By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
BOSTON -- Jacoby Ellsbury is getting pretty good at this clutch-hitting thing.
Hes always had the explosive athletic ability that allowed him to score all the way from second base on a passed ball, or sporadically turn on a fastball to right field when things fell into place. Hes shown the ability to get hot at the plate like he did during the months of September and October in 2007 when it mattered most to his team, and hes developed into a much better defensive center-fielder as hes learned hitters, tendencies, and reading the ball off the bat in baseball situations.
In other worse Ellsbury has enjoyed the natural learning curve of playing in the Major Leagues, but things have changed for the much better this season.
The outfielder had shown flashes and steadily improved on star-studded World Series-worthy baseball teams in Boston, but it had never all come together for Ellsbury in a single season. The questions cropped up last season whether Ellsbury would ever put the puzzle pieces together when he was limited to 18 games played with oft-discussed fractured ribs.
This season its coming together in a big, big way.
Ellsbury has pieced together every disparate part of his varied baseball skill set at the same time and even better hes added the needed element of performing in the clutch. In essence hes helped carry the Sox in the dog days of summer as they attempt to protect a narrow AL East lead over a New York Yankees club that keeps on winning.
Thats something his teammates are taking note of.
Hes always been a superstar to me, man. Hes got all of these things that he can do really well and hes finally really learned how to play the game, said David Ortiz. Hes worked really hard at it and now hes playing like a superstar. I feel like its dj vu every time he comes up in the ninth inning now, and Im doing the same thing in the dugout every time it happens.
Ellsbury is hitting .317 for the season and has topped 30 stolen bases, but his biggest area of improvement is a power surge thats seen him smack 18 home runs this season.
The 18th and latest big blast was a solo home run off Cleveland righty Joe Smith in the bottom of the ninth that led the Sox to a 4-3 walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth inning the second consecutive game thats seen Ellsbury collect the walk-off hit for Boston in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Hes the first Sox player to provide walk-off hits in consecutive days since former third baseman Butch Hobson did it in 1978, and the first Sox player to do it in consecutive games since David Ortiz in 2006. Hes also made some believers in the Cleveland clubhouse including the pitcher he touched off for the long blast into the centerfield bleachers on Wednesday night.
"He's gotten us the last two nights -- good for him," said Smith, who had held lefties to a .091 batting average before serving up Ellsburys home run. "It happens, it's baseball. I'll come back tomorrow and face him again and keep going after him again."
Ellsbury had 20 career home runs heading into this seasons power surge, and as such hes still getting used to celebrating the walk-off thing with the right amount of giddy enthusiasm and level-headed cool.
I didnt know what to do with myself when I was running around the bases, said Ellsbury, who was 0-for-4 at the plate in each of the last two games when he stepped up to hit in the bottom of the ninth and finished with the walk-off winner. I was excited. I had never experienced that in the big leagues and it was fun.
"I realized it was the ninth inning and I had been 0-for-4 both games. I'm just trying to get on base. The last two days have been pretty good."
Its been well-chronicled just how unique the sleek leadoff man is in Red Sox history, and thats bearing out with some of his accomplishments. Hes fourth in the league with 31 stolen bases, and his 18 home runs rank as the highest homer total for any player in Sox history with 30 or more stolen bases an impressive blend of power and athleticism that should give him a legit shot at becoming Bostons first 3030 player in club history.
The honors are just beginning for Ellsbury, who is quickly and quietly wrapping up Comeback Player of the Year for the American League while putting together a convincing resume for the MVP as well.