Jacoby Ellsbury stood close to the On Deck circle in the bottom of the ninth, watching Cleveland Indians reliever Joe Smith warm up. Waiting.
Smith had come on in relief of Chris Perez who had loaded the bases on a Stephen Drew single sandwiched between walks to Jonny Gomes and Jose Iglesias and had gone 2-1 to the struggling centerfielder when he felt a twinge in his arm and was lifted by Indian’s manager Terry Francona.
Ellsbury studied Smith, his sidewinding delivery perfect for his swing – in his stance, swinging at the pitch as it crossed home plate, though he was 40 feet or so away, timing the right hander’s delivery.
The batter is at a disadvantage in this situation. It’s tough to have a fresh pitcher take over in the middle of an at bat, but since the rule book states that a pitcher can take all the time he needs to warm up when taking over in an injury situation, it afforded Ellsbury the chance to think.
“They’re very different pitchers. You have a few less pitches to make the adjustment, work the count.” Ellsbury recalled, referring to the fact that two balls and one strike had already been called. “So, yeah, it’s a different scenario, makes it harder. But I figured he would throw a strike, and I’d try to hit something hard.”
Hit something hard, indeed.
Ellsbury got a beach ball right down the middle and nailed it into the gap in left center, rounding first base and trying to sprint away from the pounding he knew would take when his teammates, who were running en mass toward Ellsbury in full Koji Uehara-style celebration mode, eventually caught up with him…
…his double off the F.W. Webb sign at the base of the Green Monster plating Gomes and Drew to cap an improbable four run ninth for a walk off 6-5 victory that sent the Indians packing, losers in three of the four games in the weekend series.
Dustin Pedroia (who else?) started the rally by drawing a walk off of Perez, moved around to third on David Ortiz’ double, and after Mike Napoli drove in Pedroia with an RBI ground out and Papi (again, who else?) stole third, Jarrod Saltalamacchia plated him with another RBI groundout – then Perez loaded the bases with two outs, setting the stage for Ellsbury’s heroics.
The walk off double had to be a relief to the embattled Ellsbury, who endured some boos when he dropped a pop foul that would have ended the first inning, and then some mock cheers when he singled to right in the sixth – but nobody was giving him the business as he rounded first after hitting the game winner, fists clinched, yelling at the top of his lungs…
…his month-long funk fading into the past like a bad dream upon waking, but just because the dream fades doesn’t mean the anxiety goes along with it, and manager John Farrell understands that and stands behind his leadoff man.
“Hopefully, it gives him a boost of confidence,” Farrell said, “He gets the base hit in the previous at-bat, and we’ve seen his on-base frequency start to pick up over the last week, either by walk or some base hits. So he gets obviously the key hit of the day with the game winner, so I would certainly hope that this would have a carryover effect for him.”
In fact, Ellsbury’s on base percentage had dipped so low in the past couple of weeks that only the perpetually struggling Drew has a lower percentage on the team – but whether Ellsbury’s clutch hit lifts him out of the funk or not is irrelevant, as the Red Sox have generated an identity of a team that never gives up, no matter the score nor the odds…
…and that has to give pause to the detractors that tried to bury the Red Sox before the season even started.
“I think we’ve seen it many times over,” Farrell said. “Whether it was the game down in Tampa where we came back on the double in that game. Today, once again.”
The first year Sox skipper paused for a moment to look over at his players, who were still in celebratory mode, though more reserved than moments earlier. “This team loves to compete. Until that 27th out is recorded, this team doesn’t roll over, by any means.”
There’s no higher praise for a team than to have your leader say something like that, and now Jacoby Ellsbury can rightly feel as though he’s part of that once again.