McAdam: Middlebrooks finding his way for Sox

McAdam: Middlebrooks finding his way for Sox
August 14, 2013, 12:30 pm
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TORONTO -- He didn't win the game, the way Shane Victorino did with his two-run single in the bottom of the 11th.
He didn't get the final four outs to pick up the victory, the way Koji Uehara did, entering in the bottom of the 10th and turning back the Jays in order in the bottom of the 11th.
But Will Middlebrooks was very much a part of the Red Sox' dramatic 4-2 win over Toronto Tuesday night, with a double and a run scored in the seventh when the Red Sox took their first lead of the night, and a single and strong takeout slide that helped set up Victorino's heroics four innings later.
"It feels good to get some results,'' said Middlebrooks, who had spent the previous month and a half in the minors, attempting to rediscover his batting stroke.
Middlebrooks has been back with the Red Sox for just three games, but in two of those, he's been a significant factor in the team's wins.
And that, he said Tuesday, is exactly what he's striving for.
"(Winning) is what it's about,'' said Middlebrooks. "Somebody asked if I had any individual goals and I said, 'No - I want to win a World Series and I want to do everything I can to help us win.' If I can do at least one thing (every day) to help us win a ballgame, that's what it's about.''
Middlebrooks has shown that early in his return to the big leagues. On Saturday in Kansas City, the day he was recalled, he had two hits and two RBI in a Red Sox victory.
Tuesday, he was 2-for-4 with a fine play at third in the bottom of the 11th to take away a base hit from Jose Bautista.
Manager John Farrell hit Middlebrooks ninth in the batting order Tuesday night, in part to avoid putting any pressure on him. Middlebrooks knows now that he doesn't have to be the team's savior; that role is best handled by established stars like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and
David Ortiz.
Middlebrooks can be content to merely contribute and that allows him to play without additional stress.
"With this core group of veterans, that's very easy,'' he said. "I've never been around a group of guys who come in and want to this bad.''
It's perhaps best for Middlebrooks to take that approach. Earlier in the season, Middlebrooks might have become too enamored with the trappings of the big league lifestyle, and too easily impressed with his own accomplishments. When he belted 15 homers and posted a .505 slugging percentage in a half season last year, he might have begun to think that life in the big leagues could be easy.
Earlier this year, when he appeared lost at the plate and was ultimately demoted and passed over numerous times for callups in favor of less talented players, the message finally sank in.
"I'm not even looking up at the scoreboard (to check his average and stats),'' he said. "I've put away all individual things. I'm here for these guys and I just want to do something to help us win. That's what it's about.
"If I go 0-for-4, maybe I can make a good play (at third) or do something on the bases, or walk in a big situation. Just do something. That's what it's about and if everyone does their job, we can win a lot of ballgames.''
It helps that Middlebrooks is once again healthy. Earlier in the season, he dealt with a sore rib and a lower back issue.
"I'm not fighting my body anymore,'' he said. "I can just go out and play and I don't have to worry about making things worse, or not being able to make certain movements because I'm hurting. I don't have to worry about that and that's probably the biggest thing.''
Of course, the Red Sox could use some production from Middlebrooks, too. With Mike Napoli in the worst slump of his career, the Sox don't have much power from the right side.
Dustin Pedroia is the team's No. 3 hitter, but isn't the prototypical run producer. Jonny Gomes, as hot as he can be, is essentially a part-time player. Ortiz, Ellsbury, Victorino, Daniel Nava, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia either switch-hit or hit from the left side.
When Napoli doesn't produce, the Sox options from the right side are limited.
If Middlebrooks can drive the ball the way he did last year, the Red Sox may be formidable against lefty pitching. In his rookie season, Middlebrooks posted a .906 OPS against lefties.
For a team which focused so heavily last winter on beefing up its offensive game against lefties, the Sox are sixth in the American League in OPS (.710) against lefthanded pitchers this season.