August 20. 2017 5:38AM

Mike Shalin's Working Press: Fantastic finish is in sight


Red Sox outfielders Andrew Benintendi, left, and Mookie Betts watch teammate Jackie Bradley Jr. leap during the team's victory celebrations after Boston's 9-6 win over the New York Yankees on Friday night at Fenway Park. (USA TODAY Sports)

IT'S ANOTHER baseball Sunday.

Is it too early to look ahead at the final weekend of baseball's regular season?

If you don't know it, the Red Sox finish the schedule with four home games against the Houston Astros - games that could mean a lot for both, one or neither of the teams.

After Friday night's comeback win over the Yankees, the Red Sox led the AL East by five games and trailed the Astros for best record (and home field) by 4½.

If things ended Friday night, the Astros, who have been the best team in the league all year and have struggled lately under the weight of injuries, would face the winner of the wild card game and the Red Sox would play the Indians again in the ALDS. Entering Saturday, the Sox were 2½ games ahead of Cleveland for home field.

So, it's possible nothing is at stake on that final weekend. But it's also possible the Red Sox need the games for their battle with the Yankees, while the games are meaningless to Houston. Assuming Cleveland stays out of the best-overall picture, if the Red Sox and Astros are still fighting for that top spot, how hard does either go to win it?

Finishing first in the AL could also make a difference for the World Series, as home field now determined by best record. And if the Dodgers don't make it, which we know has happened before, home field could also be up for grabs.

Entertng Saturday, the Sox trailed Washington by 3 ½ but led the Cubs by six, the Rockies by 2 ½ and Diamondbacks by 3 ½.

McCarver weighs in

Former Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver, in town to broadcast the games against St. Louis, told column pal Jonny Miller that his Cards had a huge advantage in the 1967 World Series series because Bob Gibson pitched Games 1 and 7 in the daytime, throwing with the white shirts in the bleachers in the background, which was allowed back then.

"It kinda doubled his effectiveness, and that's all he needed was more effectiveness," McCarver said.

Pablo Sandoval wrote in the Players Tribune: "At the end of the day, I just never felt comfortable in Boston. It had nothing to do with the organization, or my teammates, or the fans, or the city. Everybody was great to me. I think it was just something that happens sometimes - you don't feel comfortable somewhere, or you don't fit in, even if you're in a place you chose to be.

"In Boston, I was lost."

Eduardo Nunez, who also came to Boston from San Francisco, isn't lost, helping invigorate the Boston offense. You might recall Nunez came up as a Yankee and has turned into a quality hitter. He could always hit.

"I just think consistency for him," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Friday. "One of the things, he's getting consistent at-bats. He's had to move around positions and he's handled it pretty well. We had him as a young player and sometimes that's not always easy for a young player but he was always ready to play. I just think he's matured and he's dangerous and he's aggressive and you know that when you're facing him, he's done a really good job."

Wrigley trouble

Jon Lester got hammered Thursday, allowing eight runs in the second inning, and was then placed on the disabled list with a tired arm.

"His arm is tired, which is understandable," team president Theo Epstein said, pointing to the fatigue likely produced by pitching into two straight Octobers. "If you look at the load that he's carried, pitching seven months the last couple years, taking the ball every fifth day. There comes a time where all pitchers need a breather, and this is his time."

Said Joe Maddon: "Jon has just pitched a lot. He's pitched a lot over the last several years. And that's what I keep talking about with a lot of our guys, when you take them out after 85, 90, 95 pitches, sometimes they don't like it. But it's a cumulative kind of effect that it's going to have where all of a sudden it piles up and guys become tired or fatigued or they start doing something differently and all of a sudden they get some tightness.

Lester is 8-7 with a 4.37 ERA for the season, but two outings have skewed his numbers. On July 9, he went two-thirds of an inning, allowing six hits and 10 runs, four earned, while walking three. Then came this latest start, which lasted 1 2/3 innings, yielding seven hits and nine runs, seven earned.

