BOSTON — It was barely a year ago when Anthony Ranaudo stood in the rear of the New Britain Stadium press box, stretched to his full 79 inches and smiled at a question he knew was coming.
"Yeah, I was definitely a Yankee fan growing up," Ranaudo said before starting in the 2013 Eastern League All-Star Game. "I was like every kid in New Jersey. I wanted to be like Derek Jeter."
Thanks to the delicate stroke of baseball history and sledge-hammered remodeling by Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, Ranaudo found himself making his major league debut against the Yankees in the final days of Jeter's magnificent journey to Cooperstown.
"I'd be lying if I said there weren't a lot of emotions going on out there," Ranaudo said after allowing four hits and two runs over six innings in a 4-3 Red Sox victory Friday night.
Ranaudo was only 7 when he went with his family to his first major league game, the Yankees' home opener against the A's. Seventeen years later, after seeing Jeter for the first time in person, Ranaudo saw The Captain again. This time it was from 60 feet, six inches.
"I'm pitching against him now," Ranaudo said. "He no longer is my favorite player. It is awesome to compete against him and all what he stands for."
After Jeter received a warm ovation from Red Sox fans, Ranaudo got him to ground out to second base in the first. And then it happened. Ranaudo caught Jeter looking at a 94 mph fastball in the third inning. Sitting in the stands, Ranaudo's mom clasped her arms and gave one of those, "Oh, my God!" reactions. Yep, her boy got Jeter looking for his first major league strikeout.
"That will be part of my life for the rest of my life," Ranaudo said. "To have my first strikeout against Derek Jeter is pretty awesome."
The Red Sox retrieved the ball for Ranaudo and all he could say was "pretty cool."
In the fifth, Ranaudo got Jeter to ground out to second again. Jeter later homered off Junichi Tazawa.
It was a bizarre night at Fenway Park. The most familiar rivalry in baseball had all sorts of new faces. Jeter was cheered. Jacoby Ellsbury was booed. Stephen Drew got a mixed reaction that screamed ho-hum, although it should be pointed out that he got a nice ovation after a video montage was shown between innings. And Yoenis Cespedes? Nothing, because he didn't arrive from the West Coast until shortly before Ranaudo's first pitch and manager John Farrell wanted to give his newest power hitter a day to acclimate.
It's a crazy kind of mixed up world for Boston baseball after Cherington traded seven players, including 80 percent of April's starting staff, before the trade deadline Thursday. And there was Drew, who had played shortstop only a few nights earlier in a Red Sox uniform, playing second base for the first time since the 10th grade in double-play tandem with Jeter.
"An honor for me to get to play with Derek Jeter," Drew said. "Everybody knows in baseball that he is the guy, and I'm going to soak it in and learn as much as I can from him."
Allen Craig, who will play left field for Farrell, went 1-for-4 after arriving from St. Louis in the John Lackey deal. Joe Kelly was also en route and is probably looking at making his Boston debut against his former Cardinals teammates next week. Shane Victorino went on the 15-day disabled list with his lower back problem and there's a strong chance he could be shut down longer. Will Middlebrooks and Mookie Betts were called up from Pawtucket and Betts made a brilliant, game-saving catch in the eighth on Ellsbury's long drive off Tazawa. With Middlebrooks' return, Xander Bogaerts moved back to shortstop. Alex Wilson and Tommy Layne also got called up to bolster the bullpen, and Layne relieved Ranaudo in the seventh.
The defending World Series champions only have their honor to defend over the final two months. While the head-spinning series of moves certainly gave Cherington more pop and lineup depth, it left gaping holes in his starting staff. The last-place Sox need two front-line starters before next spring and it may be impossible to replace Jon Lester pitch for pitch.
Cherington and Farrell, however, stressed the final 54 games will be key in analyzing the progression of a slew of talented young pitchers. See who stays, who goes. Against that landscape, in stepped Ranaudo, who expects to return to Pawtucket on Saturday.
"Room needs to be made for Joe Kelly," Farrell said.
Ranaudo, of course, will get another chance down the line. And so will others. Owens, Webster, Rodriguez, De La Rosa, Workman, Ranaudo, Escobar, Barnes … the Red Sox are stocked with young arms that need to be examined. Allen Webster will pitch Saturday.
"These young pitchers have an opportunity to pitch and develop and we'll know a lot more about that group by the end of the season," Cherington said.
Ranaudo walked the first hitter in three innings, but overall Farrell liked what he saw. The only costly pitch he made among his 91 was a 90-mph fastball that Carlos Beltran drilled into the right-field bullpen.
"He did a good job keeping the game under control," Farrell said. "He found out how to navigate his way through those three leadoff walks. He kept the ball off the middle of the plate."
"I think I've made a lot of progress this year," Ranaudo said. "I think I understand the importance of going six, seven, eight innings and being efficient and commanding the zone, although I think I learned the hard way tonight that the big league strike zone is a little tighter than the minor league strike zone. It's an adjustment I'll have to make."
Without a good command of his other pitches, Ranaudo said catcher David Ross, who would leave late in the game with a recurrence of his foot problems, did a good job of mixing the fastball on both sides of the plate.
"I just told myself that's my pitch," Ranaudo said. "That's what made me successful my whole life. I just tried to pound the bottom of the zone and fill it up."
Ranaudo became the first Red Sox starter to win his big league debut against the Yankees since Vaughn Eshelman in 1995 and the first to do it against the Yankees at home since Mike Garman in 1969. He's the first Red Sox starter to throw six innings and allow no more than two runs in his MLB debut since Justin Masterson in 2008.
And having his family there to watch?
"It's pretty unbelievable," Ranaudo said. "I'm happy, but I know they might be happier."
Ranaudo got a $2.55 million signing bonus after being selected 39th overall in 2010. He was a hot prospect coming out of LSU. A forearm injury, groin injury and shoulder fatigue, however, would leave huge question marks. His velocity was way down. But he rebounded big-time in Double A last year and continued his rise in Triple A in 2014. He was 5-0 in his last six starts at Pawtucket and was 12-4 with a 2.41 ERA overall.
"He continued to build on a breakout year last year," Farrell said. "The one thing he has done seemingly all year in Pawtucket is he has gotten a high percent of his outs with fastballs. He has gotten swings and misses. He has been able to tighten up his breaking ball a little bit more than a year ago and shown the ability to throw a breaking ball behind in the count. He has pitched with a lot of confidence."
And on this night, the kid who once was a huge Yankees fan left with a souvenir baseball compliments of Derek Jeter.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times