BOSTON (CBS) — For two consecutive nights, the Boston Red Sox have done what was previously just about impossible to do this season. They won games by just one run. On Monday, it was a 1-0 triumph over the Minnesota Twins, and on Tuesday, it was a tightly contested 2-1 affair.
The victories have the Sox just five games under .500 and five games out of a wild card spot. Of the seven teams they’d need to leapfrog to earn that wild card berth, six have negative run differentials on the season. So for as many times as it has seemed like the Red Sox have played themselves right out of having a meaningful summer, the fact remains that they are a solid 10-game stretch away from changing their 2014 destiny.
And for that, they can thank Brock Holt, the man who has saved the season.
Yes, the same Brock Holt who came to the Red Sox organization as a footnote in the Joel Hanrahan trade, notable only for having a similar name to a beloved “Arrested Development” cartoon character of a person and therefore inspiring tweets of “\o/” whenever he so much as recorded a base hit. The same Brock Holt who had only 24 big league games under his belt before the trade, and the same Brock Holt who batted just .203 in his limited time in the majors last season with the Sox.
That Brock Holt has been the man the Red Sox and their $160 million roster have relied on more than anyone this season … and it’s kind of working.
It was obvious on Tuesday night, when Holt — a kid who had never in his life played outfield until June 8, 2014 — started in center field and batted leadoff. It was the fifth position at which Holt has started a game this year, and it took all of three innings for him to be tested. A routine fly ball to left field got lost in the lights for Jonny Gomes, who helplessly shrugged his shoulders after being unable to pick up the ball off the bat. The ball looked destined for trouble until Holt went full Superman to make a last-second diving effort to catch the ball. He made the play, of course. Because that’s what Brock Holt tends to be doing these days.
“He comes out of nowhere and makes a diving catch,” Sox manager John Farrell said. “In a way, he took over the inning. He doesn’t get hung up on moving to a position for the first time. He goes out and plays.”
Holt then led off the bottom of the third, and on the first pitch of his at-bat he perfectly utilized the Green Monster, turning a 330-foot looper into a leadoff double. He obviously did his homework on Phil Hughes, too, because the pitcher’s slow delivery to home plate allowed Holt to get a huge jump and steal third base. Xander Bogaerts hit a sacrifice fly on the next pitch, and Holt crossed the plate as the game’s second run.
The game’s first run? Holt scored that, too.
Brock Holt — Brock Holt — has become a savior for the Red Sox, a young man the team simply cannot afford to play without, a 26-year-old who made Grady Sizemore expendable and is a threat to the job security of nearly half of the position players — and that number is sure to climb once Farrell takes the obvious next step and suits up Holt in catcher’s gear.
That’s just a joke … though, is it?
“The guy’s a smart baseball player. You could put him behind the plate right now, and he’d do a pretty good job,” said Jon Lester, who earned his eighth win of the season thanks in large part to Holt on Tuesday night.
“I asked him the other day if he can catch, because I might be out of a job,” David Ross said. “So I told him, I said, ‘Man, I hope you can’t catch.’ He’s impressive.”
“I’m sure he could do it if we asked him to,” GM Ben Cherington said with a laugh prior to Tuesday’s game about Holt getting behind the plate. “He’s been terrific. Obviously, he’s helped us a lot in the leadoff spot and he’s moved all over the field. He’s sort of forced John to find ways get him in the lineup, and so he has. Good for him, and it’s been good for us.”
They’re talking about Holt as a catcher because that’s presumably the only thing the kid can’t do. Every other challenge that’s come his way, he’s knocked out of the park.
While Tuesday night’s performance stood out, it’s hardly been the exception.
Holt is batting .338, by far the best such mark on the team. Xander Bogaerts is second at .278, 60 points off Holt.
Holt has an .842 OPS, 26 points better than David Ortiz at .816 and 39 points better than Mike Napoli at .803. The rest of the outfield — Jonny Gomes at .714, Shane Victorino at .627, Jackie Bradley Jr. at .591, Daniel Nava at .582, formerly Sizemore at .612 — is nowhere near Holt.
Holt has stolen five bases, tied for the team lead despite playing in roughly half the games.
Holt’s .378 OBP is second only to Mike Napoli’s .388, and it’s 37 points better than Dustin Pedroia’s .341 mark.
And consider this — despite having 131 fewer plate appearances than Ortiz, Holt has hit two more doubles than Boston’s designated hitter.
“It seems like he hits more doubles off that wall than anybody I’ve ever seen just on a regular basis in my short time here,” Ross said of Holt. “He’s as great spark for us, he’s a great player, and we enjoy having him around.”
However, there is the “but.” There’s always a “but.” In this case, it’s Holt’s BABIP, which is batting average on balls in play. The fact is, in the sport of baseball, the game is designed for you to make an out much more often than it is designed for you to get a hit. There are fielders out there, you know, and they’re positioned in all sorts of places. An average BABIP is around .300. When a guy is on a real hot streak, scorching the cover off the ball and sending line drive after line drive into the gap, it can climb to around, say, .380 or so. Holt’s BABIP is currently .410.
That high BABIP is a result in part of Holt’s excellent hitting, no doubt, but also as a result of Holt avoiding the painful realities of the sport of baseball. Sometimes you do everything right, and you hit the ball exactly how you wanted, but it still goes down in the book as an out. Them’s the breaks.
So no, nothing gold can stay, and yes, Holt is due to come closer back to earth as the season trudges on.
But thanks to Holt’s otherworldly play over the past month and a half — a period of time in which he’s been a third baseman (he played at third exactly zero times in his minor league career prior to joining the Red Sox organization), a 5-foot-10 first baseman, a newbie left fielder, a raw right fielder and a green center fielder — the Sox are in decent position when it comes time for the big names to resume their roles as the top dogs on this team. The Red Sox obviously won’t be contending for another championship if Holt remains their best player all season long, but for now, they’re extremely grateful he’s been there to keep this season alive.
Brock Holt, man. Brock Holt. What more can you say?
Andy Gresh & Scott Zolak discussed the fan favorite Wednesday morning to start their show and how he’s turning into this mythical figure.
They then dive into the historical archives and come up with other cult heroes to play for the Red Sox, as well as around the sporting world.
MORE SPORTS FROM CBS BOSTON