Meanwhile, staff mate and fried chicken and beer pal John Lackey isn't mowing anyone down, and he's still allowing home runs, but he keeps winning.

''Everybody was writing him off,'' Lester told the Chicago Sun Times. ''Well, guess what? There's still obviously a lot left in the tank.''

Lackey, reacting to being asked about being the "least important" part of the Cubs rotation, flashed his usual Lackey charm and said, "Are you serious?"

He continued, saying, ''Man, I really don't care what anybody says. What do I have to prove, really? I have three world championships. This is my 16th year in the big leagues. Whatever.''

Lackey, who hasn't lost since June 28 (5-0), stole the first base of his long career the other night, on the same night he helped keep Joey Votto from breaking Ted Williams' record of 21 straight games reaching base at least twice.

"When I got the hit, (first base coach Brandon) Hyde said, 'Do you want to steal a base,'" Lackey said. "I said, 'Heck no, I'm tired.' But after the first pitch, nobody was really watching me and it was pretty easy so I went ahead and went."

Ringing endorsement

More Cubs? They didn't stop with giving out rings with Steve Bartman. They have also given them to former managers Rick Renteria and Dale Sveum. Colleague Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune suggested others, including Larry Lucchino, because, "The former Red Sox executive clashed with Epstein, then the team's general manager, greasing the skids for his departure after the 2011 season. Cubs ower (Tom) Ricketts swooped in and made Epstein president, changing Cubs history. No Theo, no rings."

Outfield talk

The Marlins have the best outfield in baseball, hands-down. And, no, I don't think the new ownership of Derek Jeter and Co. will want to trade Giancarlo Stanton, even though it would be funny if Jeter ships Stanton to the Yankees, right?

Through Friday, Stanton was hitting .286 with 44 homers, 94 RBIs and a 1.021 OPS, while Marcell Ozuna was at .303 with 27/90/.905 and Christian Yelich, having a bit of a down year, was at .280 with 13/60/.794.

Stanton hit homers in six straight and came up short as he chased the record shared by his manager, Don Mattingly, Ken Griffey Jr. and Dale Long: homers in eight straight. He also said he hopes to chase the real home run record and hit 62.

Stat oddity

Monday night in New York, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Aaron Hicks all hit the 40th homers of their careers in the same game. Judge and Sanchez joined Rudy York and Mark McGwire as the only players to reach 40 homers in 140 games or less, Sanchez doing it in 139 and Judge 140.

Judge hit one into the upper deck at Citi Field the other night, and it appears Statcast blew the estimate. "If that ball only went 450, no ball's ever going to go 500 feet," teammate Chase Headley said. "I know it's high and coming down straight, but that ball looked like it went a long ways to me."

Around the Horn

Thursday, Curtis Granderson hit a ninth-inning grand slam for the Mets to turn a 7-1 Yankee laugher into a Dellin Betances save appearance. Friday, Granderson was dealt from the outhouse to the penthouse when he was moved to the 86-34 Dodgers (51-9 last 60), and Betances was unavailable for the Yankees as their bullpen imploded in Boston. . Ike Davis, still only 30, is trying to make a comeback as a pitcher. He pitched some in college. . Mets rookie Amed Rosario finally drew a walk in his 49th plate appearance, and asked for the ball. . The Tigers' Ian Kinsler, fed up with ump Angel Hernandez, said, "I'm just saying it's pretty obvious that he needs to stop ruining baseball games." . Congrats to Colorado's Chad Bettis on his very successful return from testicular cancer. . Milwaukee's Travis Shaw, formerly of the Sox, is the third baseman on an ESPN "All-Surprise" team. . The Giants won their 11,000th game the other night, not nearly enough of them this year.

Finally, upon the unveiling of the Tony C display at Fenway Friday night, colleague Tyler Kepner tweeted: "Jack Hamilton pitched 61 more games in his career after hitting Tony Conigliaro at Fenway 50 years ago today. He never hit another batter."

Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is