As it turned out, no tempers flared Saturday night at Fenway Park.
Ben Cherington’s hindsight is another matter.
A night after the Red Sox and Rays laid the foundation for a weekend filled with shenanigans, both teams behaved themselves as the Red Sox rolled to a 7-1 win behind a brilliant performance from Rubby De La Rosa, making his first major league start since 2011. The 25-year-old pitcher, one of the centerpieces in the 2012 summer swap with the Dodgers, allowed only four hits, struck out eight over seven innings of work, and proved to be a worthy replacement for Clay Buchholz after the very first pitch he threw.
De La Rosa became the first Red Sox pitcher to strike out eight without allowing a run or walk in his first start for Boston since Calvin Schiraldi in 1987. Don’t let that be a deterrent.
The win was Boston’s sixth in a row, coming on the heels of a 10-game losing streak during which the Red Sox panicked and brought shortstop Stephen Drew back into the fold, signing the free agent to a one-year, $9.5 million deal.
Does agent Scott Boras have a refund policy?
Drew is set to return to the big club on Monday, after getting one hit in 10 at-bats with Triple-A Pawtucket, with whom he’s preparing for his return to the major leagues. He is the guy few people wanted back (just don’t tell Chad Finn I said that) in the first place and only moreso now, as his imminence floats over Fenway like a lakeside money pit purchased in a panic.
Unless Drew can grab an outfielder’s glove and learn how to play the Wall, what’s he doing here?
Indeed, De La Rosa wasn’t the only kid who shined in the Saturday night spotlight. Jackie Bradley, Jr. hit his first home run of the season, Xander Bogaerts almost put a hole in the left field wall, and Brock Holt, in addition to hitting his first major league home run, a two-run shot off Tampa starter Jake Odorizzi in the third inning, provided the defensive gem of the evening in the second. With runners on first and third and two outs, Tampa’s Sean Rodriguez hit a screamer by the bag at third, where Holt dove to his right to corral the ball, got up, and made the out at first to preserve the scoreless game.
The 25-year-old Holt was also 2-for-5 at the plate on Saturday. Since filling in for the injured Will Middlebrooks (bound to be the answer to a trivia question at a bar near you), Holt has hit .288 with a .741 OPS, leaps and bounds more production than the Red Sox were getting from the third base position prior. Boston’s WAR at third went from minus 0.2 with Middlebrooks to a positive 0.4 with Holt. Battng leadoff, Holt has gotten on base to a .314 clip.
“I kind of call him a flea,” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “Those guys are little fleas. They’re at the top of the order and they’re table-setters. If you’re a flea, be a flea, and he’s great at being a flea.
“He can run, he can bunt, he can move guys over, he can kind of do whatever you need. He can steal you a base. He’s a good little player.”
He also might get a trip back to Pawtucket either after Sunday’s series finale against the Rays, or prior to Monday’s game in Cleveland (though the fact that he took shags in the outfield last week could indeed spell doom for Jonathan Herrera instead). Enter Drew, sponsored by Terminix.
If Drew was brought in to shore up defense at shortstop, where Bogaerts struggled for the first month of the season, let the record show that the 21-year-old wunderkind has performed steadily, if not brilliantly at times at the position since the Drew acquisition was announced. If Drew was brought in to light a fire under Bogaerts, mission accomplished. Since the Sox announced the signing on May 21, Bogaerts has hit .365. His on-base percentage for May was .407; his OPS .897. Fox commentator Tom Verducci last night compared the controlled violence of his swing to that of Alex Rodriguez’s, which, truly, is an apt comparison.
He’s no doubt in a groove at the dish and in the field.
Sorry, kid. Off to third.
OK, so there’s nothing to say that Holt’s consistency is going to play out in the long run for the Red Sox, and maybe moving Bogaerts to third shouldn’t be as big a deal as some are making it out to be. After all, when the going is as good as it has been a week after one of the worst stretches the franchise had seen in two decades, you tend to latch onto to every positive moment and snowball them into unlikelihoods. Case in point; it’s not like Holt and Bradley are going to be the next power incarnation of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez despite both going deep Saturday night.
But do you want to disrupt this? For a Drew, nonetheless?
“My heart is always at shortstop,” Bogaerts said the evening the Red Sox announced the Drew deal. “They felt that we’re a better team with him so that’s why they went out and go him. I was just feeling so good over there.
“What can I say? They thought that we’re a better team with him.”
Maybe the Red Sox will be in the long run. But on nights like Saturday, it’s completely understandable why Cherington and the Red Sox front office might have buyer’s remorse. Like it or not, Stephen Drew is coming, and he’s about to mess up one of the dynamics that has actually gone right for the Red Sox in 2014.