New Pedro stars for Sox
Pedro Ciriaco stood on the grassy fringe between the on-deck circle and home plate in the sixth inning, awaiting the conclusion of a Yankees mound conference after starter Phil Hughes had loaded the bases. He adjusted his batting gloves, cracking his knuckles through the white fabric. Staring at the ground, he took some half-swings, fixed his pants, fiddled with his helmet, and then stepped in to become the hero.
With the injury-riddled Red Sox reeling from consecutive losses to their bitter Big Apple rivals, Ciriaco was thrust into the fire and promptly doused the flames. In his second game since being called up from Triple A Pawtucket, he laced a three-run double down the left-field line, providing the go-ahead spark in a 9-5 Boston win.
“I was seeing the ball pretty well tonight, just trying to be simple, just trying to get my approach to the middle and hit the ball there,” said Ciriaco after his 4-for-5, four-RBI performance. “I’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity. We play for being in this level.”
The struggles in his afternoon debut — 0 for 4 with two strikeouts — all but evaporated into the humid July air hours later, after he contributed two runs, two doubles, a bunt single, a stolen base, a highlight-reel backhanded stop in the shortstop hole, and a two-syllable chant from the Fenway crowd rarely heard lately around these parts:
Ped-ro! Ped-ro! Ped-ro!
“Oh, I don’t think I’m on that level,” Ciriaco said. “But it was really fun for me, to hear everyone say my name. I think that was my first time ever.”
Born 26 years ago in San Pedro de Macoris, the Dominican Republic municipality that has bred such major leaguers as Tony Fernandez, Alfonso Soriano, and, in the interest of dugout-to-dugout comparison, Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, Ciriaco had never driven in more than two runs in any major league game.
In fact, he had only appeared in 38 career games entering Saturday, in 2010 and 2011 with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I think he’s just a nice player,” manager Bobby Valentine said. “He played so well for us in spring training, doing just what he did tonight: being able to steal a base, bunt for a base hit, swings the bat, plays exciting defense. He did all those things tonight. I don’t know if he can do it every day at the major league level but it’s a nice breath of fresh air.”
Ciriaco was hitting .301 for Pawtucket before injuries to Dustin Pedroia and Will Middlebrooks necessitated the short trip up I-95 to Boston, where one-night stardom and a standing ovation awaited.
“It’s just a cool experience, to be on deck and hear everyone chanting someone’s name,” said outfielder Daniel Nava. “Throw all that together, it makes things a little more exciting.”
But Ciriaco’s performance wasn’t just a highlight in a big win. It was arguably the best game by a Sox shortstop against the Yankees at Fenway in 10 years. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Ciriaco became the first Sox shortstop to have at least three hits, three RBIs, and one extra-base hit against the Yankees at Fenway since Nomar Garciaparra on May 24, 2002.
“He did a great job tonight,” said Nava, who played with Ciriaco in Pawtucket earlier this season. “What he can do, he can drop a bunt down, he can play good defense, and he can hit, too. A little bit of everything from our nine-hole hitter, who really isn’t a nine-hole hitter.
“He’s just a good guy to be around. And you root for those guys.”
Ciriaco was slated to play in the International League All-Star Game next week, but his travel plans to Buffalo have been canceled.
With nights like this, he might be needed in Boston a little longer.