He’s not yet a finished product, but Jacoby Ellsbury already has done some extraordinary things in his major league career.
Last night simply added to a developing resume - 12 putouts, breaking a Red Sox record and tying a major league mark for a nine-inning game. Lyman Bostock last did it, for Minnesota May 25, 1977, against the Red Sox.
The center fielder made a couple of difficult catches, but the rest were routine. Yet extraordinary things keep attaching themselves to Ellsbury’s name.
The steal of home against Andy Pettitte and the Yankees, his current 15-game hitting streak, 50 steals in his first full season (2008), and the 2007 World Series, in which he hit .438 (7 for 16).
The 12 putouts, as colleague Tony Massarotti pointed out, were one fewer than the 13 catches Chad Jackson had in two years with the Patriots.
Ellsbury can thank Brad Penny for the activity. Penny was giving up long fly balls to center that stayed in the ballpark. “I told him I was working his butt out there,” said Penny.
Marco Scutaro led off the game with a well-hit ball to center that Ellsbury flagged down, and that was followed by a drive to center by Aaron Hill, on which Ellsbury had to go a long way to make the catch. While Tim Wakefield was the popup king Tuesday, Penny’s outs were coming fast and furious to center field.
“I got off to a busy start,” said Ellsbury. “It didn’t seem like that many but I just got quite a few from the get-go. Brad was getting a lot of fly ball outs.”
“I’d say the second one,” said Ellsbury. “Aaron Hill hit the ball over my right shoulder. He hit it well. I just got a good bead on the ball and was able to make the catch.”
Ellsbury had a frustrating ending to Tuesday night’s 2-1 win when he was thrown out trying to steal third. Terry Francona allows him to use his discretion on stolen bases. While that situation - no outs, Ellsbury on second, and Dustin Pedroia at the plate - didn’t seem to be one of them, Ellsbury felt he could make it.
“You never want to get thrown out at third,” he said. “Just being aggressive. I thought I might have been in there. On bang-bang plays you never know what’s going to happen. We won the game, so I feel a lot better about it.”
Last night, he had eight putouts through four innings and he admitted, “My legs were feeling a little bit tired. I was just happy because we were getting outs. Brad is a fly ball pitcher so when he’s getting fly balls that means his pitch count is down and he’s doing what he needs to do.”
What you have to worry about if you’re Francona is the wear and tear on Ellsbury’s legs, not only from a running the bases and stealing bases, but from tracking down fly balls. When you’re tracking down 12 of them, and then Lyle Overbay smacks a ball to the 420-foot mark that you have no chance to get to, that’s a full day of running. Ellsbury is only 25, so that helps, but it also begins to wear down a player. That’s why Ellsbury is usually the last player to come to his locker after a game, because he’s spent extra time getting treatment to help the recovery for the next day’s work.
Meanwhile, Ellsbury is hitting .304 and is riding a 15-game hitting streak.
“My biggest thing is to stay with my approach and take quality ABs to the plate,” he said. “I’m just trying to keep it simple at the plate.”
Once Ellsbury knew he was closing in on a record for putouts, his teammates began to get into it as well. While it was a night when the Sox rallied around David Ortiz, who ended a drought of 135 at-bats this season without a home run, teammates began to notice something else special was going on.
“It was the sixth or seventh inning, they put it up on the board,” said Jason Bay. “J.D. [Drew], Rocco [Baldelli], and I were sitting there and we said, `Did you guys see that?’ Sixth inning and he’s already tied a team record . I knew he was getting a lot of balls but it never dawned on me that it was that much. That’s unbelievable for six innings.”
Then Bay and Ellsbury started having a good time with it.
“We were joking that if there were any ball hit even down the line, I’d call him off and he’d say he lost it in the lights,” kidded Ellsbury. “That wasn’t going to happen but we were just joking around about it.”
At one point, he called off second baseman Dustin Pedroia for a ball. Afterward, Pedroia kidded Ellsbury about wanting to go for the record.
“Yeah, that’s my job as an outfielder,” said Ellsbury. “It’s my job to call him off.”
Ellsbury caught the last two outs of the second, third, and fourth. He caught the first out of the fifth, and the first and third outs of the sixth. Overbay’s triple was way beyond Ellsbury’s reach to open the seventh, but he ended the game for Takashi Saito by catching a fly ball hit by Adam Lind.
Ellsbury kept the ball as a souvenir.
“You play with a lot of guys in center field that are fast,” said Bay. “That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a good outfielder. He’s one of those guys who is athletic and fast and he knows how to play the outfield. He’s fun to watch, especially in right-center there’s a lot of room and you really get to see him get after it.”
In comparing him to former Pirates teammate Nate McClouth, Bay said. “Nate’s not as fast as Jake, but there aren’t too many guys who are. McClouth does everything well but he’s not going to wow you. Ells has that closing speed. When you’re close to a ball and you can’t get it, he can.”