Papelbon finishes job for Lee in Phils' win over Red Sox

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Papelbon finishes job for Lee in Phils' win over Red Sox

BOX SCORE

BOSTON -- You never know with Charlie Manuel. Sometimes he manages right by the book. Other times he manages straight from the gut. Sometimes he’s just a sucker for a good story.

This was one of those nights.

Cliff Lee was at his dart-throwing best Tuesday night. For eight innings, he put the baseball right where he wanted to, striking out eight Boston Red Sox and walking none. He ran off the mound after the bottom of the eighth with a one-run lead and 95 pitches on the hand-held clicker.

Everything pointed to Lee getting the chance to finish off his gem in the ninth, but Manuel went to Jonathan Papelbon and the fiery former Red Sox closer, in his first appearance back in Fenway Park, went through the heart of the Boston order to wrap up a 3-1 Phillies’ win (see Instant Replay).

Manuel was asked why he went to Papelbon when Lee was cruising with plenty of gas left in his tank.

“I kind of wanted to see it, if you want to know the truth,” the Phillies’ skipper said. “What the hell? Pap likes drama. I might as well like it with him.”

Papelbon spent six seasons as Boston’s closer. He saved 219 games and won a World Series with the club before signing a four-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies after the 2011 season. He retired Jonny Gomes, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz for the final three outs. Pedroia and Ortiz were longtime teammates of Papelbon. In fact, before Monday’s game, Papelbon envisioned a scenario in which he’d have to face Ortiz. Papelbon said he’d throw the ball right down the middle and get Ortiz to swing and miss. Ortiz ended up grounding out to end the game.

“I loved it,” Papelbon said of his night’s work. “I would say it was more fun than strange. It was like playing against your brother in the backyard. For me, those guys are some of my best friends in the world. At the same time, it was fun. They have a really good lineup over there, so I had to stay focused on the task at hand because I knew at any given moment the game could have been tied up.”

Papelbon received a nice ovation during a brief video-board tribute early in Monday’s game. When he jogged in from the bullpen for the ninth inning Tuesday night, he heard a lot of boos.

“That’s how they love you in this town,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed pitching in this city, off that mound. It really felt like old times, just in a different uniform.”

Paplebon is 10 for 10 in save chances this season. He has racked up 18 straight scoreless appearances after allowing two runs in his first game of the season.

“I couldn’t tell you my stats,” he said. “I just go, man. I don’t think a lot. They don’t pay me to think.”

Lee has a similar mindset: Don’t think a lot. Get the ball and throw it -- to good spots. He was staked to a 1-0 lead on Michael Young’s solo homer off Ryan Dempster in the first, gave back the run in the bottom of the inning, then allowed just two singles after the first inning while he waited for Erik Kratz (RBI hit in the seventh) to break the tie.

Lee improved to 6-2 with a 2.34 ERA. He is 5-1 with a 2.11 ERA in eight starts following a Phillies’ loss this season.

“Regardless of what happens yesterday, when it’s my day to pitch I want to go as deep as I can and put up as many zeroes as I can,” Lee said.

Lee was surprised when pitching coach Rich Dubee told him he was done after eight innings.

“Yeah, I wanted to finish,” he said. “But Pap has been throwing well, so it’s hard to argue with that, especially with him being back in Boston. That was a big win for us and I’m sure he wanted the opportunity. It’s hard to question it when you win.”

Compelling storyline notwithstanding, Manuel said his decision to go to Papelbon was completely baseball-related. In a close game, in the shadow of the Green Monster, he liked the idea of the right-handed Papelbon going after Gomes and Pedroia, both right-handed bats, to start the inning.

“Lee was fantastic,” Manuel said. “If he was pitching a shutout, it would have been tough. But I wanted Pap on those right-handed hitters so they’d hit the ball to right field.”

Manuel was going to Papelbon even before Domonic Brown turned a one-run lead into a two-run lead with a solo home run in the top of the ninth. If Papelbon had given up the lead, Manuel would have ripped apart by his critics. When you’re a manager, the only good decisions are the ones that the players make work. Papelbon made this one work. Good win. Good theater.

The Phillies ended their road trip at 4-4 and are 25-27. They have the Red Sox at home Wednesday and Thursday night.

“I feel like we’ve still got a long way to go, but things are starting to click,” Papelbon said. “Our pitching and hitting are starting to sync up a little bit. If we do that we can create damage in the National League. This division is still anyone’s by a long shot. If we keep grinding it out we have a good chance.”

Yordano Ventura, Andy Marte die in separate Dominican crashes

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Yordano Ventura, Andy Marte die in separate Dominican crashes

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Yordano Ventura quit school as a teenager so he could begin working a construction job to help his family make ends meet, laboring day after day in the hot sun of the Dominican Republic.

It was a chance tryout with the Kansas City Royals that changed the trajectory of his life.

Yordano wowed scouts with an electrifying fastball, the best they had seen in years, and a confident demeanor that bordered on brash and arrogant. And both of those traits served him well as he rocketed to the major leagues, helped the Royals win a long-awaited World Series championship in 2015, and became one of the most popular players in a city that embraced baseball one again.

Ventura, whose nickname "Ace" fit so perfectly, died Sunday in a car crash on a stretch of highway near the town of San Adrian in his native Dominican Republic. He was 25.

"Our team and our organization is hurting deeply," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "It's certainly something that puts everything into strong perspective, and challenges us all to never grow tired or weary or cease to do what is right, and loving others. Nobody is guaranteed tomorrow.

"We loved Yordano," Moore said. "We loved his heart, we loved who he was as a teammate, a friend. He was somebody that challenged us all and made us better and I'm going to miss him."

