Ellsbury finds keys to driving
All of the Red Sox offense in their 3-1 win over Tampa Bay in yesterday’s first game came on one swing from Jacoby Ellsbury, who has made it a mission this season to get into good counts, find pitches to drive and punish them.
Ellsbury turned one of the few mistakes made by Rays ace James Shields into his 21st home run of the season, more than he put up in the previous four seasons combined.
With two on and one out in the third inning, Ellsbury drove a 1-and-1 changeup over the fence in right field. It was his second home run in three games and increased his RBI total to 77 on the season. He added a solo homer in the nightcap, finishing 1 for 4.
“I was just looking for a pitch I could drive,’’ Ellsbury said. “He threw me a curveball that I swung through. Then he threw another one that was just off. Then he left a changeup, it was down, out over the plate, and I did a good job just to keep my hands back and stay through it.
“The biggest thing in my head is just trying to drive the ball. Trying to get into a good count to hit in, trying to get a good pitch, and just keeping my weight back and staying balanced. That’s been really the only difference, just being in a good hitting position.’’
Ellsbury started the game for the Sox with a loud fly ball to left that B.J. Upton was able to chase down. The swing he put on that 3-and-2 pitch gave him confidence going into his next at-bat.
“I thought I hit a ball better my first at-bat to left field,’’ he said. “So when I hit it, I knew I hit it well. I just wasn’t sure.’’
The home run was all the run support Jon Lester needed. He threw seven strong innings, striking out eight, to pick up his 12th win. After watching Ellsbury struggle through injuries last season, Lester has enjoyed watching him put all of his tools (speed, power, defense) on display in this bounce-back season.
“We always knew he could run the ball down on defense, and he always held his own hitting, but this year has been very fun to watch,’’ Lester said. “I think he had a little bit of a chip on his shoulder coming into spring training, and good for us. It’s helped us out a lot.
“He’s picked up a lot of slack when guys have been struggling. The best thing is, he’s been doing it all season. It’s been fun.’’
Yesterday was a prime example. The Sox were in a sticky situation after scratching David Ortiz at the last minute because of right heel bursitis. Shields filleted the thick of the order, as Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, Carl Crawford, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia went a combined 0 for 14.
The Sox didn’t have a hit until Josh Reddick singled to start the third, and Mike Aviles followed with another base hit two batters later. Then Ellsbury did the dirty work.
“Thankfully, that’s all we needed,’’ Saltalamacchia said.
Ellsbury is in position to become the first leadoff hitter to drive in 100 runs since Darin Erstad for the Angels in 2000. He also has a chance to eclipse Nomar Garciaparra’s 98 RBIs from the leadoff spot as a rookie with the Sox in 1997.
“When he gets on base, we seem to score, and that’s when we’re going to win games,’’ Saltalamacchia said.
“He’s having a great year, unbelievable.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.