A different kind of Red Sox

The Red Sox have won 12 postseason series in recent years (i.e.post-1969), predominantly by the home run (Troy O’Leary, Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, David Ortiz more than once).

It seems safe to say a Red Sox series-clinching win was never fueled by speed until Tuesday. (They’ve lost them by base running, most notably the 1946 World Series on Enos Slaughter’s famous dash).

The Red Sox scored three runs Tuesday on a wild pitch, sacrifice fly and, as the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy put it, a 100-foot ground ball. They had six hits, with nary an extra-base one among them; combined with 10 walks, two hit batsmen (or one batsman, Shane Victorino, hit twice), two wild pitches and a stolen base, they produced three runs. These are not Kevin Millar’s Cowboy Up bunch.

The Rays’ John Maddon managed a fascinating game — using nine pitchers, giving his starter six batters, turning his Game 1 starter into a long reliever and getting his Game 5 starter up in the bullpen just in case there was a 10th inning. Maddon’s maneuvering helped. He started a righty and the Red Sox used their best lineup vs. one. Maddon relieved with a righty and then three lefties. It left Red Sox manager John Farrell wondering when and if to reverse his platoons — Johnny Gomes for Daniel Nava, David Ross for Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Xander Bogaerts for Stephen Drew — knowing Maddon would go back to a righty to finish the game.

It might not work as a strategy over 162 games, but over one or two games, it can certainly mess up the other team’s platoon. Knowing this, and knowing Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson’s season — a 5.17 ERA — it’s surprising he lasted as long as he did.

Farrell finally moved in the seventh after the Sox fell behind in the sixth. Bogaerts batted for Drew vs. lefty Jake McGee — the third lefty the Rays had used, though they still had one left. And then the Red Sox won with a weapon that’s been foreign to them.

Bogaerts walked and went from first to third on Jacoby Ellsbury’s two-out single. The Red Sox normally don’t go from first to third on singles unless there’s a bonus for doing so, or it’s a 400-foot David Ortiz single. Bogaerts did, easily, and it won the game.

Because when reliever Joel Peralta’s first pitch was wild Bogaerts scored. And with second base unoccupied, Ellsbury stole it and advanced to third all on the wild pitch, from where he scored the go-ahead run on Victorino’s infield single to shortstop. That’s two runs on one ball hit out of the infield; they added an insurance run in the ninth without a hit.

It may not quite be the ’65 Dodgers, but it’s sure not Ted Williams’ Red Sox.

Maddon said the Red Sox flipped “their culture back,” according to weei.com. He was talking personally, about what new additions Victorino and Gomes and Mike Napoli added to the clubhouse.

But he also could have been talking about the Sox’s approach on the field. It showed in the series: the Red Sox base runners stole six bases to the Rays’ one; Red Sox pitchers walked 11 batters and hit two as the Rays’ walked 20 and hit four; Rays fielder committed three errors and Wil Myers’ mental one in Game 1 as the Red Sox fielders committed none; the Red Sox turned six double plays and the Rays four.

“We just couldn’t score runs against their pitching,” Maddon said after Game 4, and he was right (when’s the last time an opposing manager said that about the Sox?). They scored just 12 in four games.

Some of it was the Rays’ desperate need for one more big hitter. But left unsaid was that the Red Sox didn’t help. Tuesday Rays pitchers walked eight batters, hit two and threw a wild pitch; Red Sox pitchers did none of that — no walks, no hit batsmen and no wild pitches.

The middle innings of the Red Sox bullpen was supposed to be the flabby part of the team, but it excelled Tuesday. In fact, Red Sox relievers faced 11 batters Tuesday, fanned seven and allowed only an infield single. Craig Breslow bridged the game from the sixth to the eighth, fanning four, and Koji Uehara, having surrendered a game-winning homer Monday, retired the last four batters.

The 2013 Red Sox are different. They ranked higher in the regular season in stolen bases than home runs (fourth vs. sixth) and they ranked first in MLB in stolen base percentage. They turned more double plays (142) than they hit into (137). They still led MLB in on-base percentage and slugging percentage, but they had more speed and defense, too.

And there’s one more way the 2013 Sox are different, too. A clubhouse that was one of the last to integrate is as diverse as any in baseball.

The 2013 Red Sox divisional roster included: 2 Venezuelans (Franklin Morales and Felix Doubront), two Japanese relievers (Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara), one Jewish reliever (Craig Breslow), one Dominican (David Ortiz), one Hawaiian (Victorino), one Aruban (Bogaerts), one Canadian (Ryan Dempster), one Native American (Ellsbury), one African-American (Quinton Berry) and the usual array of Californians, Texans and Floridians.

These aren’t Pumpsie Green’s Red Sox, either.

  • Breslow was one of four Ivy Leaguers to play in MLB in 2013. The Red Sox had half of them: Breslow and batterymate Ryan Lavarnway are both from Yale.

    Also from the Ivies are infielder Eddie Lucas (Marlins, Dartmouth) and Mark DeRosa (Blue Jays, Penn).

    Of course, this is only if you stipulate that the Marlins are a major-league team.

  • Andy Pafko, who hit 213 home runs but is just as famous for one he watched, died this week at age 92.

    Pafko was the left fielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers when Bobby Thomson hit the home run that won the 1951 pennant for the New York Giants.

    Pafko only played a season and a half for the Dodgers, coming at the trade deadline in 1951. He had 36 home runs for the Cubs in 1950, and hit 18 of his 30 for the Dodgers in 1951, but lost 49 points of his .304 1950 average. He was in left field as Ralph Branca entered the third and deciding playoff game vs. the Giants.

    “Branca walked by me in left field,” Pafko said in Roger Kahn’s Boys of Summer. “I hit him in the back. ‘Go get ’em, Ralph.’ But I was doubting. Branca threw a ball. Then came this shot. I started back. In Ebbets Field I might have gotten it. In the Polo Grounds it was gone.”

    So was Pafko from the Dodgers after a 1952 in which he hit only 19 home runs. That opened up a spot in 1953 for Jackie Robinson, who mostly vacated second base to Jim Gilliam. Left field, where he played 75 games, was Robinson’s primary position in 1953.

    Pafko went to the Milwaukee Braves, where he played the last seven seasons of his career, a regular only in the first two. He got 15 at-bats in the 1957 World Series, which the Braves won, and 10 in the 1958 Series, which the Braves lost (both in seven games against the Yankees).

    Pafko played in four World Series — two with the Braves, ’52 with the Dodgers and in 1945 for the Cubs’ last World Series team. Pafko hit .298, knocked in 110 runs and was fourth in the MVP voting in ’45. According to cubbiescrib.com, Pafko’s passing leaves backup shortstop Lennie Merullo, 96, as the only surviving member of the ’45 Cubs.

    Though Pafko spent only 1952 with the Dodgers, he was one of the chapters in Boys of Summer. His passing leaves only two surviving members from Kahn’s featured players: Carl Erskine, 86, and outfielder George Shuba, 87. Branca, 87, is also alive but was not featured in the book.

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    One Response to A different kind of Red Sox

    1. Mort says:

      Great analysis.
      Have the Sox gone a Kafka like Metamorphism?

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