Bogaerts has shown he can handle postseason stage
Red Sox could again turn to rookie in key spot during ALCS after his ALDS performance
BOSTON -- The Red Sox are planning no changes to their roster for the American League Championship Series, which begins Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on FOX, against the Tigers. That means base-on-balls machine Xander Bogaerts could get another chance to impact a playoff game off Boston's bench.
His teammates are still talking about his game-changing walk in the seventh inning during Game 4 of the AL Division Series against the Rays.
It was huge," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "That walk right there put the pitcher in a defensive mode … it changed the whole mindset of everything."
The Red Sox trailed 1-0 with one out in the seventh when Bogaerts was called upon to pinch-hit for Stephen Drew against left-handed reliever Jake McGee. One week earlier, Bogaerts had celebrated his 21st birthday. Now he was batting for the first time in a Major League postseason game.
He did not take delusions of grandeur with him to the plate.
"I was just trying to get on base, either by a hit or an error," Bogaerts. "I was thinking hit by pitch. A 96 mile-per-hour fastball would sting a little, but it still would have been as good as a base hit."
Bogaerts went up there looking for gas from a pitcher who threw his fastball 93 percent of the time during the regular season and averaged 96.3 miles per hour while doing so. He was astute enough to stick with that plan even when McGee tried to dupe him.
"The count was [1-2] and he shook off the catcher like three times," Bogaerts said. "I was wondering what he was doing. He was trying to make me think he was throwing something else. I was thinking, 'He's trying to mess with me. He's not going to throw me a curveball or changeup. He's trying to get into my head.'"
Bogaerts did not take the bait. A guy who can speak four languages -- English, Spanish, Dutch and a dialect of Portuguese -- was smart enough to realize McGee would rely on his best pitch in that crucial situation. So Bogaerts looked at three straight fastballs out of the strike zone and took the base on balls.
He went to third on a two-out single by Jacoby Ellsbury and scored the tying run on a wild pitch. Shane Victorino's infield single later scored Ellsbury to give the Red Sox a 2-1 lead. They added another run in the ninth after Bogaerts led off the inning with another walk against Rays closer Fernando Rodney.
"He very easily could have went up there, young and immature, 'I'm going to take the Sox and put them on my back and hit a homer here,' and swing at three balls in the dirt," outfielder Jonny Gomes said. "He didn't. Then he went ahead and ran the bases well: couple of balls in the dirt, drew a big walk and ended up touching the dish to help us win the ballgame."
The walks have already been duly entered into the long-and-rich treasury of Boston baseball lore. It's all pretty heady stuff for the kid from Aruba who started the season at Double-A Portland and is hoping to end it by playing in the World Series.
"I'm just going out and trying to play baseball," Bogaerts said. "That's all I can do, just have fun. I didn't imagine myself being in the big leagues this year. Now to be in the playoffs and a chance to go to the World Series is incredible."
The walks could convince manager John Farrell to use Bogaerts more in the ALCS. Farrell elected not to use Bogaerts as a pinch-hitter in a similar situation in Game 3 the night before.
Drew came to the plate with two on and two out in the eighth with the score tied and McGee on the mound. Farrell left Bogaerts on the bench, and Drew, a .196 hitter against left-handers during the season, lost the lefty vs. lefty confrontation by popping out to end the inning.
Bogaerts' poise in Game 4 gives Farrell reason to change his thinking about using Boston's top prospect as a pinch-hitter in big situations.
"The one thing we can say today that we couldn't say the other day is that he's been on the field in a playoff situation," Farrell said. "There's a presence about him. There's an emotional control about him. He sits for a week with no real game activity and then we put him up in a pretty critical spot, and the same patience, the same approach remains. It's what our entire development staff has seen since the day he signed with us."
Drew, who hits left-handed, should still get most of the starts at shortstop in the ALCS because Detroit and Oakland both have all right-handed rotations. But Drew was also 2-for-15 against the Rays in the ALDS, while third baseman Will Middlebrooks was 3-for-13.
Bogaerts can play both positions if needed. He has only been in the big leagues since Aug. 19, but what happened in Game 4 helps build the Red Sox's confidence that he can handle the unforgiving glare of the postseason spotlight.
"He's very mature," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "It seems like he's calm. He controls his at-bats. On defense, he knows the situation. It usually takes a lot of time to develop some of those things, but he's doing it. It's pretty rare. There would be a lot more 21-year-olds doing it if they could. He's a pretty special guy."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.