BOSTON (CBS) — It was the biggest question asked of John Farrell after the Red Sox lost Game 3: Why didn’t the manager insert Xander Bogaerts into the lineup as a pinch hitter for Stephen Drew in the eighth inning?
Farrell had his reasons — a right-handed reliever ready to enter the game, namely — for sticking with Drew, but the shortstop didn’t come through.
In Game 4, Farrell didn’t open himself up to such questions, sending Bogaerts to the plate with one out in the seventh inning with the Red Sox trailing 1-0.
The rookie hadn’t dug in to a big league batter’s box since Sept 29, a full nine days prior to Tuesday night’s Game 4, yet he showed impressive poise and composure after falling behind in the count 1-2. Facing Jake McGee, who was throwing his usual mid-to-high 90s fastball, Bogaerts took the next three pitches to work a walk.
Bogaerts, one week removed from his 21st birthday, advanced to third base two batters later on a Jacoby Ellsbury single. Bogaerts then showed no hesitation in breaking for home plate on a wild pitch that bounced away from catcher Jose Lobaton, scoring the game-tying run. Minutes later, thanks to a Shane Victorino RBI infield single, the Red Sox led 2-1 and would hold onto the lead for the rest of the game.
Farrell admitted after the eventual 3-1 victory that the events of Game 3 played a role in his decision to put Bogaerts into Game 4.
“Last night did play into it, I’ll be honest with you. If I told you it wasn’t [a factor], I’d be lying to you,” Farrell said. “I reserve the right to change my mind. … In the moment there, we felt like we had to get something started.”
Bogaerts stepped to the plate again to lead off the top of the ninth, with the 2-1 lead still intact, facing Fernando Rodney. While Rodney certainly wasn’t sharp at all in his appearances in Games 3 and 4, he nevertheless was the man who recorded 37 saves this year. Bogaerts again fell behind in the count 0-1 but eventually worked a walk on a full count. After another walk and a hit batter, Bogaerts tagged up at third base and scored on a Dustin Pedroia sacrifice fly to give the Red Sox some breathing room in the bottom of the ninth.
“He was calm, under control, and you don’t really see that out of a 21-year-old kid,” Pedroia said. “We’re proud of him.”
Bogaerts didn’t deliver any RBI hits, and he didn’t wow anyone with the extra-base power he displayed in the minors. Yet what was most impressive was Bogaerts’ ability to simply stay within himself, lay off some close pitches and get on base twice without ever having to put a ball in play.
“For a young guy that’s been sitting for quite a while, obviously he showed tremendous poise and almost ice in his veins to work out the walk,” Farrell said. “McGee is a hell of a reliever. The way Bogey came off the bench to work out the walk, he gets a fastball thrown by him and then he doesn’t expand the zone. To me, that’s probably one of the most impressive things about him – he doesn’t chase, he’s patient and he’s very much in control emotionally inside a given game. It proved out to be a pivotal moment with his at-bat.”
Bogaerts’ showing impressed not just his own manager, but the skipper in the opposing dugout as well.
“I think the real tipping point might have been the walk to Bogaerts,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “And they had not pinch hit for Drew at all. And they throw him up, he had a 1‑2 count, we walk him. And that’s pretty much how that whole thing began to roll.”
The performance of Bogaerts went a long way to ensure the Red Sox will be playing in the ALCS, beginning Saturday, and it did a whole lot for Farrell to avoid being the subject of questions for the coming days.
Except, of course, for this one: What will Bogaerts’ role be on the Red Sox going forward? It may change game to game, at-bat to at-bat and situation to situation, but we know now that it can change. And because it did, the Red Sox are on to the ALCS.