Aviles proving he's fit for the shortstop job

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Aviles proving he's fit for the shortstop job

BOSTON -- When guys do their jobs, things just start to come together in a 162-game Major League Baseball season.

Mike Aviles might just be the perfect example of a guy doing his job.

The Red Sox shortstop carousel has almost always been a major topic of discussion since 2004. But in 2012, Aviles has held down the fort, and it's no longer a position that anyone is talking about, which is a good thing.

Aviles is only hitting .260 after Tuesday's 5-0 win over the Seattle Mariners at Fenway Park. He finished the game 2-for-4 with two doubles and two RBI while hitting ninth.

But what is sticking out the most is his terrific defense at short, which Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine called "huge" before the game.

"He's made all the progressions," said Valentine in his pregame press conference. "He's learning to move with hitters and to position himself properly. He always knows the speed of the runner. He's been huge. The stability of him has been huge for our defense."

And Aviles didn't make Valentine look stupid on Tuesday against the Mariners. Because a few hours later, he made the defensive play of the game, in the second inning.

With one out and nobody on in the top of the second, Kyle Seager hit a 1-1 pitch up the middle, and Aviles chased it down to his left, and dove in the direction of center field, snagging the ball with his glove in the grass. He quickly got up and fired a seed to first for the out.

Afterwards, Aviles admitted that the effort to make that play was fueled even more so by the fact that he wanted to have Josh Beckett's back.

"It was just one of those plays where I was shaded a little bit up the middle, and you know, Josh Beckett is one heck of a teammate, regardless of how people portray him at times," said Aviles when asked about the diving play. "He is a really, really good teammate, and he's here for us. So, anytime he's on the mound, or any pitcher on the mound for that matter, we're trying to get their back, because we know they've got our back."

Aviles was just one of many strongly supporting Beckett after Tuesday's win. But there were also players supporting Aviles, and his defensive efforts this season.

"He's been great," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia after Tuesday's win. "He's been working real hard and he's making a ton of great plays out there and saving a lot of runs for us. He's doing an awesome job."

Aviles also produced at the plate on Tuesday, and it began with an RBI double to right-center in the bottom of the fourth that put the Red Sox up 2-0. He added an another RBI in the bottom of the eighth after dropping a double down the left-field line, giving Boston a 5-0 lead.

He said he's just trying to hang with the big boys.

"I've just been fortunate," said Aviles. "It feels good, playing on a team like this, where everybody pretty much is a really good hitter. It's a little easier to feed off some energy from other players.

"I'm trying not to be the weak link, is pretty much what it comes down to. I don't want to be that guy that always gets out. So, when you've got guys like Papi Ortiz, Pedey Pedroia, Gonzo Adrian Gonzalez, I mean, they're non-stop getting hits and RBIs, I kind of want to join the parade too."

Aviles was one of the leaders of the parade, both offensively and defensively, on Tuesday.

And as shortstop of the Boston Red Sox, he's just doing his job.

McAdam: Walk-off loss quickly washed away by Red Sox celebration

McAdam: Walk-off loss quickly washed away by Red Sox celebration

NEW YORK -- Worst to first.

Again.

Sound familiar?

It should, since the Red Sox are now making this a habit. For the second time in the last four years, the Red Sox have rebounded from a last-place finish -- two, in fact, in this instance -- to claim a division title.

On Wednesday, they won it the hard way -- by losing the game, 5-3, on a walk-off grand slam by the New York Yankees' Mark Teixeira, but clinching first thanks to a loss by the second-place Toronto Blue Jays.

It's as though the Red Sox were determined to win it on a trick bank shot. They had already won the A.L. East more conventionally in 2013, by actually winning their clinching game. But the awkwardness of blowing a three-run lead in the ninth was soon washed away in a spray of champagne and beer in a raucous clubhouse.

"One inning,'' declared John Farrell, "should not take away from the fact that we're champions.''

Indeed, the Red Sox had already paid the price to get to this point with two consecutive finishes in the division basement. They had to wait for their young foundation to mature and evolve.

