The Red Sox will pay tribute to victims of the Boston Marathon bombings when the AL division series opens at Fenway Park on Friday with a giant "B Strong" logo mowed into the grass in center field.
The logo matches the patch the team has worn since the April 15 explosions that killed three and wounded hundreds more.
"We've been part of a lot of fun patterns through the years," groundskeeper Dave Mellor said. "But this one had a lot more meaning. It's an honor to be a part of 'Boston Strong.'"
The logo features the franchise's stylized "B'' logo above the word "strong," surrounded by a circle that takes up most of center field. It's more complicated than many of the designs Mellor has done in the past, but he had plenty of extra time to work on it because the team hasn't played at home since Sept. 22.
"There was a request from upstairs if we could do it," he said. "It was a fun challenge."
Outfield designs are limited to the two colors of the two sides of a blade of grass. Darker green is made by moving the grass in one direction, and running the mower the opposite way shows the lighter green side.
Fine points are made by rollers.
"The patterns are only limited by our imagination," Mellor said.
"There are only two patterns you can't do, and that's Michigan and the Yankees," said Mellor, who studied agronomy at Ohio State. "That will kill the grass."
STAR PUPILS: Carlos Beltran can't help but marvel at the Cardinals rookies who have produced from the get-go.
St. Louis led the majors with 36 wins from rookies and entered the postseason with a rookie closer and setup man. First-year slugger Matt Adams stepped in admirably at first base for injured Allen Craig with eight homers in the final month.
The 36-year-old Beltran believes mentoring isn't difficult because the Cardinals are a perennial contender. That makes prospects hungrier to carve out a niche.
"The guys know this organization is serious about winning, and as a player that's what you dream of," Beltran said. "They just come here and they just go out and do it.
"It seems like they don't feel like they have to do anything different. They just want to fit in and do the job."
Beltran, making his fourth postseason appearance, said his initial experience in the majors was the opposite. He broke in with the Royals in 1998 expecting to be on a losing team.
"When you grow up in an organization where every year you lose, you get used to it," Beltran said. "Every year over there we lost 80, 90, 100 games.
"You don't even think winning is part of that scenario."
POSTSEASON FLOPS: While much is made of the Atlanta Braves' long list of playoff failures, the Dodgers haven't exactly been a postseason powerhouse, either.
At least since 1988, when Los Angeles won its last World Series title.
That's an even longer drought than the Braves, who won the championship in 1995.
"I was born in '88," said Clayton Kershaw, who will start Game 1 of the NL division series in Atlanta. "We hear it every day from somewhere or another."
This is the seventh playoff appearance for the Dodgers since their last World Series title. Four times, they've lost in the division series. Two other times, they made it to the NL championship series before succumbing.
"We get it — we haven't won a World Series in a long time," Kershaw said. "We understand the history and we respect it. But we're trying to make some of our own right now."
CLEANING UP THE COLISEUM: Shortly after the Oakland Athletics completed batting practice Wednesday, the grounds crew at the Coliseum began spray painting over the football field lines left over from Sunday's NFL game between the Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins.
It's a stark reminder that the A's remain the only team in baseball still sharing facilities with another pro sports franchise — one of the prime reasons owner Lew Wolff has been seeking a new home for his ballclub.
The Coliseum is one of the oldest stadiums in the country, and plumbing problems have resulted in sewage leaking into the clubhouses and dugouts on more than one occasion this year.
The outfield grass has also taken a beating in recent weeks when the Coliseum switches from baseball to a football configuration.
Oakland players don't seem to mind too much. With a sellout crowd expected for Game 1 against the Detroit Tigers on Friday — tarps have been removed from parts of the upper deck to accommodate more fans — the A's relish the opportunity to open the playoffs at home.
"Granted, we don't have the nicest facility," first baseman Brandon Moss said. "But I think everybody is going to see that when this place is packed, how awesome it is to play in. I haven't played anywhere like it. It's the best. It's a football-type atmosphere, something completely different from anywhere else."
BUCCO AT HEART: His jersey says Cleveland on the front, but Indians manager Terry Francona has always had Pittsburgh close to his heart.
Francona grew up in New Brighton, Pa., which is 28 minutes from the Steel City. So he was excited to see the Pirates win their first playoff game since 1992 on Tuesday night, 6-2 over the Cincinnati Reds in the NL wild-card game.
Francona said he was thrilled to watch the Pirates advance to play St. Louis in the division series.
"I grew up 30 miles from Three Rivers Stadium, now it's PNC (Park)," Francona said, "and unless we're playing them I'm a big fan of what they're doing because I grew up there and I knew every lineup from Manny Sanguillen to Willie Stargell to Dave Parker. I was thrilled. I thought it was really neat."
Francona's father, Tito, still lives in New Brighton.
FAMILIAR FACES: Atlanta rookie Evan Gattis is expected to bat cleanup for the Braves when they face Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the NL division series Thursday night.
The two have a history.
Gattis and Kershaw are both natives of Dallas.
"We grew up together a little bit," said the 27-year-old Gattis, who is about 19 months older than Kershaw. "We played against each other and with each other. But I probably won't get any well-wishes from him tomorrow. Maybe in the offseason."
Gattis remembered a young pitcher who was difficult to hit.
Not much has changed.
"He had some giddy-up," Gattis said. "He's always been pretty talented."
DAY IN, DAY OUT: Aside from the fact it was win or go home in the NL wild-card game, Pirates star Andrew McCutchen thinks that now that his team has advanced to the division series against St. Louis, playing Tuesday night was an advantage.
After the Pirates completed a workout early Wednesday evening, McCutchen said he'd rather stick to routine than get a bunch of time off. He played in 157 games this season.
"Towards the end of the season when you have more than one or two days off, your body really starts to shut down," McCutchen said. "So you have to really trick yourself, telling yourself we've still got ball to play.
"Keeping the body fresh, keeping everything going I think is going to help propel us into the series."
The bullpen is rested, however, after Francisco Liriano went seven innings against the Reds.
"We're in a good place out there," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Nobody's tight, nobody's sore, nobody's ... for Oct. 2 it's as well-rested a bullpen as you can have."
DIDN'T SEE THAT ONE COMING: David Hale was looking ahead to next season.
The Braves had other plans.
In a stunning move, manager Fredi Gonzalez added the 26-year-old rookie to the pitching staff for the NL division series against the Dodgers, even though he has only pitched in two big league games.
"I was taken back completely," Hale said. "I was like, 'Are you sure?'"
A native of suburban Atlanta, Hale spent nearly the entire season at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he went 6-9 with a 3.22 ERA. He was called up to the Braves when rosters expanded in September and made two starts. He earned his first win in the majors and was impressive both times, allowing just one run in 11 innings with 14 strikeouts and one walk.
That was enough to persuade the Braves to keep him around as a long reliever. He will likely get into a game only if a starter struggles early or the game goes deep into extra innings.
Hale isn't complaining.
"I was just along for the ride here in September," he said. "What I've experienced already was enough to make my entire year. This just tops it off."
MVP STUMPING: Pirates manager Clint Hurdle knocked one out of the park when asked whether he thought Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen was the NL MVP.
"The NL MVP should be the baddest dude in the league," Hurdle said. "And the baddest dude in the league for me is Andrew McCutchen."