October 9, 2013

On Baseball: Bogaerts shows he belongs

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Among the joyful scenes in the Red Sox clubhouse at Tropicana Field Tuesday night -- bleeding into Wednesday morning -- was a smiling 21-year-old, his shirt drenched in champagne and, like many of his teammates, equipped with goggles to protect his eyes form the bubbly.

Xander Bogaerts moved off to the side, his goggles now perched atop his head, and took it all in.

"Amazing," he said.

It certainly was, and he certainly is. The kid who began the season with the Portland Sea Dogs had hoped to reach Triple-A Pawtucket this year.

"I didn't think I'd get called up (to the majors)," Bogaerts said.

And the idea of being on a major-league playoff roster was out of the question.

How about the thought of scoring two of Boston's three runs in a nail-biting 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays that clinched the American League division series?

"Amazing," Bogaerts said again. "God does great things."

Manager John Farrell called on Bogaerts in a situation that Farrell frankly didn't think he was ready for Monday.

With Tampa Bay lefty reliever Jake McGee and his 97-mph fastball in the game Monday, Farrell did not send up Bogaerts to pinch hit for Stephen Drew, a player who has trouble hitting left-handers. Drew popped out.

On Tuesday, McGee appeared in the seventh inning with the Rays up 1-0. First, Farrell sent up the master pinch hitter, Jonny Gomes, batting for Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Gomes struck out.

Then, in Drew's place, Farrell sent in Bogaerts.

"Well I reserve the right to change my mind," Farrell said after Tuesday's game. "(Monday) night did play into (the decision), to be honest with you.

"I felt like we had to try something different."

What did Farrell have to lose? The Red Sox were being shut out and needed a spark. And Bogaerts has some boom in his bat.

"But I didn't want to (try and) hit a home run," Bogaerts said. "I just wanted to get on base. Let the other guys do their job and drive me in.

"It was a big situation but I felt very calm. Saw the pitches good."

Indeed, Bogaerts worked the count full.

"He gets a fastball thrown by him and he doesn't expand the zone. He doesn't chase (bad pitches)," Farrell said. "He showed tremendous poise."

Bogaerts walked. And after Will Middlebrooks struck out, Jacoby Ellsbury singled to right, sending Bogaerts to third.

A wild pitch followed, and Bogaerts was racing across home plate with the tying run.

In the ninth, Bogaerts worked another walk and eventually scored an insurance run to make it 3-1.

Counting a pinch-running appearance Monday, Bogaerts has been on base on three occasions and scored every time.

And Bogaerts stood amid the champagne showers. The last time the Red Sox celebrated, when they clinched the AL East in September, Bogaerts was only 20. He turned 21 on Oct. 1.

"I'm legal now," he said and shrugged. "But I don't drink."

NEARBY, CRAIG BRESLOW was also drenched. He also was surrounded by reporters, one asking him when he became a strikeout pitcher.

"I don't know," Breslow said after recording four straight Ks.

Breslow is a solid control pitcher and gets groundouts. He had 33 strikeouts this season in 592/3 innings. More impressive was his 1.81 ERA.

"Next to Koji (Uehara, the closer), he's a very dependable reliever," Farrell said. "He's flown under the radar most of the year."

Breslow put in one of the top performances of Tuesday's game. He ended the sixth by striking out James Loney. In the seventh, Breslow set down the formidable threesome of Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and Desmond Jennings.

He got another out in the eighth before giving up an infield single. Junichi Tazawa (one strikeout) and Uehara (four outs, two by strikeout) finished it up.

"Obviously a great feeling," Breslow said. "I'll reflect when it's all done, and hopefully that won't be for a while."

JAKE PEAVY became the anonymous pitcher after the stellar bullpen effort. But while the Red Sox offense was stuck getting out the gate, it was Peavy who kept the game close, putting up zeroes for five innings until he allowed one run in the sixth.

"It would be a shame if Jake's start is overlooked," Breslow said. "Jake's been a big-game pitcher. We knew we were going to get everything he had. And he probably had some more."

In a regular-season game, maybe Peavy would have stayed in longer. But when Loney, a left-handed batter, came up in the sixth with a runner on base and one run already in, Farrell called for Breslow.

Still, Peavy's contribution cannot be overstated.

Giving up talented shortstop Jose Iglesias in the deal to get Peavy keeps looking more vital for Boston.

ONE SCENE that captured the spirit of this Red Sox team was Shane Victorino using all his hustle to beat out a ground ball for an infield single that drove in the go-ahead run, scoring Ellsbury in the seventh inning.

Victorino hit a broken-bat grounder, slowly bouncing to shortstop Yunel Escobar.

"I knew I had to go," Victorino said. "I knew it was going to be a tough play for Escobar. It was a matter of me beating him."

While Escobar charged the ball, Victorino sprinted up the line. As Victorino reached first base before the throw, he made an emphatic safe sign. The ump agreed.

THE FINAL WORD comes from Rays Manager Joe Maddon, tipping his hat to the Red Sox.

"They were really good," Maddon said. "They've really promoted the character within that group. They're just gamers.

"You could see their grit."

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: ClearTheBases

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