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2 Boston Red Sox Next year? Wait till this year, say the Sox, who are seriously thinking Series

The Red Sox had just been scorched by the Indians 11-1 in Game 2
of the Division Series last year, leaving them one loss from
elimination at the hands of the greatest run-scoring machine in
half a century. Meanwhile, Boston's best pitcher, Pedro
Martinez, was injured. Bleak? To find a worse predicament you'd
have to go back to Custer. In short, it was exactly the right
moment for a little Jimywocky: the homespun, cornball dialect of
Boston manager Jimy Williams, who says "gosh" and refers to
major league players as "kids."

"They better sweep us," Williams told his kids in the clubhouse,
"because if we win one, they're in trouble."

"Everyone believed him," third baseman John Valentin says.

The Red Sox ripped off three straight wins, outscoring Cleveland
44-18. "By the time we got to the last game, we knew we were
going to win. We just knew it," says Valentin, though there were
some tense moments. In Game 5 Boston came back from a 5-2
deficit and needed a Willis Reed-like entrance from an ailing
Martinez to advance to the American League Championship Series
against the Yankees. The Red Sox run ended there, but not by
much. They lost twice after taking a lead into the seventh
inning and another with a lead into the fourth. Besides
Martinez, the mettle they showed in October is the primary
reason that the Red Sox have reasserted themselves as the
greatest Yankees antagonist.

"Boston is dangerous," New York manager Joe Torre says. "They
learned how to win last year, and that means a lot, especially
come playoff time."

Never have the Red Sox played in the postseason in three
straight seasons. They will do so this year, but they're
thinking much larger. "We have a legitimate chance to win it
all, and the players know it," general manager Dan Duquette says.

Martinez and his big brother, Ramon, who looked terrific in
spring training after missing most of last season rehabbing from
rotator cuff surgery, must win big because the rest of the
rotation poses more questions than Regis Philbin. Can Jeff
Fassero's reunion with pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, his mentor
in Montreal, prove his 7.20 ERA last year was just a blip caused
by mechanical glitches? Can Tim Wakefield prove himself useful
again after Williams left him off the ALCS roster? Can Bret
Saberhagen, who will miss at least the season's first half, come
back from a torn rotator cuff to contribute down the stretch the
way Ramon Martinez did last year? Can just one of Boston's cadre
of young pitchers emerge as a bona fide big league starter?
Brian Rose, Juan Pena and Tomo Ohka have all teased the Red Sox
with their ability without sustaining their success or health.

Watch out especially for Sun-Woo (Sunny) Kim, a righthander with
a ferocious fastball who dominated the Arizona Fall League (5-1,
2.27) and may be the best of the young arms. After pitching in
an international tournament game at Fenway Park in 1995, Kim
scooped up a handful of dirt, preserved it in a jar and promised
he would come back someday to pitch for Boston. He will likely
start the season in the minors but could be in Boston by June.
In the meantime the brothers Martinez are good enough to keep
the rotation afloat until the rest of the staff takes shape. If
that doesn't happen by the end of July, Duquette says he'll try
to pry a top, free-agent-to-be starting pitcher from another
team, such as Mike Mussina or Brad Radke. "We have the farm
system to make a deal like that," the G.M. says.

Last season the Red Sox narrowed the gap between themselves and
the Yankees from 22 games in 1998 to four, despite a pedestrian
offense. Boston will score more with the explosive Carl Everett
replacing Darren Lewis in centerfield and Jason Varitek and Trot
Nixon beginning 2000 as established players. Last year Varitek
emerged as the American League's second-best catcher behind Ivan
Rodriguez, and Nixon survived a 2-for-34 start to outhit
(.296-.275) and outhomer (12-9) Yankees' rightfielder Paul
O'Neill after the All-Star break. Meanwhile, shortstop Nomar
Garciaparra, whose batting average and slugging and on-base
percentages have improved for three straight years, now has
Everett and Troy O'Leary protecting him in the lineup. "One of
the biggest things that happened last year was Troy O'Leary came
around as an RBI threat hitting behind Nomar," Duquette says.

Interest in the Sox these days is more robust than homemade
chowdah. In January, Williams was amazed to see fans lined up
around Fenway Park awaiting an autograph session in a 0[degrees]
windchill. Are they overly optimistic to be thinking world
championship? No more so than Duquette, who says, "We have a
nucleus in place that can win it two or three times."


COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO CATCHING ON Always a good glove man and handler of pitchers, Varitek has transformed himself from an average hitter to a 30-home-run threat.


around the HORN

[4 1/2 stars]
[2 1/2 stars]
[4 stars]
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[4 1/2 stars]

by the numbers

1999 Team Statistics 1999 record: 94-68 (second in AL East)
(AL rank)

Batting average .278 (7) Opponents' batting average .253 (1)
Runs scored 836 (9) ERA 4.00 (1)
Home runs 176 (9) Fielding percentage .979 (12)

next up...

The two big league starts Juan Pena made last May did not
represent your typical cup of coffee. Call it a double shot of
espresso: He beat the Angels and the Blue Jays, giving up only
one run and striking out 15 batters in 13 innings. "He knows
exactly what he's doing with every pitch," Boston pitching coach
Joe Kerrigan says, "and he has command of all four pitches.
That's a gift, especially with a young pitcher." Called El
Diablo for his devilish mound demeanor, Pena is only 22, which
Red Sox veterans find hard to believe, given the poise he showed
in 1999. The 6'5", 215-pound righthander, however, has had
trouble staying healthy; he threw only 69 1/3 innings overall in
the majors and minors last year because of a sore shoulder and
elbow stiffness. Is he the solution to Boston's problem with the
fifth spot in the rotation? The Red Sox would love to see enough
of him to find out.

the lineup
projected roster with 1999 statistics

Manager: Jimy Williams (fourth season with Boston)


2B Jose Offerman S-R 96 .294 8 69 18
3B John Valentin R 157 .254 12 70 0
CF Carl Everett[1] S-R 31 .325 25 108 27
SS Nomar Garciaparra R 5 .357 27 104 14
LF Troy O'Leary L 77 .280 28 103 1
1B Mike Stanley R 171 .281 19 72 0
DH Brian Daubach L-R 131 .294 21 73 0
C Jason Varitek R 125 .269 20 76 1
RF Trot Nixon L 173 .270 15 52 3


C Scott Hatteberg L-R 249 .275 1 11 0
OF Darren Lewis R 318 .240 2 40 16
IF Donnie Sadler R 353 .280 0 4 2
IF Manny Alexander[1] R 383 .271 0 15 4


RH Pedro Martinez 1 23 4 7.2 0.92 2.07
RH Ramon Martinez 62 2 1 5.2 1.06 3.05
LH Jeff Fassero[1] 211 5 14 5.4 1.86 7.20
RH Tim Wakefield 113 6 11 5.5 1.56 5.08
RH Brian Rose 149 7 6 5.1 1.44 4.87


RH Derek Lowe 14 6 3 15 1.00 2.63
RH Rod Beck[2] 110 2 5 10 1.55 5.93
RH John Wasdin 128 8 3 2 1.13 4.12
RH Rich Garces 191 5 1 2 1.06 1.55
LH Rheal Cormier 213 2 0 0 1.25 3.69
RH Juan Pena* (R) 249 4 2 0 1.19 4.13

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 164)
*Triple A stats
[2]Combined AL and NL stats

the book
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Red Sox

"Their end results were very close last year, but the Red Sox
were still a ways from the Yankees talentwise. Boston is closer
this year; still, there are a lot of ifs.... The rotation is the
key: Pedro Martinez is the best pitcher in the game, but there
are major issues two through five.... Derek Lowe will be fine as
the closer, but the Red Sox lose what they had last year, an
excellent setup man.... Rod Beck will try to fill that role, but
unless he gets ahead in the count, he can't throw the splitter,
his best pitch, and his fastball is only in the 85-to-87-mph
range.... Will Brian Daubach and Trot Nixon reach the levels
they did last year? The team needs their bats.... Carl Everett
gives you offense in center, where they got nothing last year. I
hope they take advantage of his speed to steal bases....
Remember how clutch John Valentin was in the playoffs? He
might've saved his job. Wilton Veras is the future at third, but
there's no room for him now.... The right side of the infield is
a problem. Mike Stanley is rough at first, and in the playoffs
Jose Offerman couldn't turn a double play."