ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The celebration was all around him — champagne flowing and spraying everywhere — and Shane Victorino bypassed it. He had bruises and sore parts to ice and interviews to do on the big stage.
And, anyway, there’s a long way to go.
Meanwhile, Jacoby Ellsbury took part in some of the playful banter and then retreated to the trainers’ room where he too tended to things like the broken bone in his foot.
The Red Sox’ 1-2 hitters may be hurting, but they have been on top of their game the entire season. They hit .500 (Ellsbury) and .429 (Victorino) in the American League Divisional Series won by Boston, three games to one, clinched with a 3-1 win over Tampa Bay on Tuesday night.
As time goes by we realize what Ellsbury means to this Red Sox team. Oh, some of his hits were bloopers and bleeders in this ALDS, but he’s a game-changer, no doubt about it.
And the game-changer may be changing addresses.
An organization always tries to replace a player with as close to what it has lost, but in Ellsbury’s case, the Red Sox may not be able to succeed in that area. Jackie Bradley Jr. may be a percentage of Ellsbury, but the jury is out as to how much.
Ellsbury, the free agent to be, was at it again Tuesday night. With two outs in the seventh, he singled, stole second — and kept moving to third on a wild pitch as Xander Bogaerts scored the tying run — and came in on Shane Victorino’s infield single to provide the margin of victory. The steal was his fourth of the series and the ninth of his postseason career, a Red Sox record, surpassing Johnny Damon.
You know somewhere in Newport Beach, Calif., the Ellsbury Manifesto is being written by Scott Boras, Ellsbury’s agent, who no longer has to sell the fact that Ellsbury is a special player.
There are unique skill sets in place here. Oh sure, he’s not a five-tool player because he can’t throw from here to there without bouncing it. But he’s a four-tool player for sure — because, believe me, he has the power.
Other than David Ortiz, nobody on the Red Sox hits the ball with more authority than Ellsbury, and everyone around him will tell you that.
Is five years, $100 million enough? Do the Red Sox have to go Carl Crawford, at somewhere near seven years, $140 million?
So as we try to project the 2014 Red Sox, the team doesn’t quite look right without Ellsbury in center and in the leadoff spot. There is something amiss. Has the price gone up even on this postseason? Don’t forget: Ellsbury is still playing with a broken bone in his foot.
The chapter of the manifesto in which Ellsbury has to defend his long, long layoff from broken ribs and his long, long layoff from a separated shoulder, is now reduced to a few paragraphs. The fact he’s playing with a broken foot, and at a high level, gets him gutsy points.
Victorino has continually proved that what was seen as an outlandish three-year, $39 million deal, was worth it. Victorino was out there getting hit with two pitches just to get on base.
After the game, he emerged with icepacks on virtually every side of his body and slipped under the plastic protecting the lockers so he could grab a shirt and go out to the interview podium.
There was not a drop of champagne on Victorino’s lips or body. Nor was there after the Red Sox clinched the American League East. He will celebrate when and if the Red Sox win it all. Victorino already has one championship under his belt with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008.
“It all feels good,” Victorino said. “Obviously, moving on. We knew it was going to be a tough series for us. This is the part of baseball that you look forward to. This is one step. We have two more to go.”
Victorino described the infield hit he beat out in the seventh to score Ellsbury with the go-ahead run. He was facing Joel Peralta, against whom he was 0 for 7.
“I knew it wasn’t hit hard enough. It was a matter of me beating [Rays shortstop Yunel] Escobar to make the play. And I was able to do that.”
He said of the four times he was hit by pitches in the series, “Part of getting hit is part of the game. People say I’m close to the plate, I crowd the plate. Hey, it is what it is. And I know those guys aren’t doing it for any apparent reason. They’re trying to make their pitches and executing their pitches.’’
While it looks sometimes that Victorino is leaning in to get hit, he said, “Trust me, I don’t want to get hit. It doesn’t feel good. But what ever it takes to win a ballgame. It’s being the guy at the top of the lineup for the rest of the guys.’’
The Ellsbury-Victorino dynamic has been dynamite for the Red Sox. Ellsbury may not be part of that next season.
When he scurries around the bases, he creates errors from the defense and runs for the Red Sox. And, the bottom line is, you realize this guy is pretty special.
Victorino seems to feed off of him.
“We speak as a team,” Victorino said. “We talk about what we saw and what [the pitcher] might be throwing that day. That’s one thing our team has done all along. We pass on the information. Whatever it takes. On the bases, at the plate.”
They are playing hurt, but playing well. The Red Sox will have a few days to rest and that’s music to both Ellsbury and Victorino, who will take every moment to rev up for the next challenge.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.