Will Middlebrooks can look back on the season and see all the highs and lows.
He was the Red Sox’ Opening Day starter at third base, looking to establish himself in his first full season, and when he hit three home runs in Toronto in an April game, it seemed to be a statement about his place in the lineup.
He sank into a slump in May, hitting .211 with 22 strikeouts, and things only got worse when he hurt his ribs running into a wall while chasing down a fly ball.
He rode the buses with the Pawtucket Red Sox in July, soaking up a difficult and humbling experience, so that when he eventually returned, it would motivate him.
He came back in August and hit .322, and when the Sox began the playoffs, he was again the starter at third.
Then he went 4 for 23, leading manager John Farrell to go in a different direction. Rookie Xander Bogaerts started Games 5 and 6 of the AL Championship Series.
“It’s been a ride,” Middlebrooks said. “I don’t know if it was always a fun one. It’s a year that I wouldn’t wish on anybody, to be honest. It was kind of to hell and back, to be honest. But I learned so much from this year. It’s been the best and worst year all in one.
“Obviously, dealing with injuries and not playing well and losing the job, it’s just tough, man. Especially up here.
“Like I said, I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, but at the same time, I wouldn’t trade it, the stuff I learned this year and everything I did gain from it.”
Whatever the World Series has in store for him, he said, he’ll be ready.
“It’s been a crazy year, but I know I’m going to have an opportunity to play at some point, whether it’s in the seventh inning, whether it’s starting, whatever it is,” said Middlebrooks. “[Bogaerts] has the hot hand right now. You’ve got to play the hot hand if you want to win. So if he’s banging balls off the wall, put him in there, man.
“You need Stephen Drew’s defense. That guy, he’s a leader on the defensive side of the ball. So it just kind of leaves me odd man out right now.
“But I’m going to be ready. They’re going to need me when a lefty comes in for Stephen or maybe even Ells [Jacoby Ellsbury] at some point.”
He can handle the ups and downs better in the postseason because he dealt with them in the regular season.
“It’s easy to get mad and get frustrated and say, ‘I worked my [butt] off this year, I feel like I deserve this,’ but you can’t,” Middlebrooks said. “You can’t go there. Because then you lose all concept of the team and ultimately that’s what it’s about.
“None of these stats count, none of these hits count, none of these RBIs count. You either win or you lose in the playoffs, and we want to win. So if that means me coming in, running bases in the seventh inning or pinch hitting, drawing a walk or hitting a single, whatever I’ve got to do, that helps us win. So that’s what it’s about.”
Throughout the year, Middlebrooks got advice from Jonny Gomes.
Said Gomes, “In this game, how my path has been — I mean, I’ve done everything from couldn’t get kicked out of the big leagues fast enough because of my performance to hitting walkoffs, to three-homer games, to All-Star votes, to singlehandedly winning games, to singlehandedly losing games — I wouldn’t say I’m well-decorated when you talk about decorations with All-Star Games and Silver Sluggers, but I’m well-decorated with the ups and downs and the bumps and grinds that the game can give you.
“So I’ve seen some of the similarities in Will and I, as far as the success and failure and how much of a whirlwind it is when you’re young. You go from three-homer game to 12 strikeouts in a row, it’s like, ‘Been there, buddy. First-hand.’
“There’s a lot of people who’ve played this game a long time and haven’t failed. There’s been people to play this game that haven’t succeeded, either. So I think I’m able to help guys out with that stuff.”
As difficult as the year has been for him, Middlebrooks hopes one day he can do for another young player what Gomes did for him.
“Everything I’ve learned this year, it’s not only going to help me, but if I’m lucky enough to be around this game for 10 years, I can help somebody who will be in this position,” Middlebrooks said. “It just happens. It’s part of the game.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.