Barnes-Springer friendship goes beyond lineups

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Baseball’s web of friendships can be awkward when two players find themselves in different dugouts.

Springer and Barnes met about a decade ago when both were in their early teens in Connecticut. They lived together for three years at the University of Connecticut. They played together in the Cape Cod League and on Team USA.

Now this. Springer is a cornerstone player for the Astros, the team with the best record in baseball, and Barnes and his 96-mph fastball have helped Red Sox manager John Farrell create a monster bullpen.

The Red Sox were leading 2-1 on Friday night when Barnes was summoned to pitch the bottom of the eighth inning.

“I could have told you when we went into this series my first batter was going to be him,” Barnes said. “That’s the way baseball works.”

Barnes struck out Springer on a 96-mph fastball to open the eighth inning of a game the Red Sox would win 2-1. This was the third time Barnes and Springer have squared off since both made the Major Leagues.

They faced each other twice last season. The first time, Barnes induced a foul popup from Springer.

Then on May 13, 2016, they faced each other a second time. That was when Barnes threw Springer a full-count curveball.

Springer homered.

Springer's go-ahead home run

That one they did talk about. In fact, they’re still talking.

“He told me either I’m the dumbest hitter in the world or I was sitting on a curveball,” Springer said. “I said, `In 20 years, I’ll tell ya.’ He threw me a 3-2 curveball. I hit it.”

Wait, there’s more.

“Who sits on a 3-2 curveball from a guy who throws 100 [mph]?” Springer asked, shrugging.

Is that right, Matt?

“I told him there’s no way you hit that pitch unless you’re sitting on it,” Barnes said. “There’s no way you hit that pitch unless you’re absolutely sitting on it.

“He’s a good hitter. I’ve watched him hit for a long, long time. He’s a fantastic hitter, really smart.”

When the Astros and Red Sox play at Fenway Park each season, there’s a long list of family members, former coaches and friends in the stands.

“All our old coaches come up,” Barnes said. “Our families are there. We’ve both got a ton of friends in Boston. It gets pretty hectic, but it’s fun.”

They grew up 45 minutes apart, close to whatever passes for the Yankees-Red Sox demarcation line. Barnes is a Red Sox fan, Springer a Yankees fan. Rather, WAS a Yankees fan.

Mostly, their relationship is about staying in touch from afar, rooting for one another and being there to listen in tough times.

“It’s always fun,” Springer said. “I’m happy for him. I love to see guys I’ve played with or known forever up here, and all that stuff. You just enjoy the moment when you end up facing one another.”

Still, facing one another is different.

“When he gets in the box, I try not to look at him,” Barnes said. “I do my best to lock in on the catcher. At the end of the day, you’re trying to get him out. Know what I mean? It’s definitely a little weird. After a few times, you get used to it, and realize your job is to put up a zero.”

How does Barnes pitch Springer?

“I don’t know,” Springer said. “He won’t ever say. I understand who he is as a pitcher, and I have to kind of attack him that way. I think he understands how I hit, so he has to attack me a certain way.”

As Barnes said: “When he’s not playing us, I’m very happy for him. When he’s playing us, I hope he does absolutely nothing.”

In the end, their friendship is larger than any of this stuff.

“He’s a fantastic guy,” Barnes said. “His parents are awesome. Our parents are good friends. He’s one of my closest friends, and that’s not going to change.”

When they talk these days — every other day or so during the season — it’s usually not even about baseball.

“It’s him complaining about how he’s afraid to fly or something like that — normal friend stuff,” Springer said.

Which is what they are.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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