EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 31, 2013

Frank Thomas: North Andover's Hriniak the best

By Christopher Smith and Bill Burt
sports@eagletribune.com

---- — BOSTON — Former Chicago White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas is in Boston working for the MLB Network and he made it known that there is a friend of his about 30 miles away who he will never forget.

His former hitting coach Walter Hriniak, who resides in North Andover.

“Walt is the best hitting coach I ever had. It’s not even close,” said Thomas, who played 16 seasons with the White Sox and has a resume that may earn him a spot in the Hall of Fame. “He always had answers. Other coaches, some of them pretty good, had suggestions. He had answers, especially when I was going bad. He always knew what was wrong.”

Thomas won two American League MVPs (1993, ‘94) with Hriniak as his official hitting coach. Hriniak left the game after the 1995 season but remained Thomas’ personal hitting instructor his entire career. Thomas sometimes made trips to Boston to see Hriniak.

“Walt will always be my guy, always,” said Thomas, who finished with 2,468 hits and 521 home runs, the latter of which tied him with Ted Williams on the all-time home run list. “The best thing about Walt is he always had a program. It was always the same day-in and day-out whether you are going good or bad. I owe him a lot for helping me with my career.”

Speed factor

The Red Sox entered last night with just one stolen base in five World Series games. That’s a far cry from their 11 combined steals in the American League Division Series and American League Championship Series.

Boston certainly has speed. Jacoby Ellsbury already has set a club record for most steals (6) in one postseason. But Cards catcher Yadier Molina and the Cards pitchers have neutralized the Red Sox running game.

Stealing off Molina, who just won his sixth straight Gold Glove and has a cannon for an arm, surely isn’t an easy task. Molina threw out 43 percent of base stealers this season and is at 45 percent for his career. He has led the league in caught stealing percentage three times, including throwing out 64 percent in 2005.

Base running specialist Quintin Berry entered last night with the only Red Sox steal this series. Berry said he has to be more cautious against Molina than other catchers.

“When a guy like him is good and quick and as accurate as he is, you’ve got to kind of try to steal off their pitcher and make sure if that pitcher is giving you enough time to try to gain that ground,” Berry said. “They’re all great”

He is referring to Yadier’s has two older brothers, MLB catchers Jose and Bengie.

Jose Molina, 38, just finished his 14th major league season. He has led the league in caught stealing percentage twice and is at 38 percent for his career.

Bengie, 39, is the Cardinals assistant hitting coach and played 13 seasons in the majors. He won two Gold Gloves, led the league in caught stealing percentage twice and had a 31 percent rate for his career.

“Him and his brothers — they’re all great catchers,” the speedy Quintin Berry said. “They’re known for what they do. Ton of respect for that. I love it when I have a catcher on my team that can shut down the run game because I know what it’s like as a base runner.”

ESPN star roots for Giants?

Chris Berman did some pregame work for ESPN before taking his box seat behind the third base dugout.

The interesting part was the hat he was wearing. It was a San Francisco Giants cap.

Berman grew up rooting for the Giants and to this day they are his favorite baseball team.

“I am wearing the hat of the defending World Series champion,” Berman said. “Until there is a new champion, my Giants are the best team in baseball.”

Berman also admitted a fondness for North Andover native and New York Giants long snapper Zak DeOssie, who attended his alma mater, Brown University.

“I love Zak,” said Berman. “But I did have to highlight him on ‘C’mon Man’ for his high snap (recently). That is one fine young man.”

DeOssie’s bad snap led to the Eagles’ only points against the New York Giants this past Sunday. Still, the NY Giants were 15-7 winners.

Travel troubles

The Cardinals had a mechanical problem with their plane and didn’t arrive in Boston from St. Louis until 11 p.m. Tuesday night. The trip took slightly more than seven hours.

“It was amazing how the guys handled that long of a time, especially as we had lots of family, lots of kids,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said before Game 6. “I didn’t hear any complaining at all. Normally guys are, even if they’re just in jest, they’re still throwing some things out there, but we didn’t hear anything.”

Matheny said during his pregame press conference that he didn’t think the travel would affect his team.

Fisk reflects on other Game 6

Last night marked the first World Series Game 6 at Fenway Park since the iconic 1975 series. That ‘75 game was won in walkoff fashion when then-Boston catcher Carlton Fisk — now a Hall of Famer — homered off the left field pole in the bottom of the 12th.

Boston won 7-6 but then dropped Game 7 at Fenway Park, 4-3, to the champion Reds.

Fisk as well as his former Red Sox teammate Luis Tiant a.ka. “El Tiante” threw out the first pitches last night.

Fisk said about Game 6 in 1975, “That was quite a game. I don’t know if anybody remembers that game from the beginning, and we’d had a lot of rainouts. And we were ahead and behind and behind and behind and tied and then almost ahead in the ninth. And then we went into the 12th inning. And Freddy (Lynn) and I were standing on the on‑deck circle.

“And I don’t know what got over me, but I was kind of rejuvenated in that Pete Rose was up the inning before,” Fisk continued. “And he came up to the plate all excited. (He said), ‘Isn’t this the best game you’ve ever played in? I’ve never played in a game like this before. This is the greatest game.’ About the time I was falling asleep because it was way past my bedtime. And then I kind of realized, this is a pretty great game.

“So then I was up the next inning, talking to Freddy on deck, and I must have had some good karma, good thoughts or something. I said, ‘Freddy, I’m going to hit one off the wall. Drive me in.’ Because he almost won the game in the bottom of the ninth if that little fly ball to left field had been 10 or 12 feet deeper, then, you know, might never have gotten up to the plate. So he said, ‘Yeah, that sounds great to me.’ So and then two pitches later it was off the foul pole. And when I hit it I knew it was high enough. I knew it was long enough but I didn’t know if it was going to stay fair. And then it did, which was pretty sweet.”

Even though several catchers have gone on to be great managers, Fisk doesn’t have any intention of returning to the game in that capacity.

Star in making

St. Louis Cardinals 23-year-old closer Trevor Rosenthal certainly has a bright future ahead of him either as a closer or starter.

He took over the closer job late in the regular season and entered last night having allowed no runs in 10.2 innings this postseason. He is 4 for 5 in save opportunities during the playoffs. That lone blown save game in the top of the eighth inning of Game 3 against Boston when he allowed two inherited runners to score, one on a fielder’s choice and another on a Xander Bogaerts single to shallow center field.

But he rebounded, throwing a perfect ninth and earning the Game 3 win.

“He keeps it simple,” Cardinals starter Lance Lynn said about Rosenthal. “He knows he’s got really good stuff and he doesn’t try to overdo it. And he’s pretty calm all the time. Guys that are high strung might have trouble in situations like that. It’s almost like he doesn’t even know that a game’s going on when he’s out there pitching. He’s just locked into throwing the ball where he wants to and that’s a good quality to have as a pitcher.”

Ticket sales

Yes, Red Sox tickets for Game 6 were selling for thousands of dollars.

“From a historic perspective, when you consider that an event like this hasn’t been here in a couple of generations possibly, there’s a lot of people that are willing to take some extra cash and try to be a part of it,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said the day before Game 6.

Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB and Bill Burt @BurtTalksSports