Christian Vazquez brings many fine qualities to the baseball field. Speed is not one of them.
But when he lined a ball off the wall in left field in the second inning on Friday night, Vazquez rounded first and determinedly sprinted to second base.
The throw was there and the tag was close, but Vazquez slid in safely. He popped up, looked back at his Red Sox teammates in the dugout, and slapped his hands together.
“I’ve been waiting a year for that,” he said. “A year.”
Vazquez missed all of last season recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery. The Red Sox, extra cautious with a young player they consider vital, put him back on the disabled list again in March and sent him to Triple A Pawtucket for a rehabilitation assignment.
Vazquez finally returned Friday night, back in the lineup for the first time in 18 months. He had two hits, scored two runs, and ably handled the pitching staff in a 5-3 victory against the Toronto Blue Jays.
On a chilly night at Fenway Park, a crowd of 31,145 saw an entertaining game. Rick Porcello pitched into the seventh inning, beating the Blue Jays for the second time in a week. The bullpen was strong again and David Ortiz actually stole a base.
“I thought we played with outstanding energy,” Sox manager John Farrell said.
The 25-year-old Vazquez affected the game throughout.
He picked off Troy Tulowitzki at first base to end the second inning, snapping a throw to Hanley Ramirez, then pumping his fist as he trotted off the field.
When the Sox came up in the bottom of the inning, Vazquez doubled and then scored on a single by Mookie Betts.
“I tried to be aggressive at the plate,” Vazquez said. “My job is to catch but when you get a few hits, that’s a great night.”
His receiving skills also made a difference. Reigning American League MVP Josh Donaldson struck out to end the sixth inning when Vazquez popped to the side and deftly gloved a slider that just brushed the outer boundaries of the strike zone.
Donaldson was furious, spinning to complain to umpire Ted Barrett.
“I don’t normally say stuff if it’s a strike,” Donaldson said. “That’s not his job, to watch how the catcher is catching it.”
Said Farrell: “There might have been a number of times here tonight where that borderline pitch, he’s able to give that presentation to get that called strike.”
Porcello (2-0) allowed three runs on two hits, struck out eight, and walked one. That Vazquez caught him was no coincidence.
“Can’t say enough about the job Christian did back there. Blocking balls, calling the game, he was tremendous,” Porcello said.
The Blue Jays are a popular pick to win the American League East this season, but the Sox have won three of four against them.
Porcello faced the Blue Jays last Saturday at Rogers Centre and allowed four runs over six innings. He was better Friday with some assistance from Vazquez.
Through six innings, the only hit Porcello allowed was a home run by Edwin Encarnacion in the second inning. He retired 13 straight at one point and four times had perfect innings.
“I felt like I didn’t command my fastball very well the first time. That was definitely priority No. 1 coming into today,” Porcello said.
Porcello slipped in the seventh inning, walking leadoff Jose Bautista on five pitches. The next pitch was a sinker that stayed too high and Encarnacion drove it just over the wall in left field.
Porcello stayed in to strike out Troy Tulowitzki before Junichi Tazawa finished the inning.
Koji Uehara and Craig Kimbrel took it from there. Kimbrel put two runners on base with two outs in the ninth, but struck out Justin Smoak swinging at a 98-mile-an-hour fastball to end it.
Toronto starter R.A. Dickey lasted 4⅔ innings, allowing four runs (two earned) on six hits.
Three of the runs came in the first inning, all with two outs.
Xander Bogaerts singled and scored when Ortiz sent a double off the wall in center field. Ramirez then struck out, but reached on a passed ball. Catcher Josh Thole had a chance to end the inning and made a strong throw, but Ramirez hustled down the line to beat it.
That proved crucial when Travis Shaw doubled off the wall in left and two runs scored. Shaw was thrown out trying to advance to third, but the Sox had an early lead.
It was an early birthday celebration for Shaw, who turns 26 on Saturday.
Vazquez doubled off the Monster in the second inning. He advanced to third on a groundout and scored when Betts singled to left field with two outs.
Dickey allowed only one other hit but left trailing, 4-1. In two starts against the Sox this season, the knuckleballer has gone 9⅔ innings and given up eight earned runs on 14 hits.
The Sox scored another run in the sixth inning, again with two outs.
Vazquez singled off ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte, who was throwing righthanded. When Venditte switched to his left hand, Jackie Bradley Jr. singled.
Betts grounded into a double play but Pedroia reached on an infield single to drive in Vazquez.
The seventh inning was a hoot for the crowd as Ortiz walked and stole second when the Blue Jays declined to hold him. It was the 16th career steal for Ortiz, the first since 2013.
Ortiz joined — get this — Cy Young, Ted Williams, and Rickey Henderson as the only Red Sox players to steal a base after the age of 40.