It’s as if Shane Victorino is auditioning for his own reality show — “Man vs. Ballpark” — every time he chases a fly ball.
There is hardly a nook or cranny of Fenway Park that the Red Sox’ intrepid right fielder hasn’t flung himself into this season. He is taking his Flyin’ Hawaiian sobriquet too literally.
Victorino held a little impromptu meet-and-greet with some of the 37,611 Fenway Faithful during the third inning of the Red Sox’ 4-0 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks Sunday. He launched himself into the grandstand a few feet in front of the Pesky Pole in pursuit of a ball off the bat of Arizona’s A.J. Pollock, splaying his body in cringe-inducing fashion. He didn’t make the grab, but he certainly left an impression and a few bruises on his left hip.
That type of all-out effort has become indicative of these Red Sox, who don’t know when to quit, as evidenced by their major league-best 11 walkoff wins. Bridge year? What bridge year? Somebody forgot to tell them they were supposed to be a place-holder team, not a first-place holding team.
These guys are the Dirt Dogs Redux, and nobody likes getting dirtier and diving around more than Victorino, a fast-talking, fearless outfielder.
“Any time I can make a catch I’m going to try and make it,” said Victorino. “But knock on wood I came away unscathed from a serious injury. But, as I said, I’m going to continue to play that way.”
The Fenway Faceplant was part of a painful and rewarding day at the ballpark for Victorino, who went 2 for 3 with a run batted in and reached base four times, getting plunked by pitches twice.
When Victorino was signed to a three-year, $39 million deal this past offseason, the thought was general manager Ben Cherington had overpaid for a role player who could help enact a clubhouse personality makeover.
But Victorino is one of those players you have to watch daily to appreciate. He is a glue guy who can do a little bit of everything.
Victorino has the ninth-best rWAR (the baseball-reference.com version of wins above replacement) among major league outfielders at 3.8.
“He’s been great,” said second baseman Dustin Pedroia. “Every day he is doing something to impact the game. That’s our mind-set. Just show up that day and try to win a game. Shane has been unbelievable. I don’t like when he [dives into the crowd]. He’s almost killing himself.”
The Sox wince a bit when Victorino throws his body around like a baseball crash test dummy. In the 75 games he has started, Boston is 47-28, a .626 winning percentage that is better than its overall .602 winning percentage (68-45).
“I take pride in my defense. If I get a chance to make an out, I mean sometimes I get a little carried away,” said Victorino. “It’s a little dangerous there. I felt like I could make the play. Obviously, it hit my glove. They always say the golden rule — if it hits your glove you should catch it. So I was upset with myself for not catching it. Sometimes there is a risk involved.”
After his leap of faith, Victorino came to the plate in the bottom of the third and batted righthanded against Arizona starter Brandon McCarthy. A switch-hitter, Victorino had batted lefthanded against the righthanded McCarthy in the first inning.
McCarthy plunked him with a pitch.
“A fastball off the shoulder compared to how many times he’s run into the wall probably seems like a fly landed on him,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “But he’s fearless. He slams into the wall trying to run down a ball that goes foul. It didn’t have any effect on him at the plate, and we’ve come to know over the course of the year he’s got an extremely high pain threshold.”
Both of Victorino’s hits, which extended his hit streak to six games, came batting righthanded against righties.
He refused to discuss it after the game. But Farrell said Victorino has just felt more locked in from the right side and that the left side of the outfielder’s body is a bit banged up. You think?
Whatever Victorino has been doing at the plate has worked lately. During the six-game hit streak he’s batting .462 with two home runs and six RBIs.
Victorino’s confab with the concrete wall was part of an odd day at Fenway.
McCarthy, who was making his first start since May 30, held the Sox hitless until the fourth. Then he got bounced in the fifth after allowing a pair of runs on a Jacoby Ellsbury sacrifice fly and a Pedroia double down the left-field line.
The Sox added to their lead in the sixth with some help from the sun.
With runners on second and third and one out, Arizona right fielder Gerardo Parra, who had a David Ortiz liner deflect off his glove for an error in the first, lost Ellsbury’s fly ball in the firmament above Fenway. Jarrod Saltalamacchia scored on the single.
Victorino followed with a single up the middle to plate Stephen Drew and make it a 4-0.
Four runs was more than enough for Sox starter Felix Doubront, who tossed seven shutout innings to record his 15th consecutive start in which he allowed three earned runs or fewer.
Victorino keeps hitting walls at Fenway, but the Sox have not. They’re now 39-21 in the Fens, after going 5-2 on this homestand.
That’s why it’s good and bad news that Victorino won’t have to worry about crashing into the concrete around Fenway.
After Sunday’s win, the Sox embarked on a season-long 11-day road trip that will have them play 10 games, going from Houston to Kansas City and concluding in Toronto.
That type of flying is safer than the type the Flyin’ Hawaiian has been engaging in this season.Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.