When you watch your team play, there are always those guys on opposing teams that you never, ever want to see come up to the plate. I’m not just talking about the best players in the league, I’m talking about those guys that automatically trigger a feeling of dread in your heart. The guys that always seem to hurt your team, even if they aren’t the most feared sluggers of the day. The guys that you’ve seen come up in big spots and rip your heart out multiple times. The guys that carry that dark voodoo that seems to bring up their spot in the order whenever your team really needs an out.
The following is a lineup full of those guys that always made me, as a Red Sox fan, sweat bullets when they came up to bat in the late innings. First of all, a couple disclaimers:
- This is not the 9 scariest guys I’ve seen play. This is an attempt to put together a hypothetical lineup full of players that I was always afraid to see hit against the Red Sox, while making sure that each defensive position is represented.
- The guys in this lineup will not all hit in their normal spot in the batting order, since they are obviously all middle-of-the-order hitters. I slotted them according to where I would place them in my lineup if I had all of these guys available to me in a game against the Boston Red Sox. I surprisingly only had a couple lefties, so I spread them out so a hard-throwing righty with a slider couldn’t come in from the Sox bullpen and dominate any large chunk of the order late in the game.
- I was as strict as possible with the defensive positions where I placed each of these players. I only put one player in a position that I don’t think he ever played, and he certainly could have played there adequately. I put another player in a position that I never saw him play, but which he did play earlier in his career before I was a fan.
- Jose Altuve, Second Base
The leadoff hitter is the member of this lineup who most recently took up real estate inside my brain. He’s five feet tall and he scares me worse than little Reagan when she stabbed herself with the crucifix. When he and Bregman went back-to-back against Chris Sale in the first inning of Game 1 of the 2017 ALDS, I knew that the season was over. Even in last year’s playoffs when he was gimping around the bases on one leg, I would’ve rather seen George Springer bat three times in a row than see Altuve bat once. It makes no sense for a guy his size to have the amount of pop that he has. And if that’s not bad enough, he can just as easily rip an outside breaking ball down the right field line with an exit velocity of 8 million mph. He may be my favorite player in baseball right now, yet the Astros have him locked up for the rest of his career, which means I would be perfectly happy to never see him bat again.
- Will Clark, First Base
This dude could rake, and he looked damn good doing it. He had a career average of over .400 against my team and I hated to see him come up in a big spot, yet I still somehow always enjoyed watching him hit. Luckily he played most of the American League portion of his career with the Rangers, so he didn’t play many meaningful games against the Red Sox. I think a lot of what I enjoyed about watching The Thrill was that he had the coolest batting stance I’ve ever seen. He stood tall with his neck bent forward like someone with scoliosis, yet somehow looked as calm as a guy smoking a butt while waiting for a bus. Once the pitcher’s arm came up he started his stride, his bat stopped wiggling, and his wrists whipped the bat around with seemingly no help from his arms whatsoever. He never appeared to be trying hard, yet he had the sweetest swing my fourth grade eyes had ever seen. Had he played for the Red Sox, he’d probably be my favorite player of all time.
- Vladimir Guerrero, Left Field
What can I say about Vlad that hasn’t already been said a thousand times? He hit the ball all over, and I mean that in relation to where the ball was pitched in addition to where he hit it. This guy’s idea of the strike zone was even bigger than his son’s ass. He hit majestic 420 foot bombs to left, center, and right, yet never even cared that he was doing it. I never saw as much as a fist pump from him. He just expected to deliver every time he was up. That applied to his baserunning too. People forget that Vlad could motor back in his younger days. He stole 40 bases in 2002, yet he was still somehow caught stealing 20 times. That’s 60 attempts in one year. I’m thinking he just ran on his own all the time, either a) because he was as high as a kite or b) because he played for the Expos so nobody cared. My most visceral Vladdy memory was as an Anaheim Angel against the Red Sox in Game 3 of the 2004 ALDS. Boston was up 2-0 in the series and 6-2 in the game when Vlad came up with the bases loaded. What stands out most isn’t that I expected him to hit a grand slam (even though I did wholeheartedly expect that). The crazy part is that, following that grand slam, I was expecting the Angles to win not only that game, but the entire series. Vlad had completely swung the momentum around and could easily get hot enough to carry his team to three straight wins. Such is the mania of being a pre-2004 Red Sox fan and life before David Ortiz.
- Gary Sheffield, Right Field
The clean up spot in this order could only go to the most hated, feared, and pissed off Red Sox opponent I’ve ever had to endure. Just looking at him stand at the plate gave me nightmares in the mid-2000s. He whirled his bat around his head with the force of an EF5 tornado as he stood in the box, and he hit the ball with the force of an atomic bomb. I am positive that no less than a thousand of the famous dents in Fenway’s left field wall were due to missiles that came off his bat. ARod, Giambi, Jeter, Williams, and Posada were nameless storm troopers in that lineup as far as I was concerned. Sheffield was Darth Vader, Ivan Drago, Skeletor, Megatron, and the damn Undertaker all rolled into one. He seemed to hit a couple 350-foot line drives per game, and he swung the bat as if the ball had said something nasty about his mother. Sheff was pissed off about absolutely everything. He got kicked off his little league team. When Ichiro broke the single-season hits record, Sheff talked smack about him just hitting singles while poor bastards like himself had to hit the ball hard and try to drive in runs. He pissed and moaned about every contract he ever signed. He acted as his own agent, most likely because he would never let some punk in a suit take a percentage of his inadequate salary (he hilariously became an agent after he retired). He was the perfect villain for a Red Sox fan. He was an incredible 5-tool player. He was a prick. He was a diva. He was a Yankee.
