“It’s everybody’s dream,” said Red Sox assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez of the feeling associated with making the major leagues, and few would argue.
But some stories are sweeter than others.
Tzu-Wei Lin’s tale fits that mold.
The career .241 minor league hitter was enjoying a renaissance at Double A Portland when he received a call that was both unexpected and exhilarating.
“I got the phone call from [Portland manager] Carlos Febles,” Lin recalled through a translator before Tuesday night’s game against the Twins at Fenway Park. “[It was] after I got back to my place and he told me that I was coming to Boston instead of Pawtucket. I couldn’t believe that [had] happened.”
To bypass Triple A after more than five years in the Red Sox farm system is one thing. To take the fourth major league pitch you see — a 2-and-1 fastball from Twins ace Jose Berrios on Monday night — and calmly redirect it onto the outfield grass for a single is something else entirely.
A subtle but sly smile emerged across Lin’s face as he stood on first base. But beneath the 23-year-old’s cool demeanor sits a driven infielder hungry to stay in Boston.
“We saw it in spring training [during] the days that he would come over and be with us,” manager John Farrell said of Lin’s work ethic. “He’s a diligent worker and he’s got good instincts on the baseball field.
“I thought he handled last night’s situation very much at ease. When I say that, he was at ease in the batter’s box [and] there was not much panic. He showed real well.”
Lin entered Tuesday’s 9-2 victory in the top of the seventh inning, replacing Dustin Pedroia at second base. He took grounders at the position pre-game and helped turn a 6-4-3 double play in his first inning of action. An errant throw by the rookie on a slow-roller in the ninth inning drew first baseman Sam Travis off the bag, but Travis was able to recover and tag out a hustling Jorge Polanco.
Lin grounded into a 3-6 fielder’s choice in his lone at-bat in the bottom of the eighth.
The Red Sox signed Lin in 2012 as an 18-year-old shortstop from Taiwan for a $2.05 million bonus. The native of Kaohsiung County had agreed to sign with the Yankees in 2010, but backed out of the deal after the Chinese Taipei Baseball Association threatened to ban him from playing or coaching in Taiwan if he signed with a major league team before completing high school.
Lin’s first major league hit
While his work ethic and defensive prowess were always there, Lin’s approach at the plate took time to develop. Criticized for being too passive, Lin languished at the lowest levels of the Sox’ farm system before advancing to Portland in 2016.
Everything changed in his second season with the Sea Dogs in 2017. In 48 games, Lin hit .302 with a career-high five home runs and he stole eight bases in 10 attempts. The 5-foot-9-inch, 155-pounder had hit six home runs in his first five minor league seasons combined.
“I’ve tried to be comfortable and shorten my swing path,” Lin said. “[I’m] trying to finish every swing, be more aggressive, and see the pitches better.”
Rodriguez had been told that Lin’s passivity was a concern, but he has been impressed with what he has seen.
“That’s what they said, that he needs to be more aggressive, but his swing is good,” Rodriguez said. “He uses the whole field. When a young player comes here, we try to let them play and let them do their thing. If we see something they need to work on, we talk to them, but if not the easier thing is to let them play and show what they can do.”
Lin’s progress comes at an important juncture for the Red Sox. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval is on the disabled list for the second time in 2017, and utilityman Brock Holt is working his way back from a concussion. Boston’s struggles at third base have been a hot-button topic.
Although Lin has played third base only 17 times in his minor league career (all with Portland in 2016), the Red Sox called him up after placing infielder Josh Rutledge (concussion) on the DL Saturday.
On Monday, Lin became the fourth Taiwanese player (not including pitchers) to record a hit in major league history. Fittingly, Boston’s Che-Hsuan Lin (no relation) was the last, notching three hits in 2012.
In the same year, a teenage Tzu-Wei Lin toured Fenway Park, dreaming of a day he would suit up in a Red Sox uniform. Now, that dream is a reality, even though he was not in the starting lineup Tuesday.
“We have a good relationship,” said Rodriguez, who worked with Lin as the Red Sox minor league hitting coordinator in 2012.
“He always brought a lot of good things. He’s very easy to talk to. I’m excited to see him here.”