Ellsbury-driven Red Sox force another tie
The Red Sox saw in the early days of spring training that Jacoby Ellsbury was healthy, the fractured ribs that limited him to 18 games the previous year having healed.
What they could not gauge was the effect the loss of a season would have on his development. No rehabilitation program can replace lost experience, particularly for an athlete still learning his capabilities.
Manager Terry Francona expressed his concern several times, wondering aloud whether Ellsbury would spend a good part of this season polishing skills tarnished by lack of use.
Four months later, Francona smiled when he recalled those comments.
“I was wrong,’’ he said.
Ellsbury’s remarkable rejuvenation continued with another home run and a career-high six runs batted in yesterday as the Red Sox beat CC Sabathia and the Yankees, 10-4.
A day after they fell out of first place, the Red Sox climbed back even with their rivals, and will try to take the series with Josh Beckett on the mound tonight. The Sox have won nine of 11 games against the Yankees this season.
“It’s a lot of fun right now,’’ Ellsbury said.
He should know. The center fielder is hitting .321 with 19 homers, 72 RBIs, and 31 stolen bases, the kind of season that gets leadoff hitters consideration for Most Valuable Player.
“We’re all proud of him,’’ teammate Dustin Pedroia said. “He’s having a heck of a year.’’
Ellsbury was absent from these moments last season, his participation limited to watching from the dugout or from afar as he tended to his injury.
“You want to be out there playing, you want to help the team win. That’s what it’s all about, competing with the guys and winning ballgames,’’ he said. “It’s the competition, when you’re out, that you miss.’’
Now he’s at the center of it. Ellsbury had a sacrifice fly in the third inning and a three-run homer to right field in the fourth as the Red Sox took a 7-2 lead. His two-run single in the eighth finished off the Yankees.
Until yesterday, Ellsbury had never driven in more than three runs in a game. The six RBIs were the most for a Red Sox player this season.
As Adrian Gonzalez pointed out, the leadoff hitter can produce a lot of runs when the lineup runs deep, and Ellsbury is taking advantage of that.
“When you’re in the American League, it’s big because you have bottom-of-the-order guys who can get on base,’’ Gonzalez said. “The leadoff spot can be a really big spot. It really helps.’’
Ellsbury started the year slowly and was dropped to the bottom of the order in mid-April. But he is hitting .340 with 60 RBIs in the last 90 games and has 10 home runs in the last month.
“He’s been a really good player from probably the first of May. Then all of a sudden he got good, went to maybe great,’’ Francona said. “It’s kind of held that level.’’
The offensive outburst fueled by Ellsbury was part of a surprising trend. Sabathia is 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA against the Red Sox in four starts this season. He is 16-1 with a 2.11 ERA in 20 starts against other teams. The Sox are the first team to beat him four times in a season.
“Believe me, it’s not that we see him and we go, ‘Oh, we’re going to lunch up on this guy.’ He’s good. We did have really good at-bats,’’ Francona said.
Carl Crawford was 4 for 4 with three runs, an RBI, and a stolen base. He has hits in his last six at-bats.
“It felt good to be consistent off a lefty for a day,’’ Crawford said. “You want to try to take everything positive that happened and carry that into the next day.’’
John Lackey (10-8) easily outpitched Sabathia, allowing three runs on five hits over six innings. Lackey’s big moment came in the fifth inning when, with two runners on, he struck out Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira to end the inning.
“It’s one you’ve got to grind through,’’ said Lackey, who threw 115 pitches. “It’s not always pretty. But at the end of the day if you win, it doesn’t much matter.’’
Alfredo Aceves, the Yankees castoff who has been so valuable to the Red Sox, pitched a scoreless seventh inning. Daniel Bard allowed a solo home run to Teixeira in the eighth inning, before Dan Wheeler closed out the Yankees in the ninth. It was the end of an eight-game winning streak for New York. The crowd of 37,416 enjoyed every moment. Well, except for those Yankees fan who scored tickets.
Afterward, the conversation in the Red Sox clubhouse centered on Ellsbury.
“It seems like we’re talking about him a lot,’’ Francona said. “The reason is because he’s doing so many good things.’’