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Sunday Mail: Trying to maintain a healthy outlook on Jacoby Ellsbury's status

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  September 8, 2013 07:09 AM

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LEADING OFF

In the top of the 10th inning Friday night, in a taut 8-8 game with the Yankees that felt like a throwback to the duels of a decade ago, Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a single.

He stole second base -- something he has done in league-leading quantity and with Tim Raines-like efficiency this season -- and came around to score what would be the winning run on Shane Victorino's single.

It was perhaps the pivotal sequence in the Red Sox' comeback to trump the Yankees' comeback, and it set the stage for a weekend in the Bronx that thus far feels like revenge for the late-summer massacres of '06 and maybe even '78.

It was the textbook way to manufacture a run without wasting an out on a bunt, and it's the kind of play Ellsbury has been making consistently since, oh, May.

The Red Sox, chugging and slugging toward an inevitably playoff berth, are counting on him to create runs out of scratch in October.

Which is why it's such a bummer to think that his single/steal/winning run routine might be the last time we see Ellsbury, a free-agent-to-be, make such a play as a member of the Red Sox.

I know, that's a worst-case-scenario worry, and pretty much the only significant worry for the Red Sox at the moment as they continue to smile through their beards and annihilate all of the cautious preseason projections of what they are capable of achieving.

Maybe it will turn out that the bone injury in his right foot is a bruise rather than a break, and Ellsbury will be back for the postseason if not a few shake-off-the-rust games in the final week.

Hell, in the long-term, maybe this is the quintessential blessing-in-disguise. his latest unfortunate blunt-force injury, which apparently occurred when he fouled a ball of his foot August 28, ends up leading to a limited free-agent market and he ends up back in Boston at a reasonable rate.

But the future, that can wait. The present is too fun, too important. And make no mistake: The Red Sox need Jacoby Ellsbury when the stakes are at their peak.

I don't mean to make Scott Boras's case for him, but this is a player who, save for one outlier of an 0-fer series in the '09 ALDS, has been a tremendous big-game performer for the Red Sox.

He hit .438 with an 1.188 OPS in the '07 World Series and probably should have been the MVP. He hit .333 against the Angels in the '08 ALDS. Even in September 2011, when so many of his teammates were gagging on the Popeye's bones, he was extraordinary, hitting .358 with a 1.067 OPS and eight home runs that miserable month.

Sure, they can survive without him for now. Jackie Bradley Jr. is a terrific defensive outfielder, and perhaps he can fulfill the hype of March in September. The way things have gone for this team -- it's like this season is one big makeup call from the baseball gods for making Sox fans endure last season -- he probably will.

But he's not going to do to Ellsbury what Ellsbury did to a struggling Coco Crisp in October 2007.

Ellsbury is an above-average player having an above-average year. And the Red Sox are going to need him if this story's ending is going to be as fulfilling as all of the chapters that have come before.

So keep those fingers crossed, and enjoy watching Jackie Bradley Jr. inevitably hit .420 in the interim.

THE MAILBOX

Chad, what is your take on Brian Kenny's #killthewin campaign on Twitter? I like Brian a great deal, but he seems to be a bit guilty of abandoning nuance and perspective on this one. Wins are overrated, for sure, but I do believe they have SOME value. They are a data point. Most data points tell you something, if you know how to weigh them properly.
-- Warrior

Spot on, W. I like Brian Kenny a lot, and not just because he's usually speaking my language when it comes to baseball analysis. My interview with him two years ago, right after Albert Pujols signed with the Angels, is one of my favorite things I've done on this site. But I actually think we're at a pretty good place now with the win right now, and he's scolding the flat-earthers when most have recognized that this thing we're on is an orb, you know? Fans and old-school media have come around to the point of majority in recognizing that a win total is a long way from being an accurate measure of a pitcher's performance. Felix Hernandez winning the Cy Young in 2010 with a 13-12 record was a breakthrough in that regard. And I don't think there are fans around here who think John Lackey is having a bad season because he's 9-12 with a 3.48 ERA, just as I don't believe anyone with anything larger than a lima bean for a brain thought his 2011 season in which he had a 6.41 ERA was decent because he was 14-12. Joe Posnanski had a thoughtful column about this exact topic the other day. A key graph that I think sums it up:

I don't want the win killed. I don't want it to go away. And, at exactly the same time, I don't want people to use it as a factor for their Cy Young vote, and I wouldn't want the general manager of my favorite baseball team to even look at it, and I could go the rest of my life without hearing people knock the amazing season Clayton Kershaw is having because he doesn't have that many wins.

I guess Mark Bellhorn wasn't available to do a booth gig.
-- Mysterious Lurker

Strangely enough, he's actually called seven games on NESN this season. He just hasn't spoken yet. He'd be like the fringe-mute color guy alongside Bob Uecker in "Major League." Of the guys who are filling in the rest of the way, I'm looking forward to hearing Derek Lowe; he loves the game and is unassuming in the same way Eck is. Timlin's a bit of a surprise. Never struck you as someone who had any interest in broadcasting unless they agreed to set up a remote camera in his deer stand or something.

Let's grab one more of the million-and-one Eck questions/comments that came in this week ...

