ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Will Middlebrooks missed only one game after he collided with Red Sox teammate David Ross while chasing a foul ball May 7 and bruised several ribs on his right side.
But that didn’t mean the pain went away. Middlebrooks had trouble catching his breath in one game last week and called time to get that under control. He also had trouble sleeping for several nights.
“It was one of those moments in the career of a young player when you have to earn some stripes and stay out there,” said Jonny Gomes, the veteran outfielder. “You can’t win a game sitting on the bench.”
Perseverance paid off for Middlebrooks Thursday night. His three-run double in the ninth inning gave the Sox a 4-3 victory against the Tampa Bay Rays.
The two-out, two-strike hit off closer Fernando Rodney was perhaps the biggest of the season for the Sox. After losing three series in a row, they took two of three from the Rays and moved into second place, a game behind the Yankees.
After losing nine of 11, the Sox have won two straight and may be going back in the right direction.
With the Sox down, 3-1, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz drew walks. With Pedro Ciriaco running for Ortiz, Mike Napoli struck out. Daniel Nava then walked to load the bases.
Middlebrooks was on deck watching closely when Rodney struck out Stephen Drew with three straight changeups for the second out of the inning. He figured he would get the same.
“I was up there looking changeup,” Middlebrooks said. “It surprised me. In the past when I’ve faced him it’s changeup, changeup, changeup. It’s his best pitch.”
Instead Rodney threw three consecutive fastballs. The first was 97 miles per hour, the second 98, and the third 100. Middlebrooks took a strike on the first, fouled off the second, and took the third for a ball.
Rodney probably should have stayed with his fastball given how unsure Middlebrooks looked against it. But he threw a changeup that stayed up in the strike zone.
“Maybe the only pitch I threw bad,” Rodney said.
Middlebrooks is 8 of 27 with eight extra-base hits in seven games since bruising his ribs. A .211 batting average is nothing to get excited about. But it beats the .190 it was.
“I got frustrated a little bit. But I never changed my plan. I never changed routine at the field and my teammates, they had my back the whole time,” Middlebrooks said.
Farrell believes Middlebrooks is more relaxed at the plate since the collision.
“If he chases a pitch, he regroups. He doesn’t expand the [strike] zone consistently,” Farrell said. “When he was going through a little bit of a spell, that was the case.”
Once Middlebrooks got over the initial shock of the injury, he was determined to play.
“I wasn’t going to get any better sitting out,” he said. “You need reps, you need to get out there and fix stuff on your own and not just say, ‘I’m going to go sit down.’ That’s the selfish way to go about it I think. I wanted to do anything I could do to help my team win.”