The play was far less spectacular, to be sure, but equally important. It won’t be relived countless times on highlight shows, nor will many call it one of the best of the season.
It was, after all, simply a single that was supposed to be a bunt.
In the sixth inning of the Red Sox’ 4-3 walkoff win over the Chicago White Sox Thursday at Fenway, Jackie Bradley Jr. approached the plate, Boston trailing, 1-0, with runners on first and second with no outs.
Until then, Bradley — and all of his teammates — had been mystified by White Sox starter Jose Quintana. Chicago’s lefthander had a perfect game entering the inning, and a no-hitter when Bradley marched to the plate.
“Really wasn’t even thinking about [the no-hitter] at that point,” Bradley said after the game. “Just trying to execute, advance the runners.”
Showing bunt, the rookie center fielder let the first two pitches pass as balls. Five pitches later, he connected: a single, on the ground, between the first and second basemen. Stephen Drew, who had walked two batters earlier to end Quintana’s perfection, scored from second, and the score was tied, 1-1.
The crowd roared. It was, finally, a sign of life from an offense that desperately needed one.
“It was supposed to be a bunt situation. But [I] didn’t get it down, so they let me swing the bat,” said Bradley, who was 1 for 3 with that RBI. “And it happened to find a hole.”
Minutes later, David Ross and Bradley scored when David Ortiz doubled to deep left-center field. What once looked helpless — entering the sixth inning without a base runner — turned into two hits and three runs, sparked by Bradley’s single.
“It’s a start,” he said of igniting the offense. “Big Papi’s always going to come up in the clutch.”
Of course, Bradley’s timely RBI paled in aesthetic comparison to his otherworldly diving catch one night earlier. In the second inning of the Red Sox’ 5-4 win Wednesday, Chicago catcher Tyler Flowers drove a ball to right-center field. Bradley tracked it, sprinting, dived, body fully extended, and fell onto his stomach, ball in glove.
“That’s one of the best catches of the year,” Daniel Nava, who scored the winning run for the second game in a row on Thursday, said the night before. “Golly.”
“Still not my best, believe it or not,” Bradley said Thursday.
Most believe in Bradley’s defensive proficiency: His 10 outfield assists are tied for the most in the majors, and in 82 games this season he has played all three outfield positions without committing an error.
John Farrell has faith, too.
“He’s playing at a level defensively that you could stack up against anyone in the game,” the manager said before the game. “The thing that you marvel at when you watch him every day is that while he might not be a blazing speed type of player, his reads and routes to the spot are so precise. It’s what allows him to cover so much ground.”
So, one would think, he should be a lock for a Gold Glove.
“Sometimes the Gold Glove awards aren’t defensive solely,” Farrell said. “I think there’s some bias when you factor in the offensive production.”
That area is where some have criticized the 24-year-old. In May, when his batting average reached its season low, .193, he had 15 hits in 26 games, and his average hovered at or below .200.
Recently, though, his offense has improved: His average since June 19 is .283, and he has a hit in every game in July except Wednesday’s.
“The one thing I think we’ve seen since the West Coast trip is a better swing path, a more consistent swing,” Farrell said. “And I think it’s a byproduct of the adjustments he’s made with his setup.”
“It’s coming,” Bradley said of his offensive production. “Putting a lot of quality at-bats together. Even sometimes when I’m getting out, I feel very confident knowing that I had a good at-bat.”
And when he doesn’t get out — when he tries to bunt and ends up ending a no-hitter and tying the game — he feels even better.Rob Harms can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @harms__way.