He was Sheff.
- Justin Smoak, Designated Hitter
You may be surprised at this addition, because he’s not even that good. Well if that’s your opinion, you’re obviously not a big fan of the Red Sox. Against every other team, this chump is basically Matt Nokes. Against the Red Sox, however, he turns into Chipper freaking Jones. He’s got 21 career home runs against Boston in 328 at bats (he hasn’t hit more than 16 against anyone else), and even that sounds low to me. He’s played in 103 games against the Red Sox, and I’ll be damned if he doesn’t truly have at least 75 home runs in those games. His career average is .232, but it’s .271 against the Red Sox. His career OPS is .746, but it’s .906 against Boston. If you put him on the mound in Fenway he’d probably throw eight shutout innings. You may disagree with his placement in the order, but against Boston you could probably make a strong case for him to bat third or fourth. Plus he’s a switch hitter, and in this righty-heavy lineup I want a guy who can hit left-handed somewhere in the middle. He’s due to be a free agent in 2020, and I will do cartwheels that winter when the Mets sign him for seven years and $250 million and take him out of the AL East for good.
- Evan Longoria, Third Base
Between 2008 and 2012, I feel like the Red Sox never got this dude out. He’s actually hit even more home runs against the Yankees (35) and Orioles (41), than he has against the Red Sox (31), but in my mind Evan Longoria is a bona fide Red Sox killer. His flawless defense made me want to smash beer bottles, as he seemed to snuff out every 2-out rally attempt by making some diving or short-hop snag to end the Boston threat. He, B.J. Upton, and Carlos Pena dismantled Red Sox pitching in the 2008 ALCS, a 7-game blur of nightmarish angst and frustration that I have not yet been able to forget. God bless those penny-pinching Rays though. Last year they traded him for cash and a bunch of mediocrity to San Francisco, where I assume he’s now engaged in a battle for playing time with that tub of lard Pablo Sandoval.
- Joe Carter, Center Field
The last time he played center field Arnold Schwarzenegger was a promising up-and-comer in Hollywood, but he did play there a little bit so I’m fine placing him there for the purpose of this exercise. It’s not like defense would mean a damn thing with a lineup like this anyway. Here’s another guy that feasted off Red Sox pitching in a Blue Jays uniform. Carter was twice the player Smoak is, but he’s yet another righty so he’s relegated to the lower third of this Murderer’s Row. In 1991, Toronto replaced Oakland as the nemesis that regularly dashed the meager hopes of Boston fans cheering on a second-tier Red Sox team that taunted us with the tiniest bit of promise, but no real hope of winning it all. That was the same year that Joe Carter crossed the border and became the centerpiece of one of only two teams that have won back-to-back World Series in the past 30 years. Carter had more home runs, RBI, doubles, runs, and total bases against Boston than any other team. When facing the Red Sox, Carter collected big hits the way Dwight Gooden collects ankle bracelets. Boston was the Jays’ stiffest competition in the AL East during those years, but the Sox were really no match for them. Although I hated the Blue Jays at the time, it would’ve made me far less sick to watch that World Series-ending home run in 1993 had anyone else on the team hit it.
- Gary Sanchez, Catcher
There are a couple reasons that The Sanchize is so low in the order. Number one, screw the Yankees. Number two, he’s only been around a couple years so far. Number three, he may be turning into an injury problem because the Yankees, in their infinite wisdom, have decided to let one of their two biggest bats play catcher instead of sticking him at first base or DH. But that’s a column for another day. On the surface, his numbers against Boston aren’t jaw-dropping. 14 home runs in 42 games is pretty significant (one every 8.5 at bats), but he drops bombs on everyone in the AL East, not just the Sox. The fear factor here is the sheer totality of said bombs. At Fenway Park, he turns into Mark McGwire in the 1999 Home Run Derby. As a Yankee hater, I prefer the towering moonshots onto Landsdowne Street over the line drives that are still rising as they leave the field with an exit velocity of 25 knots. You can always blame the high ones on the wind. Who cares if the flag is sitting limp on the pole? Are you gonna believe me or your lying eyes? There aren’t too many scary catchers out there, but this guy is a menace and every game he plays against Boston has life-or-death implications. So when my choices in a game I’m managing against the Red Sox are Sanchez or Kurt Suzuki, I’ll take Sanchez.
- Alan Trammell, Shortstop
Not a bad lineup, huh? Here’s a nice, scrappy little player in the nine-hole to help turn the lineup over. Hall of Famer, six-time All Star, World Series MVP … but I doubt many people reading this would think of Alan Trammell as a scary hitter. I became a baseball fan at age six in 1988, by far the most impressionable year of my life as a baseball fan (Mike Greenwell is still my favorite player of all time). When I first saw a starting lineup with a shortstop hitting cleanup I felt like my world was crumbling down around me. Shortstops were supposed to be little foreign guys who could field and bunt, not guys you build a lineup around. He had a much better 1988 against the Red Sox than Ripken did, so from then on Trammell became my prototype for the shortstop who can actually hit. In my eyes that made him a freak of nature and, therefore, someone to fear. By the time Jeter, ARod, and Tejada came along, we had Nomar. That left us no reason to fear these other jokers, since we had the better model on our team. Thirty-one years later, no shortstop has yet penetrated the anxiety matrix of my baseball psyche the way Alan Trammell did, which is why he makes the starting nine.