Red Sox notebook

The catch? Thing of beauty

Ellsbury’s grab in 8th a real grabber

Red Sox starter Jon Lester delivers to the Rays in the first inning. He gave up two runs in six innings, striking out nine. Red Sox starter Jon Lester delivers to the Rays in the first inning. He gave up two runs in six innings, striking out nine. (Chris O’Meara/Associated Press)
By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / September 2, 2009

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Jacoby Ellsbury knew that if he didn’t make the play, that might be it. He could envision the ball rolling away, could envision Jason Bartlett rounding the bases, could envision the Red Sox losing the game. All on one play. And perhaps it’s a play that he wouldn’t have made in past years, but one that he did make last night, an extending, rolling, down-and-dirty catch that kept the bases loaded in the eighth inning.

“That’s one of those plays where you have to catch it,’’ he said. “If it gets by me, it’s probably an inside the park home run, maybe at best a triple. It’s one of those plays where you have to make it. I got a good jump on the ball, and I knew I could make it off the bat, so I went for it. As I’m sliding, try to get my body in the position to throw the ball, thinking Pat [Burrell’s] going to tag.’’

Burrell was on third base at that point, a place he stayed. Ellsbury caught the ball in the heel of his glove and did a tumbling routine in center. Yet, he said he didn’t really have many doubts.

“I knew I could get to it,’’ he said. “You have to make that play in that situation.’’

That wasn’t the only impressive catch made by Ellsbury last night, though. The center fielder snagged a ball bending toward left field off the bat of Burrell in the fourth inning, immediately after Carlos Pena had delivered the second run of the game for the Rays with a homer to center. On that one it was all about the closing speed and the extension of his arm. Or, as he said, “Go-go Gadget arms.’’ He gave the nod on degree of difficulty to the eighth-inning grab because of the situation, though that hardly diminished the other catch.

“He’s playing very aggressive out there when he needs to,’’ third base and outfield coach DeMarlo Hale said. “That’s the progression you like to see, an outfielder who knows when to be aggressive and knows when to back off and play the situations.’’

Ellsbury added two hits, a single and a triple, to the Sox’ 8-4 win, and scored a run after getting on base on an error by Pena. But it was his defense that made the greatest impression.

“Big play for us,’’ said closer Jonathan Papelbon, who came in in the eighth and got out of the jam. “For him to keep that ball in front of him, make that catch, big play for us.’’

Record for Lester
Jon Lester’s strikeout of B.J. Upton in the second inning, his fourth of the game, set a team record for strikeouts by a lefty in a season. He finished the game with nine, raising his season total to 196.

“I was able to mix a little bit, I didn’t have best command I’ve ever had, but I felt pretty good, felt strong, couple extra days helped,’’ Lester said. “Early on, got myself into a jam, but was able to pitch around a little bit, try to give the bullpen a little bit of a breather.’’

He called the record “something that’s cool, something that’s nice,’’ but not his ultimate goal. “Like I’ve said all along about strikeouts, I’d give strikeouts back for wins,’’ he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do is win ballgames. If you strike out 100 guys a game it doesn’t matter [if] you don’t win. But it is something that’s very cool, that’s special to me.’’

“I don’t think we’re surprised,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “I know you guys don’t get invited into those pre-spring training meetings four or five years ago. I think there’s a lot of people in the organization that thought that’s what he would be, workhorse, log innings. I think we’re seeing what we hoped we would see.’’

The record was held by Bruce Hurst, who had the top two spots on the club’s list with 190 strikeouts in 1987 and 189 in 1985.

There were concerns, though, as Lester’s right groin tightened up on him as the game progressed. He said working only six innings was precautionary, and that the team didn’t want to push it, especially in September. He didn’t think the groin was going to hinder him as the season goes on.

Wagner progress
No one could have been prepared for what Billy Wagner has given the Sox so far. Six outs, five strikeouts, one hit. In his third and fourth outings since coming back from Tommy John surgery, Wagner (a shutout seventh) has continued to have a biting slider and an excellent fastball. “I’ll never be back there,’’ he said, of what he used to be. “I’m just happy to be able to get out there and just throw strikes. I’m not worried about going out there and my velocity and I’m just trying to go out there and compete and keep it as simple as possible. That’s helped me to get back a little bit, just staying simple and trying to make pitches instead of just overpowering people.’’ . . . Jason Bay’s 30th homer marked his fourth career 30-homer season . . . J.D. Drew is now batting .377 with seven home runs in his last 19 games.

Gathright on board
Perhaps the picture you have in your head of Joey Gathright also features Julian Tavarez. You know the one. With Tavarez standing over Gathright at home plate in a spring training game in Florida. After Gathright had slid into home, where Tavarez already occupied real estate, things escalated. Tavarez threw an awkward, sidearm punch that sent Gathright’s helmet flying, and got the pitcher tossed from the game.

Benches cleared. Carl Crawford held Gathright back.

And now, three-plus years later, Gathright arrived in his former home ballpark as a member of the Red Sox. Along with four other Pawtucket call-ups, Gathright joined the team yesterday, the day rosters expanded. Until asked about the incident yesterday, Gathright said, he hadn’t thought about it recently.

Asked if he needs to change the perception of him in Boston, Gathright said, “It doesn’t really bother me as much. The fight happened. I couldn’t really control it. I didn’t do anything to start it, but I should have finished it.

“But I’m kind of glad I didn’t. You never know how your career turns out after that. But, yeah, I think I should be known more about how my batting average is in Boston. Nobody knows about that.’’

Including Gathright, apparently, who couldn’t say what his average is at Fenway Park. For the record, the career .262 hitter has a .278 average with a .342 on-base percentage in Boston.

“I never thought about [the fight] until I got here today when people brought it up,’’ Gathright said. “It’s just an immature thing a grown old man did. It’s funny to me. It’s actually funny when I think about it. I’m happy Carl Crawford was as fast as he was. Because I know I would have done something stupid, which I would have regretted.’’

In addition to Gathright, the Sox called up catcher George Kottaras, infielder Chris Woodward, outfielder Brian Anderson, and pitcher Junichi Tazawa.

Lining them up
The Sox have set their rotation for the weekend series against the White Sox in Chicago. Paul Byrd will pitch Friday, followed by Tazawa Saturday. Lester and Josh Beckett will pitch the final two games of the series . . . The Sox were letting the cortisone shot take its effect on Tim Wakefield (back) yesterday. The knuckleballer got the shot Monday, then did some light work to “get the blood flowing without doing too much,’’ Francona said . . . . . . The time for the Red Sox’ Sept. 27 game against the Yankees has been changed. It had been an ESPN Sunday night game, but will instead be played at 1 p.m. because of Yom Kippur, which begins at sundown.

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