NEW YORK — The way his tricky grounder turned the right side of the Yankees infield into pinball flippers, close to the ball but not close enough for either of them to make a play, Jacoby Ellsbury knew he had something.
The bases were loaded, but he wasn’t expecting to cash in as big as he did.
It was enough that Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano juggled the ball, killing any chance of a throw and allowing Ellsbury to motor safely to first.
It was a bonus that it plated Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
But when Johnny Gomes started wheeling around third, suddenly Ellsbury had a baseball oddity on his hands — a two-run, 10-hop infield single that helped the Red Sox throw the last bit of dirt on the Yankees in the ninth inning of their 8-2 Opening Day win Monday.
“That’s fun,” Ellsbury said. “You don’t see that too often, an infield single scoring two runs. It’s just the type of style we’re hoping to bring this year.”
Turning speed into runs is Ellsbury’s specialty. But seeing it from Gomes, who tumbled over the plate, then pumped his fist as he picked himself up, lit a spark, Ellsbury said.
“That fired me up,” he said. “I feel like I’m doing that for guys, so to be a recipient on the other end of that, I ran down and saw Johnny in the video room after that and gave him a high five. That’s what winning teams do.”
Between Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, and Dustin Pedroia, the top of the order produced seven of the Sox’ 13 hits and six RBIs, piecing every run together on patience, hustle, and guile.
“It was fun,” Ellsbury said. “We had a lot of different contributions. You could see a lot of the team speed.”
With questions about just how potent their offense would be, the Sox opened the season by finding different ways to score.
The Sox worked the Yankees for eight walks, gradually running up CC Sabathia’s pitch count until he had to be lifted after five innings and 102 pitches.
A year ago, only one team (Kansas City) drew fewer walks than the Sox. That impatience went against the Sox’ identity over the past decade.
It’s a philosophy they want to get back to, manager John Farrell said.
“We want to put pressure on the opposition,” said Farrell. “That’s not strictly with attempted steals and how we look to run the bases first-to-third, but the attitude and how we go about our work.”
Filling the void of the injured David Ortiz is almost impossible, but Sox feel they have the kind of lineup that can constantly put pressure on pitchers.
“That’s kind of what we’re hoping for,” Ellsbury said. “Obviously, it’s Game 1, but with guys’ approaches on this team, hopefully we can turn turn the lineup around and get pitchers’ pitch counts up and get in their bullpen a little bit. But it’s nice to see a team that can run and make those hustle plays.”
It was one sequence at the start of a long season, but it was the kind of play that ignites the other players in the dugout.
“We know it’s a process,” Ellsbury said. “It’s just Game 1 in the books, but we’re going to press the envelope and be aggressive. It’s Game 1, but we know what we’re capable of. We’re going to go out and play hard, I can guarantee you that.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.