Mookie Betts went from being a good, promising player to a legitimate MVP candidate. Jackie Bradley Jr. transformed from defensive marvel and streaky hitter to solid, all-around All-Star. Xander Bogaerts continued to improve and finally checked the "power'' box.

"I don't know what expectations we had coming in,'' confessed Bradley. "You just know that as long as you play hard, do the right things, keep together. . . We knew we had a talented team, but you still have to play the game. We were able to play the game at a high level this year.

"I think we knew this could happen in spring training, that we could be a pretty special team.''

By this year, the growing pains were over. The young stars had arrived and were ready to not just flash potential, but this time, do something with it.

"Everything came to fruition,'' noted Bradley, "and we're here.''

Along with the expected developments, there were surprises: Sandy Leon went from fourth-string journeyman to starting catcher, unseating several teammates along the way. Steven Wright went from bullpen long man to All-Star starter. Andrew Benintendi came from nowhere to claim the left field job in the final two months.

Some of this was planned. The rest -- and this is the beauty of sports -- was not.

The team showed a powerful finishing kick down the stretch, obliterating anything and anyone in its way in the final month, winning 11 straight, including seven in a row on the road -- all against division opponents.

The road-heavy second-half schedule that threatened to derail them instead toughened them and served as a springboard.

Comparisons will be made, of course, to the last two championship teams - 2004 stands alone for obvious reasons. Farrell was the pitching coach for one (2007) and the manager of another (2013).

"This is a more dynamic offense than those other teams,'' said Farrell. "We've got more team speed, we've got more athleticism. I can't say that this is a better team; it's different.''

"Better'' may have to wait until November, and the end of the postseason. It will require a World Series victory to match 2007 and 2013.

Time will tell. But for a night, there was enough to celebrate.

"By no means,'' said Farrell, dripping in champagne, "is this the end. This is just the beginning of our postseason.''

 

Quotes, notes and stars: Red Sox lose, but 'celebrate anyway'

Quotes, notes and stars: Red Sox lose, but 'celebrate anyway'

NEW YORK - Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox' 5-3 loss in New York.

 

QUOTES:

"I feel pretty good. Let's put it this way: Where we are now, I wouldn't want to play us going into the playoffs." - Red Sox principal owner John Henry

"I wanted to celebrate on that field so bad, but it is what it is. We end up being the first place team in the American League, and we're going to celebrate anyway." - David Ortiz, after the Red Sox lose on a walkoff, but clinch the division anyway.

“I’ll still be trying to hit the next four games, but if it just happens to be my last one (homer of his career), it’ll be pretty special." - Mark Teixeira, who's retiring Sunday and hit the walk-off grand slam.

 

NOTES:

* Joe Kelly became the first Red Sox pitcher to allow a walkoff grand slam since Julian Tavarez in 2006.

* Craig Kimbrel failed to record an out -- in 28 pitches -- marking the third time in 410 career appearances that that happened.

* Koji Uehara posted his 14th straight scoreless appearance.

* Brad Ziegler hasn't allowed an earned run in his last 19 appearances.

* Dustin Pedroia has scored five runs and knocked in seven in his last five games.

* Mookie Betts posted his major league-leading 66th multi-hit game.

* Clay Buchholz has a 2.63 ERA in his last seven starts.

* The one hit allowed by Buchholz marks the fewest hits allowed by him in a non-injury-shortened game since his no-hitter in 2007.

* The win marked only the second time the Red Sox have clinched the A.L. East away from home. The other time was in Cleveland in 1998.

 

STARS:

1) Mark Teixeira

The first baseman is going out in style. In the final week of his career, he hit his second game-winning homer of the week, with Wednesday's being a walk-off grand slam.

2) Clay Buchholz

Buchholz was brilliant, allowing three baserunners -- an infield hit and two walks -- in six shutout innings.

3) Mookie Betts

Betts delivered what appeared to be the game's biggest blow -- a two-run chopped double in the eighth to break open a scoreless tie.