Holt sparks Sox with first career walk-off hit

Holt sparks Sox with first career walk-off hit
July 10, 2014, 6:30 am
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BOSTON -- When the Red Sox took the field on Wednesday for the top of the first inning, five of them were rookies. The statement was clear: The organization was committing to its young up-and-comers and willing to develop them at the big-league level.

Yet on a night in which some of its top prospects were paraded out onto the Fenway Park diamond, it was the oldest, least-heralded rookie – a name rarely bandied about as a future staple of the club – who played savior.

Brock Holt stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning with the score tied, 4-4, and with Daniel Nava on second after a pinch-hit RBI double.

“My job was the easy one I guess,” Holt said. “I think Nava had the tough one. Had a fastball to hit, put a good swing on it, was fortunate to get it into the outfield and Nava scored.”

Holt was mobbed near second base by teammates pouring out of the home dugout, ecstatic to celebrate anything during what had been to that point a mostly woeful home stand. His first-career walk-off hit gave the Red Sox a 5-4 win over the White Sox.

Though the team is 2-7 since returning to Fenway, Holt said that getting a victory like Wednesday's may allow players in the Sox clubhouse to take a deep breath.

“We were down to Chris Sale, not feeling too good late in the game,” Holt said. “Got him out, put some runs on the board, gave us some life there, and we were able to finish it off. [That’s] something that we haven't been able to do recently so it was a good feeling.”

Holt turned 26 years old last month. He’s the same age as teammates Felix Doubront and Ryan Lavarnway. He’s older than Will Middlebrooks. Yet he’s still considered a rookie, and he’s one of the best in baseball.

He may not have the unlimited ceiling of rookie teammates Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts, but coming into Wednesday’s game, Holt was third among all big-leaguers with 60 hits since taking the Red Sox job as leadoff man on May 23. He’s reached base safely in 39 of 45 starts atop the lineup, and he’s hit .313 (62-for-198) from that spot in the order.

He has the best batting average of any rookie in the majors, and that number (.313) is ninth-best among all MLB players. He hasn’t missed a single game in the last 44 the Sox have played.

There are metrics that suggest Holt’s levels of offensive production aren’t sustainable. His batting average on balls in play is second-best (.382) among all Major League hitters with at least 250 plate appearances.

(He does, however, hit a lot of line drives. He’s tied for sixth in the American League in line-drive percentage according to Fangraphs.com, meaning his BABIP could remain relatively high so long as he keeps that up.)

But even if his offensive numbers begin to trail off at some point, he’s built up value on this Red Sox team by being able to sub in defensively almost anywhere on the diamond. He got his first MLB start at shortstop Wednesday, leaving second base, pitcher and catcher as the only positions at which he hasn’t started this season.

“You just gotta be ready,” Holt said of his day-to-day approach. “That's just kind of my mindset. Come to the park ready to play, not knowing where exactly, but be ready to play.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Red Sox third base and infield coach Brian Butterfield was effusive in his praise of Holt’s ability to bounce around the diamond and be trusted at a premium position like shortstop on short notice.

“He’s saved us,” Butterfield said. “It’s a testament to his athletic ability and a testament to his toughness. We feel like even with a young player, we’re not afraid to put him in different positions because we know he’ll rise to the challenge.”

Holt slid in and quietly did just that, making three assists and a putout at short without incident. Then he saved them at the plate in the ninth.

For all the talk of the future lately, he's one Red Sox rookie who has seized the moment unlike any other this season.