EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 21, 2013

Meet new Red Sox reliever Matt Thornton

Christopher Smith
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — BOSTON — Meet new Red Sox lefty reliever Matt Thornton, who was traded to Boston a few days before the All-Star Break for prospect outfielder Brandon Jacobs.

Thornton, 36, entered Friday with a career 3.54 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 169 holds.

He was an All-Star in 2010 when he posted a 2.67 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 21 holds in 61 relief appearances.

He has struggled some this year with a 4.08 ERA in 41 appearances entering Friday, but does have 18 holds and just one blown save.

Lefties are batting just .173 against Thornton this year.

Thornton went one-on-one with Eagle-Tribune baseball reporter Christopher “Smitty” Smith.

Smitty: What left-hander throughout the history of baseball would you like to talk with the most?

Thornton: Sandy Koufax. I’ve never had the opportunity to sit down and talk to him. But obviously what he did was amazing. I got a chance to talk with Randy (Johnson) when I was young in Seattle. New York came into town, and I got chance to talk to him about being a tall lefty and different things that go on out there for a taller guy.

Smitty: Talking about Koufax, have you ever been to the Baseball Hall of Fame?

Thornton: I went by it for the first time in my life when I was driving in yesterday. I saw the exit. It was tempting, but I needed to get into Boston to get settled in. It’s the first time I’ve ever come close to it.

Smitty: Is it more difficult to maintain a consistent delivery because of your height (6-6)?

Thornton: Yeah, easily things can get out of sync. There’s more things moving. You have more range from your leg kick to your arms to your body. You have to have everything driving real well to the plate and confidence goes along with that, too.

And sometimes, it seems to be tall lefties more than anyone else, it takes a while for that to click. It did it for me. It wasn’t until I was almost 30 years old that it started clicking for me.

Smitty: Fastball command has been your strength for several years. How did that evolved considering, at the beginning of your career, you didn’t have much control?

Thornton: Command period wasn’t my thing. It was just a mindset for me and believing in myself and going out and attacking hitters. When you have a plus-fastball, you need to throw it over. And I would nibble and be careful early on in the count, and then I started to be aggressive in the strike zone and going after hitters.

To this day, if I go after hitters, usually the results are a lot better. When I fall behind in counts and get myself in hitters’ counts, then I get myself in trouble.

Smitty: You received a basketball scholarship to Grand Valley State. Growing up in Michigan, what was your favorite basketball team?

Thornton: I was kind of right in the middle where I grew up right between Chicago and Detroit. So I obviously grew up a Michael Jordan fan. But I also was a Pistons fan. So there was kind of a clash right there a little bit. They had a little rivalry going there.

Smitty: You have ever met Michael Jordan?

Thornton: You know what? All the years in Chicago, no. I met Bo Jackson but never Michael Jordan.

Smitty: You’re tall (6-6) so what kind of basketball player were you?

Thornton: I went to a Division 2 school so 6-6, 6-5, I could play center there or forward. They understood I wanted to (also play baseball). I played both all three years in college. But basketball was No. 1.

Smitty: That’s surprising that basketball was always your No. 1 sport?

Thornton: I was just an athlete growing up. I just wanted to play everything. I ran cross country one year. I golfed one fall. I never played football but (played) basketball, baseball and track.

Smitty: Were you a good cross country runner and golfer?

Thornton: No, terrible. Terrible at both.

Smitty: When was it that you knew baseball was the sport you’d have the best chance to make it in?

Thornton: Junior year college I had matured and gotten stronger from working out. I came out and was throwing the baseball harder and slowly but surely I started throwing harder and harder throughout that year. And the scouts started coming around. I knew I was going to get drafted. I just didn’t know where. And it kind of just took off from there.

Smitty: Any favorite spots in Boston when you’ve visited while with Chicago or anything you’re looking forward to checking out the most?

Thornton: I love the history of East Coast towns — when you go to Washington D.C. and when you come to Boston. Old in a good way. There’s history behind the city. The roads are just a pain to drive around. Everything is zigzagging and small turns.

I drove from Chicago Tuesday and Wednesday and I got into Boston (on Wednesday). My navigation had me do some U-turn off a toll road. And there was no way my truck could make this turn. Maybe if I was driving a small sports car, yes, but I’m driving a pickup truck. So I have to work my way around.

But it’s just history involved. You come to Fenway Park. I enjoy that part. I don’t get out in the cities much anymore. I’m more of a ballpark rat. I get here early. And I’m just at the ballpark all day.