BOSTON -- Last year's Interleague schedule had some spice for the Red Sox. Their series against the Phillies was supposed to be a World Series preview, and the set of three with the Cubs at Fenway marked the first time the North Siders had visited Fenway Park since the 1918 World Series.
In 2012, the Cubs and Phillies are again on the schedule, but the storylines have grown more personal.
The Sox's first Interleague series of the year could well have them facing former closer Jonathan Papelbon, the man on the mound the last time Boston won a World Series who departed for Philadelphia when it offered him a four-year, $50 million contract in the offseason.
In a month, the attention will turn to the front office, when Sox general manager Ben Cherington and the man he replaced, Cubs president Theo Epstein, are pitted against each other -- well, their teams are anyway. Epstein, too, had a quick departure from Boston.
The rest of the Interleague schedule takes the Red Sox to Miami and Atlanta, while the Marlins (remember Hanley Ramirez?) and Nationals both visit Fenway. The only National League East team the Sox don't play is the Mets.
On the field, the Sox have to deal with the loss of their designated hitter like every other American League team on the road, although David Ortiz is unlike most any other DH.
Ortiz played a couple games at first base last year, with Adrian Gonzalez sliding over to right field, and Ortiz is again ready to man first this season.
"I think he's fine; I think David could play first base and Adrian looks all right in the outfield, too," manager Bobby Valentine said. "I think David could play first base, so does Dustin [Pedroia], so does Adrian and so does David -- and that's what's more important."
Ortiz said Tuesday was the first day he took grounders at first. The Phillies series starts Friday.
"I just don't think about it, though I know that I'm not a first baseman anymore, so I try to keep it simple," Ortiz said. "Everybody knows that I'm not a fantasy first baseman. I try to catch whatever's around me, but I try to have good communication with the rest of the guys so I'm not in their way."
Still, Ortiz is likely to be out of the lineup at some point when the Sox play in Philly, Miami and Chicago.
"Yeah, it is what it is, right?" Ortiz said. "So I'm going to try to be ready for it whenever my manager needs me."
As for Papelbon, in his first 15 appearances he was 0-1 and 10-for-10 in save opportunities with a 2.40 ERA in 15 innings. In other words, he's doing great. The last pitch thrown by a Sox player at Citizens Bank came from Papelbon, who saved a 5-2 win there on June 30, when Boston salvaged the final game of a three-game set.
Players to watch
|Dustin Pedroia, 2B (.360, 12 HRs, 46 RBIs): David Ortiz has a .409 on-base percentage in Interleague Play lifetime, but that's second on the team to Pedroia, who reaches base at a .423 clip.|
|Josh Beckett, RHP (12-5, 3.11 ERA): A longtime NL pitcher himself, Beckett has 120 strikeouts in 139 innings in Interleague Play with the Sox.|
Papelbon told WEEI.com that he was unhappy with the Sox training staff in his eight seasons in Boston, during which he went 23-20 with a 2.33 ERA and 229 saves in 411 appearances.
"The previous trainer tried to tell me that he knew everything about me," Papelbon said. "It's just not the case. I know myself. I knew how to get through a 162-game season. A trainer doesn't know how to do that. The trainers here have been phenomenal. They understand that I'm going to be successful because I know how to be successful. I still did things my way when I was there in Boston, I just had somebody chirping in my ear the whole time. ... You stay in your own lane, you'll be fine. I'll stay in my lane, I know what I need to do, I'll be fine."
Papelbon also said all things being the same, and money aside, he would have left.
Red Sox pitchers had just one hit in 21 at-bats in 2011, and they've been taking batting practice since last Thursday.
"It was a progression from soft toss [to the] tee to a little BP in the cage," Valentine said. "They've hit outside now."
Last year: The Sox went 10-8 in Interleague Play last season, with their series against the Cubs at Fenway Park drawing the most attention for its historic value.
At Phillies, Friday-Sunday: This is the second straight year the Red Sox will visit Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park. The Sox are 28-18 against Philadelphia dating back to 1997. The only season the Sox haven't played the Phils since Interleague Play began was 2007. Boston's 15-11 on the road against Philly, and dropped two of three last season.
vs. Nationals, June 8-10: Washington hasn't visited Fenway Park since 2006. This year, phenoms Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg may get their first taste of Fenway. Boston is 13-8 against the Nationals/Expos all-time.
At Marlins, June 11-13: The Red Sox are 15-9 against the Marlins all-time. Some Boston fans clamored for the club to sign Miami shortstop Jose Reyes this offseason. They'll get a first-hand look at Reyes, as well as Ramirez, Boston's former top prospect who was traded for Josh Beckett, when the Marlins make their first trip to Fenway Park since 2009 in a follow-up series June 19-21.
At Cubs, June 15-17: The Cubs and Red Sox made history last season when Chicago played its first regular season games at Fenway. Boston is 3-3 against Chicago all-time, taking two of three in last year's series and losing two of three at Wrigley in 2005, its only other regular-season visit there.
vs. Braves, June 22-24: The only NL opponent the Sox are playing this year whom they have a losing record against is Atlanta (24-27). The clubs last met in 2009, when Boston took two of three at both Fenway and Atlanta's Turner Field.