EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 23, 2013

Texarkana's dilemma over the World Series

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — BOSTON — Michael Wacha is a 22-year-old Cardinals right-handed starter who was the MVP of the National League Championship Series and will start Game 2 of the World Series tomorrow.

Will Middlebrooks is the 25-year-old struggling Red Sox third baseman who lost his starting job before Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.

But while one is flying high and the other isn’t, both are the pride of Texarkana, Texas where they grew up.

“He’s a good buddy,” Wacha said about Middlebrooks. “We’ve been tight throughout the postseason, wishing each other luck. It’s pretty crazy back there at home right now. They don’t know who to root for. But they know at least one World Series ring is coming back.”

Game 1 of the World Series is at 8:07 p.m. here at Fenway Park today. Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester will oppose St. Louis Cardinals righty Adam Wainwright.

Middlebrooks remembers first seeing Wacha play back in Little League.

“We grew up on separate sides of town but there’s really no side of town in Texarkana,” Middlebrooks said.

The two played at rival high schools and Patriots backup QB Ryan Mallett — one of Middlebrooks’ best friends — attended the third high school in town.

“There was a big high school, which was Mallett’s and two middle-sized 3A schools and we were both at the 3A schools,” Middlebrooks said about he and Wacha. Middlebrooks played on the same American Legion team with Wacha for two years (Wacha’s freshman and sophomore years and Middlebrooks’ junior and senior years).

“He’s always been a good pitcher,” Middlebrooks said. “He was always a guy who utilized all three pitches. It seemed like he never threw balls in the middle of the plate. He still does that now. He throws 95 but if you look at the pitch zone when he’s throwing it’s all the bottom of the zone. It’s pretty fun to watch.

“When I was playing with him he was like a mid-to-upper 80s guy,” Middlebrooks said.

“He was 16 years old so that’s still really good for that age. He was just a tall, skinny kid. His senior year my dad was coaching at my old high school and still coaching against him and said, ‘Hey, Mike’s turning out to be a good ballplayer.’ He ended up getting a scholarship to Texas A&M and put on some weight, got even taller — he’s 6-6 now — and started throwing 95.”

Just for the record ... Mallett didn’t play baseball past middle school.

“He swears he can throw 100, of course,” Middlebrooks said, smiling while talking about Mallett. “But he’s playing his sport. He’s in the right sport.”

Martinez played for Sox

St. Louis eighth-inning reliever Carlos Martinez originally was signed by the Boston Red Sox in 2009. But his contract was voided when he failed a Major League Baseball’s identity investigation.

He was signed by the Cardinals after his year suspension.

The failed investigation reportedly happened because of confusion over his true surname when he was raised by his grandmother.

The 22-year-old Dominican Republic native has a 2.70 ERA in 6.2 innings this postseason.

“Carlos has electric stuff, there’s no question about that,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. “But he is an incredible advocate behind the plate. How this all started, it happened in Milwaukee where Carlos came in to close out a game and the first couple of pitches didn’t look right. Yadi (Molina) quickly went out there and had a couple of things to say, and had some force behind him. The next thing you know, there’s no turning back.”

Lackey in Game 2

John Lackey will start Game 2 for the Red Sox tomorrow against Wacha.

“We fully expect he (Clay Buchholz) and Jake (Peavy) to be pitching (over) the weekend in St. Louis,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said.

“The way John came out of his game over in Detroit, and not allowing too many days of rest to get away from that previous start of his. So those are the primary — that’s the primary reason to get John back in there in Game 2.”’

As of yesterday, Farrell said the Red Sox will use the same 25-man roster in the World Series that is has used throughout the entire postseason.

Nava on bench

It seems as though the Red Sox will start right-handed batting Jonny Gomes in left field for Game against the right-handed Wainwright.

That would leave switch-hitting Daniel Nava — who batted .322 average vs. right-handed pitchers (seventh in the AL this year) — on the bench.

Nava isn’t sweating his platoon role and has changed his approach.

“It hasn’t really changed for me because of what happened in the past when I first got called up,” Nava said. “That was my role. And that really helped me just to get prepared and knowing roughly what inning I’m going to get ready for — physically ready and mentally knowing that at any point you can go in. The bench coaches obviously do a great job at least for me communicating, ‘Hey, be ready, you might be going in in this situation.’ Give me a little heads up. That helps a lot.

Nava joked he always has to be ready because right fielder Shane Victorino might get hurt one of the 50 times he’s hit by a pitch each game.

Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB