Don’t give up on Jacoby Ellsbury so fast. This guy is a great player, a great athlete. We know he has trouble throwing, but he’s fast, stealing his 15th base in Sunday’s game. He also went 2 for 5, including a line-drive walkoff double in the ninth inning, in a 6-5 Red Sox win over the Indians.
We wrote last week that losing Ellsbury to free agency shouldn’t be something you should wish for because he’s still the most talented player in the organization. Now Ellsbury is starting to come around. Maybe he’s still gaining strength in the shoulder that sidelined him for three months last season. Sometimes shoulder injuries affect hitters and it takes them a while to come back.
His power isn’t there like it was in 2011, but when he drives a double as hard as he did the opposite way Sunday when the wind was blowing toward right, that’s solid contact.
The other thing he did in that at-bat that was outstanding was that he worked the count to 2-and-1 on Chris Perez before the embattled closer left with an injury. Then Ellsbury had to wait as Joe Smith, a righthanded sidearmer, came on.
Ellsbury pounced on Smith’s first pitch to provide the heroics and the tumult in the Red Sox dugout crashed onto the field to celebrate the walkoff win.
“I’ve never been in that situation [with an injured pitcher],” said Ellsbury, who has had four walkoff hits in his career, three against the Indians. “But I know the mind-set for [the new reliever] in that situation is to throw a strike and try to make it 2-and-2. I figured I’d be aggressive if I got my pitch.
“They’re very different pitchers. You have less pitches to make an adjustment and to work the count.
“We brought eight guys to the plate [in the ninth] — a testament to the guys making the attempt to come back and never quit. All the guys had tremendous ABs. We want to bring that tying run to the plate and I was just excited to be in that situation. We have that no-quit attitude. We saw the opportunity. I was just happy to come up big for our team.”
Ellsbury had hit a walkoff homer vs. Smith on Aug. 3, 2011.
As Red Sox manager John Farrell pointed out, “When Smith came on, his arm slot [sidearm] fits Jake’s swing pretty well, and you saw the reason for it.”
Ellsbury had one of those classic plus-minus days. In the first inning, he dropped a fly ball in center on which he had to run a long distance. Shortstop Stephen Drew was running back on the play and the two nearly collided. Ellsbury dodged the collision, but the ball was in his mitt and popped out.
Ellsbury was coming hard, Drew was going back hard, and someone had to get out of the way or else you would have been looking at one of those awful Johnny Damon/Damian Jackson collisions in the 2003 playoffs in Oakland.
“It hit right in my pocket and popped out,” Ellsbury said. “I saw [Drew] in my peripheral and I did hop a little to get out of his way, but that was my play.”
“I can’t say it was [Ellsbury] getting blocked out. He just missed it. Just flat out. I don’t think he got mixed with Stephen. I just think it hit him in the palm of the glove,” Farrell said.
Farrell believes that Ellsbury is turning the corner. For as well as the Red Sox have played lately, Ellsbury is still the guy that, if he could be a better leadoff man, he could add a dimension of speed and power.
“Hopefully it gives him a boost of confidence,” Farrell said. “He got a base hit in his previous at-bat and we’ve seen lately his on-base frequency pick up over the past week by walk or base hits. So he gets the key hit of the day with the game-winner, so I hope this has a carryover affect.”
It is games like this when we see a side of Ellsbury that is sometimes hidden because of his quiet nature — the emotional side of winning and enjoying the moment with teammates. When he delivered the hit, he jumped and pumped his fists and then embraced his teammates who came at him from every direction for pats on the back and head.
His first six years here have given us glimpses of the player he is. It hasn’t always been positive, especially during the rib fiasco during which he played only 18 games in 2010. In 2011, he came back with a vengeance. For so long we wrote, “What would Jacoby Ellsbury become?” In 2011, he was a superstar. But for the last year, again because of subluxation of the non-throwing shoulder, he has had to rebound from an injury.
Is he a risk? Sure. His injury history is something he’d like to bury on his résumé. But is he worth keeping? As we’ve indicated before, sometimes when you have a player who can handle Boston, a guy you’ve developed through your system, sometimes it’s best to stay with that guy.
We’ve seen the long-term commitments to Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez not work out so well, but because neither ever embraced Boston and everything that comes with it.
A good argument for why the Red Sox should re-sign Ellsbury is one of the players coming to town Monday night — Jonathan Papelbon. Look at how difficult it has been to replace him since he left.
Obviously, the Red Sox will monitor the situation. They’ll watch and see if Ellsbury starts having more games like Sunday and the impact he has on this team. Maybe they don’t want to commit long term to an outsider anymore. But Ellsbury is one of their own.
And Sunday we saw another glimpse of why he’s worth the effort to keep.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.