Over the last several years, the Red Sox have had a clear offensive philosophy: work the count, take the walk, swing at good strikes. The Sox have eschewed the sacrifice bunt and generally run the bases conservatively, frequently playing for the big inning.
This is obviously a different team now, something evidenced by the fact that the Red Sox rank third in the American League in steals with slightly less than three weeks to play. We’re telling you this now because the Red Sox ran the bases with a measure of fearlessness (and recklessness?) in tonight’s series-opening, 3-0 over the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park.
Officially, the Red Sox attempted three steals in this game and were caught twice, the second occasion a pickoff of Coco Crisp in the eighth inning. Mark Kotsay also was thrown out trying to advance to second base on a single to right field – Crisp went from first to third on the play, prompting Kotsay to break for second – which is the kind of mistake that could cost a team dearly in October.
Of course, it could cost a team dearly in September, too, but the Sox overcame it thanks to the brilliance of Jon Lester and the continued dominance of Jonathan Papelbon.
The final out on the bases? That belonged to Youkilis, though it was entirely by design. With one out and David Ortiz (double) at second base in the bottom of the first inning, Youkilis singled to center. When Ortiz rounded third and headed for home, Youkilis broke for second – precisely what he is supposed to do – and prompted a cut-off of center fielder B.J. Upton’s throw to the plate.
Youkilis subsequently was tagged out by shortstop Jason Bartlett, but he accomplished his objective. He got Ortiz home safely and extended the Sox’ lead to 2-0, making the kind of trade (an out for a run) that every team in baseball is willing to make.
Why is this all worthy of note now? Last year, when the Sox played the Los Angeles Angels in the first round of the playoffs, much was made of the Angels’ aggressiveness on the bases, which often opened the team up for criticism. Annually among the American League leaders in stolen bases, the Angels also can go through stretches where they run into an inordinate number of outs on the bases, thereby killing rallies.
Live by the base running, die by the base running.
Beyond the baserunning, the Sox’ fundamental execution in this game was quite good, though their pitchers were in control of the game throughout. Had that not been the case, there might have been far more criticism of their base running following the game.
Instead, the topic never came up.
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