Highway patrol spokesman Jacobo Mateo said Ventura died on a stretch of highway 40 miles northwest of Santo Domingo, the nation's capital. Mateo did not say whether Ventura was driving.

He's the second young star pitcher to die in past four months. Marlins ace Jose Fernandez was 24 when he was killed along with two other men in a boating accident near Miami Beach in late September.

Also Sunday, former major league infielder Andy Marte died in a separate car accident in the Dominican Republic. Metropolitan traffic authorities said he died about 95 miles north of the capital.

"I was traveling to the airport this morning and I got a phone call wanting to know if I'd heard about Yordano, and I thought they meant Marte," Moore said. "My first thought was, `Were they together?'

"Then shortly afterwards, I got a call from Major League Baseball confirming this tragedy."

The Dominican Republic has the second-highest traffic-related death rate in the world -- officials there believe alcohol, speed and a blatant disregard for traffic laws is to blame. Oscar Taveras, Jose Oliva, Rufino Linares and Jose Uribe are among players who have died in crashes in the country.

It wasn't known whether Ventura had been drinking or speeding at the time of his accident.

Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez, a fellow Dominican whom Ventura called his hero, posted pictures of Ventura and Marte on Twitter and said, "Guys, the only way we can pay tribute to you, is by reflecting on the adjustments we all have to make in this game called life."

Moore speaks frequently with Latin American players about dangers of returning home, including driving on the perilous roads.

"I'm more intentional about it to the point where it probably goes in one ear and out the other," Moore said, "but we're constantly discussing these things."

The Royals lowered flags at Kauffman Stadium to half-staff Sunday, and displayed Ventura's photograph on the large, crown-shaped scoreboard in centerfield of the empty ballpark. Fans were leaving flowers, hats and other mementos within hours of learning of his death.

Royals teammates learned the news in a text chain and took to Twitter to share their sorrow.

"I love you my brother. I'm in disbelief and don't know what to say," first baseman Eric Hosmer said.

Third baseman Mike Moustakas also expressed disbelief, tweeting: "I love you Ace. I don't know what to say other than I'm going to miss you a lot. RIP ACE."

Ventura will be buried Tuesday in the Dominican Republic. Moore, manager Ned Yost and other members of the Royals are planning to attend.

Before his start in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series, Ventura paid tribute to Taveras, his close friend and countryman who had been killed days earlier in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Ventura wrote "RIP O.T (hash)18" on his hat and also wrote messages on his glove, cleats and the mound before shutting out San Francisco for seven innings in a win.

"If he was still here, I would for sure be talking to him, and Oscar would be very happy for me," Ventura said afterward. "Oscar was a very humble guy and very likable, and I'm going to miss him a lot."

Ventura signed a $23 million, five-year deal with the Royals shortly before he started on opening day in 2015. He then helped them bounce back from their loss to the Giants in Game 7 by returning to the World Series and beating the New York Mets in five games for their first crown since 1985.

The right-hander went 11-12 with a 4.45 ERA last season, and his fiery demeanor was never more evident than when he hit Orioles star Manny Machado with a fastball to trigger a brawl. Ventura was suspended nine games for the pitch, though it was cut to eight on appeal.

In a surreal coincidence, the 33-year-old Marte played his final game in the big leagues for Arizona on Aug. 6, 2014. Ventura started that game for Kansas City.

"Today is a very sad day for our entire game and particularly for the many loyal fans in the Dominican Republic, the home of both Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte," Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.

Said players' union head Tony Clark: "It's never easy to lose a member of our fraternity, and there are no words to describe the feeling of losing two young men in the prime of their lives. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families, friends, teammates and fans throughout the United States and Latin America."

Moore said he spoke to Miami general manager Mike Hill early Sunday, in part because Moore admired the grace and heart in which the Marlins organization dealt with Fernandez's death.

It wasn't certain whether Fernandez was driving the boat when it crashed on Sept. 25. He had a blood-alcohol content level of 0.147, above Florida's legal limit of 0.08, according to autopsy reports released by the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner's Office.

"That was one of the first things that came to mind when I began to figure out how we were going to process this," Moore said. "Mike was able to provide some insight. Just give me some comfort, really."

Ventura wound up pitching his entire career for the Royals, going 38-31 with a 3.89 ERA.

Born June 3, 1991, in Samana, Dominican Republic, Ventura was a true rags-to-riches story. He quit school at 14 and was laboring on a construction crew to support his family when he heard about a tryout, which led to a spot in the Royals' academy located on his picturesque island home.

Still, the odds were long that Ventura would ever make it to the big leagues. Very few players from the Dominican academies reached the pinnacle of the sport.

But over time, Ventura was able to harness one of the most electric fastballs that scouts had seen in years, and his headstrong and confident nature was essential to his rapid rise. He made his debut to great fanfare in 2013, allowing just one run again Cleveland in a sign of things to come.

He eventually became a cornerstone of a youth movement that included young stars such as Hosmer and Moustakas, one that carried the Royals first to respectability, then to the top of the American League.

He was 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA in 2014, his first full season in the big leagues, and helped the Royals reach the World Series for the first time in nearly three decades. Then he helped to lead them back to the Fall Classic in 2015, this time completing the job on a crisp night in New York.

"He always had a zest for life, an innocence about the game, a freshness, a fearlessness," Moore said, his voice cracking. "He was a very compassionate human being, loved to compete, no doubt challenged us, but that made us better. Nobody could ever doubt how much he cared about his teammates, how much he cared about the fans, and how much he loved to compete and to pitch."

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.