His name still isn't on his locker -- the only member of the Red Sox to hold that distinction -- but Jacoby Ellsbury continued making a strong case to be a mainstay in the clubhouse as he picked up his first major league extra-base hit and RBI yesterday.
Called up Saturday from Triple A to fill in for the injured Coco Crisp in center field, Ellsbury has stayed with the team even with Crisp returning to the lineup Tuesday. Ellsbury moved to left in yesterday's 7-5 win against Tampa Bay, filling in for Manny Ramírez -- one of four regular starters who had a Fourth of July holiday.
Ellsbury went 1 for 4 and had no problems in Fenway's unique left field, making one wonder if he could stick around as the team's fourth outfielder -- a spot currently occupied by Wily Mo Peña and his .216 batting average.
"It's an exciting thing to see [Ellsbury] doing pretty well," said third baseman Mike Lowell. "He's got some big hits and big plays. His speed definitely puts a different pressure on the opposing team."
Ellsbury's speed -- he once ran the 40-yard dash in 4.2 seconds -- is his most touted asset. He used it to score from second on a wild pitch Monday night, and replacing Ramírez in left, he gave the Sox a blazing fast outfield along with Crisp and J.D. Drew, who cut off a hit to the right-field corner, limiting Carl Crawford to a single on what could have been a triple.
Sox manager Terry Francona joked that it certainly trumped the Cubs' 1986 outfield.
"That's not the days of Francona, [Keith] Moreland, and [Gary] Matthews, that's a pretty athletic outfield," Francona said. "[Ellsbury] did a good job."
But one can't thrive in Fenway's quirky outfield on athleticism alone. Ellsbury came to the ballpark early yesterday to practice playing balls off the Wall and get used to the new environs.
"I don't know how many balls we hit off the Wall, just different scenarios," Ellsbury said. "Hard hit down the line, high fly ball off the Wall. We went through quite a few buckets, just doing that. If I hadn't done that, I wouldn't have known what to expect. But doing that, I felt pretty comfortable."
Ramírez plays the Wall well, and Ellsbury said he learned a lot from watching Ramírez the past couple of days. But Ellsbury didn't get much of a chance to test his skills, cleanly fielding a single, a double, and a fly ball -- with nothing off the Monster.
His success came with the bat.
Ellsbury drove in the first run in a three-run fourth with a two-out double to right-center off Devil Rays starter Edwin Jackson.
"With two strikes, I was trying to go away and he threw me a slider that I stayed through and I ended up hitting it hard," Ellsbury said.
The rookie hasn't heard from Francona whether he will be sent down soon, and a decision likely will come after the All-Star break, when pitchers Curt Schilling and Joel Piñeiro are scheduled to return from the disabled list. For now, he's content to be a fill-in starter here rather than an everyday player in Triple A.
"There's a lot you can learn from seeing the guys that play every day -- how they take batting practice, how they take ground balls," Ellsbury said when asked if it would be better for his development to play every day in Pawtucket.
"And obviously, there's a lot of knowledge out here. And that's how I'm going to take it. If I'm not playing, I can learn something on the bench, batting practice, whatever it might be. You can learn a lot by not playing."
But with his skills at the plate, in the field, and on the base paths, he'll be playing plenty.
"Whatever it might be, whatever situation," Ellsbury said, "I just want to be available and have them count on me to play."
Daniel Malloy can be reached at email@example.com.