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Red Sox Get Champagne, Springer Gets Cookies

The rain grew intense. So, too, did the moment.

With the bases loaded and two out in the seventh inning, John Farrell walked out of the Red Sox dugout toward the mound. Believing he had been summoned to replace David Price, Addison Reed ran in from the bullpen. No. No. No. Farrell, shaking his head, waved Reed back into the bullpen.

There is a thin line between comedy and tragedy. Red Sox fans, so nervous about their team turning from AL East champions into a wild card team, were certain their punchline manager had found it.

Raindrops and a Red Sox lead had loitered around Fenway Park for most of Saturday afternoon, and as Farrell stood there, the skies opened. On deck was George Springer. It was ominous.

"You can't get away from George Springer these days," Jim Penders, his UConn coach, said earlier in the day.

There was Springer starting in the All-Star Game. There he was featured in Sports Illustrated in August, a story not to be confused with his SI cover a few years ago. On Wednesday, Springer, a .333 hitter with the bases loaded, hit the fourth grand slam of his career against Texas. It also was his 34th home run, tying the 67-year-old record of Walt Dropo for most homers in a major league season by a former UConn player.

And now here was Springer looking out at Price, trying to ruin this day, maybe even the season of the team he grew up rooting for in New Britain.

"All they have to do is win one game to clinch the division, and we're trying to beat them," Springer said before the game. "It's fun to know what is at stake."

If you are a Yankees fan, Astros fan or a George Springer fan, the next pitch from Price goes over the Green Monster for another grand slam. The next pitch puts the Astros up, 6-5. The next pitch allows the Yankees, who would beat Toronto, to pull one game behind the Sox with one day remaining.

No, the next pitch was a called strike one, a fastball high on the outside corner.

Springer reached outside to foul off a 93 mph fastball. It was 0-and-2. The fans sensed this was Farrell's and Price's moment of truth. Price had done nothing in the postseason last year, and coming off injury, he suddenly has become the highest paid reliever in the history of the game.

Price didn't waste time or a pitch. He got Springer looking at a 95 mph fastball low on the inside corner. We'll see what happens this week as the Astros and Red Sox square off in the ALDS. Both teams, Springer said, are seeing a lot about each other. What we saw Saturday was Price enjoying perhaps his biggest moment with the Red Sox.

After Brian McCann homered off Craig Kimbrel, Springer came up one more time with two outs and Cameron Maybrin on second in the ninth. Kimbrel punched Springer out on a 98 mph fastball. Red Sox 6, Astros 3.

Red Sox are AL East champions!

Farrell becomes the first manager in team history to win back-to-back division titles and three division titles. It's true. You can look it up.

The Red Sox got their champagne.

Springer got his cookies.

Before the Astros' win Friday, Diane Harper, his first grade teacher at Holmes Elementary in New Britain caught his eye with a big sign and surprised Springer with a big plate of homemade cookies. The photos immediately were all over the internet. Penders is right. You can't get away from Springer these days.

He won't catch Alfonso Soriano's MLB record of 38 home runs by a leadoff hitter. We'll have to see who manager A.J. Hinch will rest on what becomes a meaningless Sunday, but with one swing, Springer can surpass the late Dropo, who hit 34 as a Red Sox rookie in 1950.

"It has been lot of fun to watching George chase Mr. Dropo as the Husky home run king," Penders said. "I just saw his daughter Carla on campus a couple of weeks ago. We were joking about her dad getting back in the news."

Penders also has been teasing Chris Jones of the UConn sports information department about getting the Boston Globe account of the game where Dropo hit No. 34. Just in case Springer hits No. 35 to the same spot. A little research Saturday shows Dropo hit it off Early Wynn on Sept. 20, 1950, at Cleveland Stadium.

"I didn't even know about the record until somebody told me recently," Springer said. "Obviously, he had a lot of success. The Dropos are a great Connecticut family. It's an honor. And I'll take it. I'll see if I can break it. If not, oh well."

Penders called the three Dropo boys, great athletes who grew up on a small family farm in Moosup, the first family of UConn athletics.

"No ands, ifs or buts about that, Milt, Walt and George all were successful," Penders said. "The Storrs brothers wanted to make better farmers when they founded the place in 1880. It's in the DNA of our university. It is appropriate they're our first family.

"They have passed, but their legacy lives. They've allowed so many kids to get an education through the UConn Club they started and the family endowment."

Penders would know. He was one of those kids.

"It still means a ton to me," he said.

Springer has raised money to send children who stutter to camp for a number of years. He wore a microphone during the All-Star Game, a chance nationally to encourage such youngsters. This month his sister Nicole and his family organized three truckloads of donations from New Britain to hurricane-ravaged Houston. All credit goes to his sisters and his family, Springer said, and none to him.

"There are thousands in our city who lost everything," Springer said. "To see my hometown, my home state do what they did was awesome."

"George always has been other-centric, so I'm not surprised by it," Penders said.

Penders said Connecticut Tigers manager Gerald Laird was in his office recently. The former major league catcher remembered how a few years back a number of veterans were suddenly taken at batting practice by the sound of the ball rocketing off some rookie's bat. It was George Springer.

"The first things recruits see when they come walking into my office is that Sports Illustrated cover of George," Penders said. "He's the poster boy of the program right now just like Walt Dropo was for a long time."

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