DETROIT - Will Middlebrooks wasn't in the starting lineup for Game 5, supplanted by rookie Xander Bogaerts, getting the first postseason start of his career.
Middlebrooks himself didn't find himself in the game until the ninth inning, and when he did, it was as a pinch-runner. And though he didn't score an insurance run in the top of the ninth in the Red Sox' 4-3 win over the Detroit Tigers in Game 5 of the ALCS, it was an eventful appearance anyway.
After Bogaerts drew a leadoff walk in the ninth, Middlebrooks was the surprise choice to run for him. The Sox regard Middlebrooks as the superior defender at third over Bogaerts -- who hadn't played the position until this summer -- but it seemed an odd call.
If the Sox wanted Middlebrooks in for defense in the bottom of the inning, they could have run speedster Quintin Berry for Bogaerts and then inserted Middlebrooks at third when the Sox took the field.
Still, there was a method to the seemingly peculiar decision. The Sox wanted Middlebrooks to get into the game physically and not be asked to take over at third cold.
And there was another reason. The Sox were going to try to bunt the runner over, and while not the runner Berry is, Middlebrooks is a smart baserunner who understands what the Sox were asking of him.
In their meetings before the series, with help from their advance scouts, the Sox talked about how the Tigers like to have third baseman Miguel Cabrera charge on bunt situations, leaving third base uncovered.
So when David Ross bunted toward third, sure enough, Cabrera came in to field the ball. Cabrera wheeled to first and nipped Ellsbury at first as Middlebrooks bolted for second.
As he approached second, Middlebrooks noticed that Cabrera's momentum had taken him out of position, leaving third base uncovered.
Middlebrooks never slowed as he hit second, making the cut third and beating a throw -- just barely -- as catcher Brayan Pena came in from the home plate side of third, sliding, a second too late.
"I thought about it before,'' said Middlebrooks. "That's the way they run their bunt play. If it goes to Miggy, he comes and get it. and then covers second base. So I just have to beat Pena [moving from home to third] and it kind of just worked out exactly as I pictured it in my head.
"I was probably about 10 feet from second and I realized I had a shot. [Pena] was still about 10 feet up the baseline to third. I figured I could beat him and it was going to take a perfect throw. I knew I could get to third in that sitation. It was a good time to be aggressive with the lead and give us two shots to get a run.''
Like Middlebrooks, umpire Rob Drake also slid into third before he made a safe call.
“Yeah, he had a nice slide into third base,” Middlebrooks said. “That was pretty funny.”
As it turned out, Middlebrooks was stranded at third and didn't score. But the heads-up play made him feel like he had contributed something and took some of sting out of being benched in favor of Boagerts.
"Nobody in here would be happy [about not playing],'' he said. "But I trust every decision they make. I may have been a little pissed about it at first. I'm a competitor and I want to be in there every day. But I got that out of my system early and at that point, it was my job to be ready to come in and be ready at any time.''