DETROIT — The Red Sox did not intend to start 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts in a postseason game this year. The plan was for him to become a starter next season, not in the middle of the playoffs. This month was supposed to fall under the “good experience” category.
But Bogaerts was at third base for Game 5 of the American League Championship Series against the Tigers on Thursday night, starting in place of a slumping Will Middlebrooks.
He was 1 for 3 with a double, a walk and a run in a 4-3 victory.
“Wow, it’s a crazy year I would say. Very blessed. I mean sometimes I can’t believe I am here,” Bogaerts said. “At 21 and starting in Double A and now here in the ALCS one game away from the World Series.”
The Red Sox needed help offensively and Bogaerts was the logical choice.
“The one thing that Xander has shown in the brief opportunities that he has had is a consistent approach and it’s time to throw him in the fire,” manager John Farrell said before the game.
Bogaerts was the youngest player to start a postseason game for the Red Sox since Babe Ruth was a 21-year-old starting pitcher in the 1916 World Series.
Farrell is open to the idea of Bogaerts staying in the lineup.
“We’re going to see how we go,” he said. “To me, it’s going to take everybody on our team to advance. That doesn’t mean Will won’t appear somewhere else in these final three games. I think it’s going to take contributions from everybody on this team.”
Bogaerts had only four plate appearances in the first eight games of the postseason. But he was able to show something in those.
Bogaerts came off the bench in Game 4 of the Division Series against Tampa Bay. He drew two walks and scored two runs in a 3-1 victory that clinched the series.
In Game 1 of the ALCS, Bogaerts came in as a defensive replacement and came to the plate in the ninth inning against Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit. Bogaerts popped to shortstop on the seventh pitch he saw.
Bogaerts said after the game he learned a lot from the at-bat and would “do damage” against Benoit the next time he faced him. That opportunity came on Wednesday and Bogaerts doubled to the opposite field on the second pitch he saw.
“The overriding thing is the approach that we see. He seemingly doesn’t pull off of pitches. If a pitcher looks to attack him away, he doesn’t expand the zone,” Farrell said.
The natural comparison to make with Bogaerts moving into the lineup is with Jacoby Ellsbury in 2007.
Then a 23-year-old rookie, Ellsbury was a pinch runner and defensive replacement in the Division Series against Cleveland that season. But when Coco Crisp started to struggle, Terry Francona started Ellsbury in center field in Game 6. The Sox were down, 3-2, in the series.
Ellsbury went 1 for 5 with a run and an RBI in a 12-2 victory. The Red Sox didn’t lose again in the postseason, and he started every game, going 9 for 24 with seven runs, four doubles, four RBIs, and a stolen base.
Middlebrooks is 4 for 23 in the postseason and 1 for 10 in the ALCS with five strikeouts. Shortstop Stephen Drew is even worse, going 3 for 32 in the postseason and 1 for 17 in the ALCS with eight strikeouts.
But Farrell wanted to keep Drew’s lefthanded bat in the lineup against Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez.
Farrell was less charitable to Middlebrooks.
“He’s becoming a little susceptible to offspeed, changeup in and breaking ball that’s running away from him,” he said.
Farrell informed Bogaerts he starting on Wednesday night. Middlebrooks was not told until Thursday and was disappointed.
“Who wouldn’t be?” he said. “But I’ll be prepared.”
Middlebrooks ran for Bogaerts in the ninth inning and went first to third on a sacrifice bunt by David Ross, catching the Detroit off guard.
Trying too hard?
Dustin Pedroia, 3 for 14 in the first four games, was 2 for 4 with a stolen base. He is only 9 of 35 (.257) in the postseason.
“He’s wanting to do a lot right now,” Farrell said. “That’s who he is as a player and maybe overdoing it a little bit at times.”
Farrell has not thought about shifting Pedroia down in the lineup, however.
“I think there’s just been a willingness to expand [the strike zone] a little too much,” he said.
Out on Abreu
The Red Sox are out of the running for free agent Cuban first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu, who will sign with the White Sox for six years and $68 million, according to MLB.com. The 26-year-old, who defected two months ago, was an accomplished power hitter in Cuba. The Red Sox, major league sources said, were willing to sign him to a $40 million deal but dropped out when the bidding approached $70 million.
Signing Abreu would not have eliminated the possibility of the Red Sox retaining first baseman Mike Napoli, who will be a free agent. There is mutual interest from both sides for Napoli to return.
“I’m not worried about that right now and I don’t think they are right now,” Napoli said. “We’re trying to win a championship and once everything ends [negotiations will start].
“I want to be here. I love it here. It’s a great situation, a great city; fans are awesome. It’s been awesome. We’ll worry about that later.”
Butler gets started
Dan Butler, a catching prospect on the 40-man roster, will start play in the Dominican Winter League on Friday. Butler played in 84 games for Triple A Pawtucket this season, hitting .262 with an .829 OPS.
The Sox also are planning to send righthander Allen Webster to winter ball along with outfielders Alex Hassan and Bryce Brentz. Injuries limited Hassan to 258 plate appearances this season and Brentz 368.
Two prominent infield prospects, Mookie Betts and Garin Cecchini, are playing for Surprise in the Arizona League.
Peavy in pen
Jake Peavy, who threw only 62 pitches over three-plus innings on Wednesday, will be available in the bullpen for Game 6 on Saturday at Fenway Park. Peavy has one game of relief experience in the majors, in 2011 with the White Sox. He threw four scoreless innings against the Nationals, allowing one hit and striking out seven . . . When Ellsbury stole second base in the second inning, it gave him five for the postseason. That tied Johnny Damon [in 2004] for the most by a Red Sox player in a single postseason. The Sox have 10 steals in the postseason, a franchise record . . . Koji Uehara’s five-out save was the first for the Red Sox in the postseason since Jonathan Papelbon in Game 4 of the 2007 World Series and the third in team history. Dick Drago did it in Game 3 of the 1975 ALCS . . . Shane Victorino, who has batted almost exclusively righthanded since early August because of a left hamstring strain, batted lefthanded against Anibal Sanchez three times and was 0 for 3 He batted righthanded against Jose Veras in the seventh inning and against Al Albuquerque in the ninth. Victorino was 0 for 5 and is 2 for 21 in the series.