TORONTO — The definition of eye-popping (negatively speaking): the three-error, four-strikeout performance Friday night by Blue Jays second baseman Emilio Bonifacio.
The definition of eye-popping (speaking positively): the four-hit performance by Jose Reyes Friday night, complete with home run and great base running.
The definition of jaw-dropping?
Will Middlebrooks, April 7, 2013 at Rogers Centre: 4 for 5, three homers, a double, and four RBIs.
In his first four at-bats he went two-run homer to right, double to left, solo homer to left-center, solo homer to left-center. In his fifth at-bat, he flied to the warning track in left.
“The ball just sounds different coming off his bat,” said assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez. “He started slow, but he hit some balls hard in New York with nothing to show. Now he’s got it going. Unbelievable performance.”
Of course, this was one of those games where the stars were aligned.
The Red Sox, 13-0 winners over the Blue Jays, hit six homers, basically took batting practice over the course of the 2:44 game, first against National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, whose knuckleball didn’t move a lick and sat up there like it was on a tee. And then David Bush, the human punching bag. The Sox roughed him up for five runs — including four home runs — in three innings.
After the damage was done, the Red Sox left Toronto with a 4-2 record with Opening Day at Fenway Monday afternoon.
Middlebrooks looked Sunday every bit like the player who forced the Red Sox to trade Kevin Youkilis last season. He had come up May 2 and it was apparent to manager Bobby Valentine he was Boston’s future at third base. In his debut vs. Oakland he went 2 for 3.
Middlebrooks went on to hit .288 with 15 homers and 54 RBIs in 267 at-bats. His season was cut short by a wrist injury. Otherwise with a normal number of at-bats, it’s conceivable Middlebrooks could have approached 30 homers.
He has the power. And it’s to all fields. He hit two homers against Dickey and one vs. Bush. The first one off Dickey was hit on a line to right field. The only out he made appeared at first that it might clear the fence, too.
“I thought it was gone,” Dustin Pedroia said. “From where I sat, it looked like he had enough the way the ball was carrying.” Pedroia was the last Red Sox to hit three homers in a game, June 24, 2010, at Colorado.
“They must have turned off the air conditioning,” Middlebrooks said. “I thought I put a good swing on it, but I knew I got it up too high.”
The first home run gave the Sox a 5-0 lead in the first inning and for all intents and purposes put the game out of reach as the Blue Jays had little success with Jon Lester.
Middlebrooks said the last time he hit three homers in a game was in high school, but Sunday’s performance felt pretty amazing. In terms of individual performances it would be difficult to top this one given the fact it came against a Cy Young winner and the team many prognosticators have picked to win it all.
Middlebrooks made Dickey look more like a journeyman than a Cy Young winner.
Middlebrooks, 24, has been overshadowed by rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. and the newcomers such as Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino in the Boston lineup. But Middlebrooks is being counted on (along with David Ortiz and Napoli) to be one of Boston’s main power sources.
What most scouts wanted to see was how Middlebrooks handled his sophomore season and the adjustments pitchers are going to make with him now that he’s an established player.
It’s not that Middlebrooks will be without his struggles, but Sunday was not one of those days. He knew he’d be facing a knuckleball or a fastball, and he seemed ready for those pitches.
“He was in one of those zones where you can’t wait to pick up a bat and get up there,” Rodriguez said. Rodriguez was Boston’s minor league hitting coordinator as Middlebrooks came through the system, so he knows his swing inside-out.
“His hands are back and he’s just short and compact to the ball,” Rodriguez said. “He’s seeing the ball in front of him and just exploding with his swing. He’s got the bat speed and he’s just letting it fly. It was fun to watch.”
Teammates were giving Middlebrooks a friendly razzing about being unable to get the fourth homer, threatening to hide the weight room key on him, but all agreed the kid put on a show.
“That’s an impressive day,” said Victorino. “The swings he put on today were just fun to watch. That was explosive right there.”