BOSTON – It was a moment’s hesitation combined with a perfect throw that changed the tempo for the Red Sox against the Blue Jays at Fenway Park on Saturday afternoon.
Trailing by two runs in the sixth inning, the Sox had difficulty sustaining any offense throughout the game. Shane Victorino led off with a double to right of Jays starter Esmil Rogers. It was the third consecutive inning in which the lead-off batter had reached base, with the previous failing to score. It appeared that might change as Dustin Pedroia followed Victorino with a single to right.
Victorino hesitated momentarily to make sure Pedroia’s ball got through for a hit before attempting to advance. Third base coach Brian Butterfield spent 11 years in the Blue Jays organization before joining the Sox and was well aware of the arm strength of Bautista, who also threw out a runner trying to score Friday night when he cut down David Ortiz in the third inning. And with no outs and Ortiz due up, perhaps the prudent move would have been to hold Victorino at third.
Instead Butterfield waved the speedy Victorino home for what the Sox had hoped would be their first run of the game. Victorino, though, was just rounding third as Bautista was unleashing his throw home.
A perfect strike to catcher J.P. Arencibia at the plate.
Victorino collided with Arencibia, hoping to dislodge the ball, but the Jays catcher was waiting for Victorino by a good step.
"You try to get through the year without too many of those," said Butterfield. "You’d like to have that one back. The fewer of those the better. It’s the nature of the beast. I’d like to have that one back. There were no outs and we were in position of the lineup where it was in our favor.
"Sometimes when you see the ball in play regardless of who’s hitting, you see something with your eyes and in that case, I made a bad decision. I have such respect for Jose. He’s a great defender and he’s one of the best throwers in the league, but as I saw him angle to his right, I thought we would have one (a run). A lot of times what happens is when you see a lot of goose eggs on the board you’re caught a little bit inbetween and you want to push the envelope and I shouldn’t have."
Adding to the questions, Ortiz singled just after the play, for what could have been the Sox first run, if Victorino held at the third.
“We’re looking for anyone to score,” said manager John Farrell. “We left some opportunities out there. I have no question with the decision of Brian Butterfield. I’ll live and die with every decision he makes at third base. He’s an outstanding third base coach. We forced [Bautista] to throw a 260-foot strike and he did.”
Victorino, likewise, did not question Butterfield’s decision or aggressiveness.
“It was a great throw,” Victorino said. “It was a tough situation there. Obviously we’re going to be aggressive and stay aggressive. I think people are going to say, ‘Well, with your four-hole hitter and the meat of your lineup coming up,” but as I told Butterfield, “Hey, it’s the decision you make and I’m going.” You never know. It takes a lot. And Bautista made a good throw and we know he’s got a great arm. So, you tip your hat. Plays like that change scenarios.’
"I was just trying to catch the ball cleanly and make a good low throw in case there was no play and Lind could cut it off and make a play somewhere else," said Bautista. "I made a good transfer and had good momentum and threw it as hard as I could. The throw was on line and JP did a great job picking up the short hop and blocking the plate."
Victorino hesitated before breaking from second long enough to be sure the ball got through safely and he would not be doubled off.
“It’s tough for a third base coach to read that,” he said. “He’s got one of his speed guys running, so automatically you think all those scenarios go into play. But unfortunately I did hesitate because of the low liner. I wanted to be safe than sorry. Unfortunately on the back side we were sorry. I was thrown out at home plate. But I tip my hat. Bautista made a great throw. I’m not taking any credit away from what he did.”
Asked if Victorino's speed was a factor in his decision, Butterfield nodded.
"A little bit, he runs well. Sometimes when you have a real good runner like Shane you make a mistake with it. I’m not afraid of it. I’m going to come back tomorrow with my chest out. And we’re going to push the envelope again, but hopefully at a better time than that."
Victorino said he was not surprised to get the signal from Butterfield to go home, with ‘surprise’ being anathema to him.
“I’m never surprised,” he said. “That’s one thing I will not be, is surprised. I give him credit for making a great play. I wasn’t surprised at all. We know he’s got a great arm and that’s one thing I will never get surprised in this game by anything. Unfortunately the situation is going to be, “Why did you go? Or why did you send him in that situation?” But again, hey, we’re being aggressive, we’re going to stay aggressive, we’re been aggressive all year long. He just made a great play.
“I never use the word surprise. I never want to hear somebody ask me about surprise. I’m never surprised in this game.”
But, was he expecting it? He’s just focused on what’s in front of him, he said.
“No, I’m going hard,” he said. “Knowing what’s going on, I’m not paying attention, I'm just going to run. I got the signal to go home and I’m going to run as hard as I can. I did hesitate the first part because of the low liner and no outs, I want to make sure it gets through. But again it’s one of those things. It’s a tough situation from a third base coach's standpoint. You got a guy who’s your speed guy who can run. To sit there and go ‘ok, he hesitated, so probably I didn’t’ hesitate that much for him to give that read but I'd hesitate enough for my situation to make sure the ball went through. Unfortunately I was out at the plate but I tip my cap to Bautista for making a great throw.”
Despite the collision at the plate with Arencibia, Victorino acknowledged he was beaten, with little chance to go around the Jays catcher to dislodge the ball from his glove.
“Pretty much nothing,” Victorino said of his odds of being safe. “He was sitting on the plate. My only thing was, “Alright, just try and run him over, try to jolt his ball loose.” I don’t think he gave me any point to go outside or try to get my hand in there. I was actually honestly out by a good amount. At least a step.”
As small consolation, Victorino’s two-run single in the seventh tied the score, albeit temporarily.
“It felt great,” he said.” Any time you come back, tie a game again. We were very quiet up to that point offensively… We’re never out of a game, we’re going to keep battling til the end, given our best, we’re going to keep playing until 27 outs were made.”