An interview with ESPN’s Rick Sutcliffe revealed much about Andrew Benintendi & many other Boston Red Sox before tonight’s game with the New York Yankees.
Many people know Sutcliffe as one of the announcers for Wednesday Night Baseball on ESPN; however, in my interview with the former Chicago Cubs starting pitcher, he also had some keen insight about this year’s Red Sox players, based upon his long career in the majors.
Sutcliffe has done a great deal as a player and as an ambassador for Major League Baseball. Not only was he a three-time All-Star, but he won the National League Rookie of the Year in 1979, the N.L. Cy Young Award in 1984, and the Roberto Clemente Award for demonstrating the most sportsmanship and kindness on and off of the field in 1987.
Based on that resume, Sutcliffe was a great candidate to ask about how Boston’s young players are handling the spotlight, including Andrew Benintendi. Both Sutcliffe and Benintendi were drafted in the first round and made their debuts relatively soon after that point. When asked what must be going through the young outfielder’s head right now, Sutcliffe responded with wise words of advice:
"“The only thing that must be going through his mind right now is I can’t wait to get to the ballpark! When you’re in a town like Boston, and you’re as popular as he is, there’s all of the hype and potential, there’s a lot of times when you can get drawn away from what you have been doin’, the reason why you’ve had so much success. But I think the Red Sox are all over that […] It’s just a matter of eliminating a lot of those distractions. Him getting in between the lines and doin’ what he’s always done.”"
Moving forward in the interview, we looked at how the Red Sox have done in the past week. Benintendi has been making a name for himself, Mookie Betts has been hitting well, Aaron Hill‘s been a nice addition at third base. All good things. Then, Sutcliffe was asked about David Ortiz, the famous face of the franchise, who has been only hitting .136 in the past seven days. In the last 30 games, Ortiz has been hitting just .245. It’s hard to say that Ortiz needs to get back on track, when he’s still hitting .309 for his final season even with the recent slump.
Sutcliffe said, “I think everything’s just fine [with Ortiz].” He was quick to point out that as much as his career numbers are vastly superior to the other all-time great designated hitters, “that doesn’t even include the presence that he creates in that lineup.” Sutcliffe used the term “legendary” in terms of Ortiz hitting with runners in scoring position. “Even when you get him out, it takes so much effort to do it that, a whole lot of the time, you don’t have much left to get the guy behind him.”
He also believes that Ortiz “is like having a number one starter. When you’ve got an ace that you know is goin’ the next day, Brandon, you can unload your bullpen the night before […] Even when David Ortiz is not puttin’ up big numbers, that’s the same thing that he brings to the ballpark every night.” Sutcliffe mentioned how, especially for a hitter, there’s going to be “bumps in the road.” Sutcliffe feels that the key to those bumps is how you handle it. “And there’s nobody that’s going to handle it better than Big Papi.”
As we moved our focus to tonight’s game against the New York Yankees, the second game in the series, I asked Sutcliffe if maybe the Red Sox were catching the Yankees at a bad time right now. Some of their veterans, like Chase Headley and Starlin Castro have looked fired up in terms of their bats. Boston still leads the majors in runs (603) and team batting average (.283). Despite those numbers, the Red Sox are 23rd in the majors in the last seven games with 27 runs, while the Yankees are in 14th place with 32 runs. In Headley’s case, it also included a bench-clearing argument with Boston’s Rick Porcello the night before.
Sutcliffe, not batting an eye, said, “The reason why things are heating up right now is that there’s a lot at stake. The Red Sox are trying to win the division and the Yankees are trying to get back to the postseason. If you would ask [the Yankees] if they’d take the wild card position they were in a year ago, they’d say they would take it. Yes, there’s a transition goin’ on. Yes, they lost their top players [like Carlos Beltran on offense] and the back of their bullpen. But don’t try tellin’ [Yankees manager] Joe Girardi that.”
One could feel Sutcliffe’s competitive passion for the game when he added, “When you put that uniform on, Brandon, there’s only one reason to put it on, and that’s because you expect to win a ballgame. So, you’ll get a little heated. I don’t know what was said between him and Porcello, but it’s that time of year. A lot of things are magnified, including the importance of getting to the postseason. Sometimes it could come down to one game; sometimes it could come to one at-bat.”
With the pitching matchup tonight being between the Yankees putting Nathan Eovaldi on the mound and the Red Sox countering with Drew Pomeranz, I asked Sutcliffe which pitcher would be feeling the pressure more in Fenway Park, the cathedral of Boston. Even with a high ERA, Eovaldi is 2-0 in Boston, while Pomeranz is still trying to earn his first win for his new team. Sutcliffe didn’t believe that there was any more pressure on one over the other. Regarding Pomeranz, Sutcliffe said that “he’s having a career year. He’s thrown more innings than he’s ever thrown before. He’s had a lot of success, albeit in the Padre uniform. I’m sure this guy’s excited about gettin’ out there. If you pick up your first win in front of your home fans and you do it against the Yankees, it’s something that people will remember for a long time.”
I wanted to stay on this sage’s coattails for a little while longer, soaking up the knowledge as much as I could, so I asked him one more question on leadership. Specifically, I asked him about Dustin Pedroia. With this bumper crop of young talent for the Red Sox, much has been made of Ortiz being a leader; however, Pedroia is the one on the field with them for most of every game this season. I asked Sutcliffe, being not in the clubhouse but looking from afar, what does Pedroia seem to add to these young guys to help guide them through the dog days of summer and stay in the division race.
Sutcliffe, making sure my readers and I understood that his words came from up in the press box and not in the Red Sox dugout, replied, “I really think, during the game, Dustin probably does a bit more than even Big Papi does. Big Papi’s the one who will take the pressure, particularly from the media, the fans, the front office, whatever it might be. Dustin might be the guy that gets in your face. He might be the guy sayin’ we got this guy on the ropes. We need to get his pitch count up this inning. If we get into the bullpen, we win the ballgame. During the game, Dustin is probably a little more vocal. […] These are things that I’ve heard from a lot of people, a lot of the coaches. They talk about the passion that Dustin Pedroia has always had for playin’ the game, and a lot of the time it’s vocal.”
That same passion and wisdom came in every word that Sutcliffe uttered in our interview. If you want to hear more from that baseball mind, tune in tonight at 7 p.m. on ESPN and ESPN Deportes+, alongside Jon Sciambi and Doug Glanville, whom I interviewed last month about the Dominican Republic’s influence on Major League Baseball. Also, check out Baseball Tonight on ESPN with Adnan Virk, Alex Cora, and Jim Bowden at 10 p.m. tonight and Thursday at 12 a.m. on ESPN2.