ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Daniel Nava deserves votes for the All-Star Game given how well he has played for the Red Sox this season.
If only it was that easy.
Nava isn’t on the ballot, so voting for him would require writing his name in. When the ballots were prepared before the season, the Red Sox submitted Jacoby Ellsbury, Jonny Gomes, and Shane Victorino as their candidates.
Nava wasn’t even guaranteed of being on the roster at the time. He had to make the Sox in spring training and then prove himself worthy of playing time in the outfield.
Nava is indispensable now and showed why again on Wednesday night. His two-run home run was the difference as the Red Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 2-1.
That’s nine homers and 44 RBIs for Nava along with a .299 batting average and an .870 OPS.
Nava is first among American League outfielders in on-base percentage (.391), second in RBIs, second in batting average, and fourth in OPS.
Then there’s the versatility. Nava has started 30 games in right field, 20 in left, and one at first base.
“He’d get my vote,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said.
That Nava is even in the conversation is an accomplishment. The former independent league player was a part-time player for the Sox until this season and didn’t even merit an invitation to major league spring training in 2012.
Now he could be worthy of being introduced at Citi Field in New York on July 16.
“It’s not even something I’m thinking about,” Nava said, “If I get in, that would be great. But if I don’t go, it’s the last chance I get to see my wife before we have our baby.”
Rachel Nava is expecting the couple’s first child, a girl, in August in California. The Sox end the first half of the season in Oakland on July 14.
“We’ll be right there,” Nava said. “Either way, it’s a win-win. She could come to New York with me. But I’d be fine with staying at home with her.”
Before this season, Nava was best known for hitting a grand slam on the first pitch he saw in the majors. That came on June 12, 2010. Three years later, his two-run homer required a lot more patience.
With Ellsbury on first base and two outs in the third inning, Rays starter Chris Archer fell behind Nava, 3 and 0. Ellsbury stole second and went to third on a bad throw. Nava then fouled off five consecutive pitches before jumping on a slider over the plate and driving it over the fence in right field.
“I was looking for something middle and trying to stay up the middle. It was just reactions right there,” Nava said.
Archer, a 24-year-old rookie, buried his head in his hands after the home run.
“[Nava] was in control of the at-bat and I had to come to him,” he said. “Left it in a spot where he could hit it.”
Archer struck out Nava out in the fourth inning to leave the bases loaded. The pitcher jumped off the mound, stared at Nava and then kissed his arm. Given that Archer made it through only four innings, it was a silly display of disrespect.
“I didn’t see any of that,” Nava said.
The two runs by Nava were enough for Alfredo Aceves (3-1) and four relievers. They held the Rays to six hits and struck out 10 as the Sox took two of three.
The Sox are 7-2 against the Rays this season.
Aceves was called up from Triple A Pawtucket to make the start and pitched a strong game. He allowed one run on four hits over six innings with four walks and three strikeouts.
“Ace gave us a huge lift,” Farrell said. “Hopefully we can look back at some point later in this season and point to the contributions of the guys who have stepped in.”
Aceves was called into Farrell’s office after the game and told he would be returning to the minors. But the Sox plan to call him up back up on Tuesday to face the Rays again in one of the games of a day-night doubleheader at Fenway Park. Under a new rule, teams can add a 26th player to their roster for doubleheaders.
Aceves hasn’t been affected by going back and forth to the minors. He made a spot start against the Phillies on May 27 and allowed one run over six innings.
“For pitchers, that’s the way we live,” he said.
The key moment for Aceves came in the third inning. With the Sox up 2-0, Matt Joyce walked and went to third when Ben Zobrist singled down the line in right.
Aceves struck out Kelly Johnson looking at a changeup and got Evan Longoria to ground into a double play to end the inning.
Shortstop Stephen Drew made an instinctively sublime play on the low line drive, letting it hop into his glove and starting the double play from his knees.
“I probably could have caught it on the fly, but I wanted it to skip because I knew we could turn it,” he said.
Aceves allowed a home run by Longoria in the sixth inning. But he turned a lead over to the bullpen and Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, Koji Uehara, and Andrew Bailey finished the game off.
On Monday, Bailey blew a save when he allowed two runs on two hits and three walks.
This outing started much the same way as James Loney drove Bailey’s first pitch off the wall in right. The ball was hit so hard that Loney was held to a single.
Bailey fell behind Desmond Jennings, 3 and 0 before getting him to pop to center field. The closer then struck out Luke Scott and Jose Lobaton to end the game. Lobaton had homered off Bailey on Monday.