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Rangers, Red Sox are close as cousins

Rangers, Red Sox are close as cousins
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Friday's hero David Murphy was actually a first-round pick by the Red Sox in 2003

ARLINGTON, Texas – Their rosters are as intertwined as a cross-stitched quilt, red the dominant color, diamonds the prevailing pattern. And in a thoroughly engaging opener on a blistering hot afternoon, the Texas Rangers exhibited dazzling workmanship while the Boston Red Sox unraveled.

They’ll be back at it twice more over the weekend and, if prognosticators far and wide have it right, likely will meet again in October with the American League pennant on the line. So the fact that the Rangers won, 9-5, Friday wasn’t as fascinating as the myriad connections between the clubs, a sign that complacency isn’t an option in major league baseball.

Every team retools its roster, even the ones at the top. Trades are made. Free agents are signed. And, in the case of the Rangers and Red Sox, the histories often mingle.

The winning hit came from David Murphy(notes), a first-round draft pick of the Red Sox in 2003, traded to the Rangers in 2007 just as he was major league ready. Murphy came up through the Boston farm system with, among others, second baseman Dustin Pedroia(notes). After stroking the double that brought home two runs and snapped a 5-5 tie in the eighth inning, Murphy stood on second and didn’t even glance at his pal.

“It was a big moment, and I didn’t want to look over,” Murphy said. “We’re friends and it was a little more special doing this against the Red Sox because I know a lot of guys, but I wasn’t going to say anything.”

Greetings aren’t obligatory among former teammates, not on opening day, not when more than 50,000 fans are sweating through every pitch, not with a national TV audience tuned in. Jarrod Saltalamacchia(notes), the Red Sox catcher, didn’t do more than grunt and nod at each Rangers batter who stepped into the box. A year ago on opening day, Salty, as he is called by both sides, wore a Rangers’ uniform and drove home the winning run in the ninth inning. Two years ago, he homered and drove in three runs in another Rangers’ opening day victory.

On Friday he was doing his best to remember the weaknesses of his old friends. He was only moderately successful: Ian Kinsler(notes) homered in the first inning and Nelson Cruz(notes) homered in the second off left-hander Jon Lester(notes). A three-run homer in the fourth by Mike Napoli(notes) – playing in his first game as a Ranger after being acquired in a trade from the Blue Jays via the Angels – erased a 4-2 Red Sox lead.

Scoring ahead of Napoli was Adrian Beltre(notes), who signed a huge free agent contract during the offseason after boosting his stock with a tremendous 2010 for the Red Sox. Beltre’s five-year deal gives him comfort even beyond the $80 million he’ll be paid; he’d rather be regarded as a core player than a complementary piece.

“I’m hoping to settle in and be a guy we build around,” he said. “Last year I was playing for a contract and I enjoyed Boston a lot. Here, I’m seeing we can be a really good team for a long time and I want to be part of it.”

In the visiting clubhouse, Adrian Gonzalez(notes) expressed the same sentiment. He’s the Red Sox new first baseman, acquired in an offseason trade and under contract only for this season. He’d like a long-term extension and one is in the works. He did nothing to diminish his stock, driving in three of the Red Sox first four runs, stealing a base and gracefully digging throws out of the dirt.

That same dirt was under his feet his first week in the big leagues when the Rangers called him up from Triple-A in mid-April, 2004, because Mark Teixeira(notes) went on the disabled list. Gonzalez, acquired by the Rangers from the Marlins in a trade in 2003, went back to the minors when Teixeira healed. The next year he shuttled from Triple-A to Arlington, serving as a DH and unable to unseat Teixeira at first base.

Gonzalez was traded to the San Diego Padres the next year in one of the most lopsided deals ever, so recognized because he became one of the best players in baseball. The Padres knew they had no chance of signing him when he becomes a free agent after this season, so they dealt him to the Red Sox, who are engaged in genial negotiations that should result in a long-term contract this month.

The deal could eclipse the $142 million the Red Sox handed outfielder Carl Crawford(notes) during the offseason. Crawford, by the way, has never played for the Rangers, but was born and raised in Houston and still resides in Texas. The Rangers met with Crawford’s agent in December and would have liked to bid on him but had identified re-signing pitcher Cliff Lee(notes) as their top priority.

The Red Sox got Crawford and the Phillies signed Lee, so the Rangers grabbed Beltre. It’s the major league merry-go-round and it happens every year. Boston general manager Theo Epstein and his Texas counterpart Jon Daniels are no doubt plotting their next moves. Rangers' news would be announced by communications VP John Blake, who worked for the Red Sox from 2006-2008.

And given these teams' entwined histories, the next deal could very well lead to another moment like Murphy enjoyed, giving former teammates a taste of what they missed.