On his Boston radio show Thursday afternoon, Tony Massarotti had taken one call after another from fans going off on Manny Machado, the new villain in the eyes of Red Sox nation, when he decided to raise the ante on the give-and-take.
As Massarotti recalled by phone on Friday, “I said, ‘if you guys don’t like him now, just wait until he’s wearing pinstripes.’”
Massarotti laughed and added, “That wasn’t received very well.”
No, probably not. Sox fans no doubt are sure it’s fait accompli that either Machado or Bryce Harper – if not both – will be Yankees come 2019, and as it is, they already have been unsettled about the first-place state of their famed rivals from the Bronx.
Just a year ago it seemed the Sox were miles ahead of the Yankees in terms of young, position-player stars such as Mookie Betts, Xavier Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr., practically ensuring a level of dominance in The Rivalry for the next few years.
Then Gary Sanchez happened. Now Aaron Judge is the talk of baseball.
In addition, baseball people still believe Greg Bird will hit. Gleyber Torres isn’t far away as the new can’t-miss prospect, and there are others coming, perhaps starting with outfielder Clint Frazier.
Since then the Red Sox have added Andrew Benintendi, so they’re still loaded, but the point is the Yankees have closed the talent gap much faster than anyone would have predicted.
Meanwhile, it appears the young Sox leaned on David Ortiz for presence and bravado more than anyone knew. Without him, as of Friday they ranked 12th in the AL in runs scored and, shockingly, they were dead last in home runs with 18.
By contrast the Yankees led the league with 45 long balls – and Judge alone has 13.
Furthermore, after the Yankees shut the Sox down in two straight games in Fenway in late April, Bogaerts even cited Ortiz’s absence when asked why they weren’t hitting. Not what you’d expect to hear from the consensus favorite in the AL East?
Meanwhile, out of nowhere, the Yankees have some swagger again, pulling off late-inning comebacks that were their trademark the last time they won a World Series, in 2009.
Who knows what it all means for this season? The Yankees still have a lot to prove, and the Sox still seem to have the edge in starting pitching, especially if David Price comes back fairly soon to join Chris Sale at the top of the rotation.
But certainly the outlook on The Rivalry has changed quickly. The Yankees should only get better the next few years, and, oh by the way, after what happened at Fenway Park, Machado’s free agency after next season looms larger than ever.
The question that has been widely debated is which of the two superstars, Machado or Harper, the Yankees will sign. Now, suddenly, it’s possible Judge is staking his claim to right field for the next several years, perhaps making Machado more of a priority at third base.
A lot could happen before then, obviously, but you’d have to think the Yankee brass noticed how Machado responded to the mayhem at Fenway Park, hitting three home runs and playing brilliant defense during a four-game series in which he was booed as if he were Alex Rodriguez, and repeatedly thrown at after his late slide into Dustin Pedroia that set off all the fireworks between the Red Sox and Orioles.
Machado also unleashed an all-timer of a profanity-laced tirade after Sale threw a 98-mph fastball behind him, telling the world he’d lost all respect for the Red Sox organization.
According to Massarotti, who co-hosts the Felger & Mazz show on The Sports Hub in Boston, the rant sealed Machado’s fate as the player Sox fans now love to hate.
“From that point it had an A-Rod feel to it,’’ Massarotti said. “So if Machado does sign with the Yankees, that would be fun. The Orioles are the hot rivalry right now, but the Yankees are the Yankees. When both teams are good, nothing beats that around here.”
In truth, The Rivalry hasn’t had much of an edge to it for years. And while it may never again have the crazed intensity of 2003-04, when Pedro Martinez reveled in playing the villain on the Sox side, Machado in pinstripes could go a long way toward bringing back some of that old feel.
For that matter, Sale may have a little Pedro in him, not only taking it upon himself to throw behind Machado after it seemed the warfare had ended, but riling up the Red Sox verbally in the dugout afterward.
In any case, at least for now the Orioles are the bad guys in Boston. But the Yankees seem bent on regaining that distinction sooner than anyone would have guessed.
MURPHY: HITTING GURU
As if Daniel Murphy weren’t doing enough damage to the Mets with his own bat since going to the Nationals, he’s also getting credit for turning Ryan Zimmerman into the best hitter in baseball – so far this season, anyway.
Zimmerman, named NL Player of the Month for April, was thought to be in significant decline as a player after the last few years, due to diminished performance.
Murphy, who studies all things hitting, thought differently, however. As the ex-Met second baseman told MLB.com way back in February, he noticed that Zimmerman hit the ball hard last season, and indeed, his average exit velocity of 93.7 was the 12th highest in the majors.
Because he didn’t hit the ball in the air very often, however, Zimmerman’s hard contact yielded little success, as he hit .218 with a .370 slugging percentage.
Murphy, who transformed himself from spray hitter to slugger in his final couple of months as a Met in 2015 by moving up on the plate and trying to pull the ball in the air for power, talked to Zimmerman in February about doing the same, specifically raising his launch angle to hit more balls in the air.
The results have been astounding. Without getting too technical, Zimmerman has raised his launch angle dramatically, as measured on hard-hit balls, and he’s hitting the ball all over the ballpark. Through Friday’s games, he was leading the NL with a .433 average, as well as with 11 home runs.
Though Murphy has downplayed any influence, Zimmerman last week said he’s made an effort to hit the ball in the air more, largely because of the Nationals’ second baseman.
“He knows hitting,’’ Zimmerman said.
You only have to watch Judge’s at-bats to know that nobody has hit the ball harder on a regular basis, but MLB Statcast makes it official.
The double he hit to the right-center field wall in Wrigley Field on Friday came off the bat at 119 mph, according to Statcast.
That’s as hard as anyone has hit a ball this season, but what puts it in the best perspective is that nine times his exit velocity off the bat has been recorded at 115 mph or higher. No other player has hit the ball that hard more than twice this season.
No wonder Judge is leading the AL with an .815 slugging percentage, and second in the majors to Zimmerman (.885)
Meanwhile, his 13 home runs lead the majors – and don’t forget, he would have 14 if the umpires hadn’t mistakenly taken one away at Yankee Stadium that a fan touched above the wall in right-center.
In any case, you knew he hit the long ball. His .337 batting average is a testament to the adjustments he has made, lowering his chase percentage on pitches out of the strike zone significantly.
And for proof that, at 6-foot-7, 280 pounds, Judge contributes with more than his bat, as of Friday he ranked first in the majors in WAR, which calculates a player’s defense and baserunning, as well as his hitting. Mike Trout, who annually has the best WAR in the majors, ranked second, just behind Judge.
FAR FROM BEST
Who would have thought?
Expected to be perhaps the best in baseball, the Mets’ starting pitching instead ranks among the worst in the majors. Remarkably, going into Saturday’s games their starters had a 4.71 ERA, which ranked 13th in the National League and 27th in the majors.
It’s gotten worse lately. In the last 11 games the starters’ ERA was 8.51, and the only starter to allow fewer than five runs was Jacob deGrom.
Matt Harvey has been a primary culprit, and while his velocity was up in his last start, his once-unhittable slider seems to have lost much of its bite. As of Friday, his slider ranked 70th in swing-and-miss rate (18.6 percent) out of 73 pitches who had thrown at least 50 sliders this season.