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Victorino, ever unique, delivers for Red Sox

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  August 14, 2013 12:54 AM

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TORONTO — Shane Victorino has his own way of doing things and it doesn't always make sense at first.

On Tuesday afternoon, for instance, he came out for optional early batting practice wearing a dark blue Toronto Argonauts football jersey. A Red Sox player is an Argonauts fan?

Not exactly. The jersey was a gift from his friend, Toronto wide receiver Chad Owens. Like Victorino, Owens is a native of Hawaii. He's also a burgeoning MMA fighter, a sport Victorino follows closely.

Once the game started, the switch-hitting Victorino batted righthanded against Toronto righthander Todd Redmond.

What's the deal with that? Victorino has been batting exclusively righthanded lately because of a strained left hamstring that has been slow to heal.

From the right side, Victorino can swing the bat with his usual effort. But the strength isn’t there when he stands in the lefthanded batter’s box and plants his left leg. With the permission of Red Sox manager John Farrell, Victorino decided to temporarily abandon hitting lefthanded.

“Do I want to hit righthanded on a righty? Probably not,” Victorino said. “That’s the way I feel right now and that’s what I’m going to do until my body feels good. I thank John for allowing me to do it.

“I’m sure they sit there and wonder what’s going on, I don’t know. They signed a switch-hitter, not a righthanded hitter.”

In the 11th inning, happily batting righthanded against Toronto lefty Aaron Loup, Victorino drove a two-run single into center field to give the Sox a 4-2 victory.

Victorino is hitting .287 with less than expected power because of the leg injury. But Tuesday was an example of how he is still able to contribute. He is a player whose value is not always apparent statistically.

“The guy is a winning player. That’s the best way I can describe it,” second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “He’s been a big piece of what we’ve been doing defensively and offensively. Shane can change the game.”

Pedroia said that against certain hitters, he shades up the middle a step or two knowing that Victorino has the speed to come in and catch a shallow pop-up.

"I bet that's helped me make a few plays I might not normally make," Pedroia said. "Shane's defense has been huge for us."

The UZR charts show that Victorino is the best defensive outfielder in the game this season in terms of covering ground. His arm comes into play, too. He picked up his eighth assist of the season in the sixth inning when he threw speedy Jose Reyes out at the plate.

The Sox increased their lead in the American League East to four games on Tampa Bay with 41 left to play. It was the 19th time this season the Sox have won a game in their final at-bat.

The Sox have come from behind to 28 games this season — seven times since July 30.

"What is it? I don’t know. From day one, that’s just the mentality this team has,” Victorino said. “You can play 27 outs even if we’re down by however many runs. … That’s the mindset and that’s always been out mindset. Lately it seems to be happening that way.”

Also:

• Will Middlebrooks was 2 for 5 with a double and a run scored. His single in the 11th moved the go-ahead run into scoring position. He also had a solid day in the field.

Middlebrooks is 5 for 12 with two RBIs and three runs scored since returning from Triple A Pawtucket. The Sox have won two of those games and Farrell believes Middlebrooks looks more relaxed at the plate. The third baseman agrees with that assessment.

“I’ve put away all the individual things,” he said “I’m here for these guys. I just want to help us win. I’m in a much better place.”

• Ryan Dempster pitched seven strong innings. He allowed four hits, walked two and struck out four. After two rough starts in a row, he was sharp.

• Koji Uehara had a nice night. He retired all four batters he faced in his 55th appearance. That triggered a clause in his contract guaranteeing him at least $4.2 million next season.

Uehara has not allowed a run in his last 17 1/3 innings. His ERA is 1.32. Opponents are 10 of their last 100 against him.

• Mike Napoli was 0 for 5 with three strikeouts and left five more runners on. He's down to .246 and is 6 of his last 50 (.120) with 25 strikeouts. Farrell said he not yet at the point of pinch hitting for Napoli. But that time could be soon. A Napoli/Mike Carp platoon would seem to make sense.

• Farrell quite correctly pointed out that Napoli had a good day in the field.

• Davis Ross was 0 for 3 with three strikeouts for Pawtucket in his third rehab game. He caught five innings and threw out Billy Hamilton trying to steal second. Hamilton was 69 of 81 on steals this season before Ross got him.

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