. But it's a whole learning experience for me."
LOWELL HAD HIS CONCERNS (ABOUT HIS FLIGHT)
Fortunately for the Red Sox, Mike Lowell's anxiety had little to do with his hip.
Mike Lowell was peeved that his flight heading down to Florida -- where he was going to stopover before heading back up to join the team in Washington, D.C. -- had been delayed. Chances to carve out time at home are few and between, so when the time is cut short it can be frustrating.
But as for the stiffness in his surgically-repaired right hip that kept him out of the lineup for a second straight game, Lowell felt that simply comes with the territory.
"[Wednesday] I woke up and felt really stiff, and I did everything normal with the pool, the hot tub, the rub, stretching out, all of that stuff. I felt it biting on me a little bit in batting practice, but I thought it was something I could work through. I did my ice and everything after, but then i woke up and it was still biting," said Lowell, who said running elicits the most discomfort.
"There have been days where I haven't felt good, but I haven't felt that tight. [Assistant trainer] Mike Reinold stretches me every day so he knows. It's not like it's just coming up. They say it's very normal for the surgery that I've had and say if you shut it down for a few days you start feeling normal."
Lowell, who had played in all but two of the Red Sox' games prior to his recent hiatus, came away with just one hit in 13 at-bats during the recent homestand, watching his average dip to .288.
"Because he keeps saying he's OK, I probably went too long without giving him a blow, which is my mistake," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "I think I'll try to be more aware of that going in the future. But he's OK."
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN
Jason Bay had heard the rumors, but really didn't know the particulars.
According to sources familiar with the situation, the Friday before last season's trade deadline -- which ultimately saw the the Red Sox trade Manny Ramirez, Brandon Moss, and Craig Hansen to get Bay in return -- the Braves came just minutes away from securing the services of the outfielder for themselves.
The deal would have sent Concepcion Rodriguez, Brent Lillibridge, Brandon Jones, and Jeff Locke (the North Conway, NH, native who was ultimately dealt to the Pirates this season to acquire McLouth) to Pittsburgh for Bay.
It seemed like such a certainty that the Braves actually had the uniform, with Bay's name affixed to the back, made up. But, according to the sources, in the end Pirates team president Frank Coonelly stepped in, nixing the deal because there wasn't enough major-league talent coming back in return.
"That's news to me," said Bay of his Braves' uniform. "I don't put much stock into 'what ifs,' but I'm glad here."
A MIGHTY WIND
The box score said the wind was blowing in at 16 mph from the north. All David Ortiz knew was that this Fenway breeze was "crazy."
"You didn't know where the wind of was blowing," said the Sox' slugger.
The one direction in which the wind's path remained fairly consistent, at least when Ortiz was batting, was almost straight in from the left field wall. It is why when asked after the game if he thought there was any possibility that the lefty hitter could knife an opposite field fly ball through the jet stream and over the wall, Ortiz' answer was, "Nope."
But he did.
In the first inning, hitting off of Atlanta starter Jair Jurrjens, Ortiz took a 92 mph fastball the other way for a two-run homer, his sixth long ball of the season and his fifth in his last 14 games.
"When I'm swinging good, that's what happens," said Ortiz, who finished at .316 (6-for-19) on the homestand.
"Papi's home run, I don't know how in the world you get it out," said Red Sox outfielder J.D. Drew, who called the wind the toughest he's seen since he started calling Fenway home. "That landed two rows up there, which on a good day is hard to do and I don't think you ever see happens on a day like today."