I couldn't stand Eck as a player. Hated the hair, the fist pump, the A's I liked none of it. Like him as a broadcaster though. How is that possible? He seems like a much different personality now, doesn't he?
-- Ryan T.

eckhostessfinn97.jpgActually, Eck is about as true to himself and down-to-earth as any athlete or former athlete I've ever met, let alone among those so accomplished that they're enshrined in his sport's Hall of Fame. It's about perception, really. Yeah, it was as annoying as hell when he was busting out the finger pistols on Dwight Evans and Wade Boggs as the A's swept the Sox out of another postseason way back when. He was cocky on the mound -- Jerry Remy recalls the no-hitter he pitched against the Angels in '77 when Eck was yelling, "Who's next?" at the on-deck batters -- and his distinctive mustache-and-moss look maybe gave off an air of arrogance. But that perception wasn't the reality. Even when he was a young pitcher with the Sox, he was a no-b.s. kid who went out of his way to be accountable. The famous story is of him flipping out on the media after Frank Duffy made a crucial error in the '78 Boston Massacre, essentially saying, "Leave him alone and ask me those questions. I'm the one who pitched like [word he's not allowed to say on NESN but has a couple of times]." This guy we hear on the broadcasts is the same animated, sort of goofy, likeable and candid guy he was as the 23-year-old ace for the '78 Sox.

If you want to give him grief for anything, he was in a Richard Marx video once:

Chad, I don't know if you're a fan of football pregame/postgame programs, but if you are which local radio and/or TV show do you think does the best and worst job covering the Patriots?
-- Jason Coyote

Well, for home games, I'm usually driving to Foxborough, so I jump back and forth between WEEI and The Sports Hub's pregame shows. I'm home today, doing the Dunks run and reading the paper and completely ignoring my family from 12:59 until bedtime, and so I'm listening to the one I actually prefer as a fan:WEEI's "NFL Sunday,'' has been a staple for years, going back to the Ron Hobson-Kevin-Mannix-Steve Nelson days in the '90s. Dale Arnold is the constant there, so he deserves much of the credit for making it feel like an informative conversation among friends that sets the stage of a day of football. As far as the shows go, I tend to jump around between all of them depending upon who is in commercial and who is on as a guest, but the one I probably enjoy the most is CSNNE's various postgame programs. Mike Felger is too much of an agitator sometimes (I know, newsflash), but Tom Curran and Mike Giardi are reasonable and insightful without being overly reactionary. And I like Ty Law and Troy Brown even though they get a little grief now and then for being too critical.

You can be in the room for any pregame speech of all time. Which one do you choose?
-- Matt

piccolobrianfinn.jpgGale Sayers's speech about Brian Piccolo would turn me into a human puddle, so it can't be that. (That was real, right?) Being a lifelong Boston fan, it would have to be something local. It would have been incredible to be in the room not for the speeches, but for any of the Jack Daniel's don't-let-us-win-tonight moments during the Red Sox' run in '04. And wouldn't you have loved to have been there when Bill Belichick fired up the Patriots before pulling up the tent on the Greatest Show on Turf in Super Bowl XXXVI. I imagine the condensed version is something like, "Believe in yourself. Believe in your teammates. Believe you can win this, because you damn sure are about to. And oh, yeah, beat the ever-living #)#_) out of Faulk. Holt, too. They'll go fetal, trust me."

Oh, but my choice. Gotta be this, which is a little bit of a New England victory and entirely an American one. By all account, Kurt Russell's portrayal of Herb Brooks was uncanny, but as mesmerizing as this was ...

... the real thing was downright chill-inducing. He made his team believe in miracles before they happened.

But for any speech even tangentially related to sports? This:

The difference between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady is that everyone celebrates Peyton's seven-TD performance, whereas if it were Brady, 50 percent of America and many pundits would be screaming that it wasn't right how they ran up the score.
-- AP

Truth. And 50 percent of the afternoon-drive sports talk shows here would be doing it more obnoxiously than anyone, save for perhaps that guy on ESPN who looks like a leathery Skelator desperately raging against his actual age. Forget his name, but it's one for a man much younger. Seems fond of that Tebow fella. Anyway, here's hoping we have a chance to find out.

THIS WEEK IN ANCIENT MEDIA GUIDES

The guide: 1979-80 San Diego Clippers.

clipperswaltonfinn97sundaymail.jpg

The discovery: I mean, the cover is Bill Walton and Shamu. What more do you want? Can you imagine their conversation? I can ...

Walton: "It is a privilege and honor to meet you, Mr. Shamu. You are the most incredible of killer whales -- you have killer in your name, and yet you are so gentle, so wonderful and generous, performing for the happy children here at Sea World. You are amazing. You are the Larry Bird of killer whales, the Maurice Lucas. You are the John Wooden of killer whales, Mr. Shamu. You are incredible."

Shamu: So kind of you to say, Mr. Walton. I always admired your crisp outlet passes. Say, any fish parts in that bucket? Kind of got the munchies over here."

Until next Sunday, the mailbox is closed. Exit music, please. Or a certain QB's entrance music:

Allow me to reintroduce myself ...

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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