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Filling Big Shoes, Boston’s Cooper Tries Not to Get Bogged Down

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Scott Cooper knew it wouldn’t be easy. He knew his every move would be scrutinized and that constant comparisons were inevitable. In Boston, the guy who replaced Wade Boggs would be as popular as an actor who took over the role of Norm for George Wendt on “Cheers.”

But it was almost worse than Cooper envisioned when Boggs left for New York and he became the Red Sox’s everyday third baseman last season. He made the All-Star team--Boston’s only representative--but he still wasn’t exactly a hometown hero.

The good folks of Boston knew Wade Boggs and Scott Cooper was no Wade Boggs.

“From the time I signed my first contract, all I heard was ‘Wade Boggs,’ ” Cooper said. “It was pretty bad last year, but I haven’t heard ‘Wade Boggs’ once this year.”

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Uh, Wade who?

Cooper was just one for four Friday night, contributing a two-run homer to right off Bob Patterson’s first pitch in the eighth inning and providing the Red Sox with the winning margin in a 6-4 victory.

“Last year, being 0 for three and having them bring in a lefty just to face me, there probably would have been some panic there,” Cooper said. “But I was able to stay relaxed tonight. I guessed he’d start me off with a slider and when he did, I was able to hit it hard.”

Actually, Friday’s performance can almost be categorized as an off night by Cooper’s standards. He’s seven for 19 with four homers and eight runs batted in during the last seven games. This season, he’s hitting .342 with seven homers and 22 RBI. He hit three homers in three games against the Angels in Boston last week.

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“Cooper’s homer was a big hit,” Manager Butch Hobson said. “It gave us that extra boost. He’s swinging the bat really well right now. If a guy makes a mistake to him, he’s hitting it.”

Cooper giveth, but he also taketh away. He made errors in both the eighth and ninth innings Friday night, his fifth and sixth of the year. He’s on a pace to join the most dubious of 40-40 clubs: 40 homers and 40 errors.

The Angels had reduced Boston’s lead to three runs on Damion Easley’s homer in the eighth. Dwight Smith then beat out a grounder to second and Tim Salmon hit a rocket to third that bounded off Cooper’s glove and ended up in the left-field corner.

In the ninth, Harold Reynolds’ ready-made double-play bouncer ended up in right field when the ball slipped from Cooper’s hand during his throw to second.

“Salmon’s ball just kept hooking on me,” Cooper said. “It took a high hop that would have hit me in the chest if I’d been in front of it. But it hooked off to my right. And the ball just slipped out of my hand on the throw. The infield was getting damp, the ball was wet and I didn’t get any seams when I tried to grasp it.

“You don’t want to get two runs and then give up one, but we won and that should keep everybody smiling.”

Certainly, Cooper has reason to grin.

“We’re both in our second full years,” first baseman Mo Vaughn said, “and we’re trying to take advantage of the opportunity we’ve got here. Coming up in Boston as a young player can be tough, but you have to stay focused and try to be consistent.

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“You can’t be worrying about no damn legacy.”


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