Ordway: 'Had to be patient with' Middlebrooks
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- When Will Middlebrooks sent a ball twisting to right field in the top of the ninth inning Sunday afternoon against Mariano Rivera, it didn't seem to be more than a routine flyout.
As right fielder Ichiro Suzuki backpedaled, the ball kept carrying, and eventually, Suzuki ran out of room, flush with the wall, with the ball
landing in the first few rows of seats.
The homer seemed to stun the Yankee Stadium crowd since it was the second blown save for the great Rivera in the four-game series. Rivera himself seemed shell-shocked, turning to follow Middlebrooks' trot around the bases, as if asking himself: How did that happen?
In the Red Sox dugout, a celebration was underway, with the team certain that the homer was a harbinger of another comeback to be completed, visions of a sweep made certain.
The euphoria for the Red Sox was short-lived. In the bottom of the inning, Suzuki singled, stole second, advanced to third on a flyout and scored the winning run when Brandon Workman's fastball to Alfonso Soriano sailed over catcherJarrod Saltalamacchia's outstretched glove.
The Sox, then, had to settle for taking three of four from the Yankees, and the homer by Middlebrooks was, in reality, merely a footnote postponing a loss by a half-inning.
Still, there was a larger meaning to the homer, too, since it was the the 15th of the season for Middlebrooks, placing him third in that category for the Sox, despite having spent two months of the season in Triple-A Pawtucket.
The homer also extended a multi-hit streak for Middlebrooks to five games, in which he's hit .500 (11-for-22) with four homers and seven RBI in that stretch. Middlebrooks and teammate Mike Napoli were named American League co-players of the week on Monday.
And, in the larger picture, it was the 30th major league homer for Middlebrooks, who hit 15 in his injiry-shortened rookie season, too. In his first 154 games in the major leagues, then, Middlebrooks has smacked 30 homers.
(To put that in perspective, just two players in the National League have already hit 30 homers this season. The league leader, Pittsburgh's Pedro Alvarez, has just 32 with less than three weeks remaining in the regular season).
Thirty homers, in this PED-testing era, is not an insignificant milestone, and the fact that Middlebrooks reached that level in less than a full season's worth of games is telling.
It suggests that, despite his well-documented struggles earlier this season when he first lost playing time, then his starting job to Jose iglesias, and eventually, his spot on the roster, Middlebrooks has more than salvaged his second season in the big leagues.
And it further suggests that Middlebrooks has a secure spot in the Red Sox infield of the future. Not long ago, his failings had some envisioning the Sox either keeping Iglesias at short while handing the third base job to Xander Bogaerts, or, retaining incumbent (and free agent-to-be) Stephen Drew for the position, with Bogaerts as the third baseman of the near-future.
It's not just the power display, either. In the 26 games that Middlebrooks has played since being recalled on Aug. 10, he's hitting .368 with a .434 on-base percentage and a sterling .621 sllugging percentage and an OPS of 1.055.
Even his walk rate has climbed -- he has 10 in 87 at-bats while his strikeouts have leveled off some.
In the aftermath of his ninth-inning homer, Middlebrooks was asked if he can take any satisfaction from reaching the 30-homer mark from his first two half-seasons.
"I can,'' said Middlebrooks. "But also, I could have 30 homers right now, this year. I went through some things this year [lower back and hamstring issues] that maybe I should have taken care of, taken a month off and gotten healthy, and if that was downtime or whatever, well, it was needed.
"But I told myself, 'You know what? I'm going to play through it.' I thought I could and I couldn't. I got in a hole, and created bad habits and then those bad habits were just there and I had to fix them [at the minor league level]."
Still, it's not as if Middlebrooks can't find some solace in establishing himself as a proven power source in the major leagues. However, the big picture, as the first-place Red Sox open a three-game series against the second-place Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday, isn't an individual one.
"It makes my feel good,'' he said. "I'm not trying to sound like a broken record, but I want to help us win a World Series, man. My individual goals and stats -- that's out the window. I mean, I hit [.192] in the first half and I didn't help us win. So my goal in the second half is to do something every day to help us win, whether I'm 0-for-4, or 4-for-4 with four homers. Just help us win.''
Middlebrooks believes he's back to being himself at the plate, though he couldn't stop dwelling on a seventh-inning at-bat in which he chased two sliders out of the strike zone and struck out.
"I wasn't happy about that at all,'' he said, "because I got away from my approach. I had been so solid with it. But I was able to put that in the past before the next at-bat and put that in the past instead of dwelling on it.''
In a sense, that's representative of his entire season: overcoming failure, refining his approach and rebounding.