THE IMPROBABLE RISE OF NICK GREEN is the news of the day. Spring training began with franchise future Jed Lowrie and big contract veteran Julio Lugo battling it out for the starting shortstop position — both eventually ending up on the disabled list. So, in movie plot fashion*, the unknown utility man steps out of the shadows and onto center stage . . . and things go just okay:
“I can’t tell you that on the first day of spring training I envisioned him playing shortstop for us,” said Terry Francona. “That’s not the case.”
Nor would it be the case early in the season, when Green was leading the majors in shortstop errors, including one throw in Seattle that the skipper recalled “went halfway up the bleachers.”
All season long, fans have been lamenting the black hole in the 6 position. (Actually, it’s been like that ever since the team let Orlando Cabrera go after the 2004 championship season.) But Greenie keeps plugging away, and then, in an instant, something crazy happens – a walk-off home run in the most unlikely circumstances – and an underrated player’s value to the team takes sudden, perfect form:
As Nick Green pulled around second base, the baseball having tucked itself into the right-field corner behind the Pesky Pole, he noticed a commotion at the plate. Amid the mist and fog and wind that turned a Sunday in June into a day ripped from March, the player doing his best to excise the interim tag from his position had lofted the first pitch he saw from Jeff Bennett into the elements.
He didn’t know that it had the means to get out, at least not off the bat. But the wind was drawing it deeper, the fly ball yielding to Fenway Park’s quirky dimensions and lifting the crowd of 37,243 in celebration.
The home run catches everyone by surprise, including Green:
“To be honest with you, I didn’t realize what was going on,” Green said. “I didn’t even comprehend the fact that I had swung at the first pitch and it was a walkoff. I just knew that we still had to hit. When I hit second base, everybody’s standing at home plate, then I realized what was going on . . . .”
The stat-minded fellas at YFSF.org point out that Green didn’t even play in the majors last season — he was languishing in the Yankees’ AAA affiliate in Scranton all last year. Then they look at his numbers as a member of this year’s Red Sox starting nine, and uncover his remarkable contribution:
More than just the surprising turnaround is the timing of his hits.
Entering today’s game, Green was hitting .409/.500/.545 with runners in scoring position, .364/.434/.530 with men on, .373/.418/.549 with two outs, .500/.560/.636 with runners in scoring position and two outs, .308/.379/.500 with the game tied and .330/.390/.479 when the game is within two runs.
Following a player’s ups and downs over the course of a season is part of what makes watching a baseball team rewarding and fun. On the night of Fenway Park’s 500th consecutive sellout, Brad Penny’s 100th career win, and the anniversary of Ted Williams’ 500th home run, John Henry offered his own appreciation of what makes baseball a uniquely quotidian pursuit:
“It’s remarkable,” owner John Henry wrote in an e-mail. “There is a love associated with this franchise that transcends sports. The great thing about following a baseball team very closely is that it’s an everyday pursuit. We follow all of our own personal stories day to day – our kids, our spouses, this baseball team – there is a continuity of hopes, surprises, joy – all the daily ups and downs of the Red Sox provide a backdrop that is often a respite or enhancement for everything in the foreground . . . .”
So Green’s dinger isn’t just a turning point in an isolated game, it’s another twist and turn in a longer story that started in Spring and will hopefully continue into the Fall. But right now, it’s just nice to know RemDawg approves.
*For fun, first read Bob Ryan’s take on the Nick Green story, and see how many “Blockbuster, I’m tellin’ ya’s” you can get through without imagining an old-timey huckster chomping on a cigar and twitching his big bushy eyebrows. Then erase that from your mind and go read Amalie Benjamin’s game wrap for real baseball poetry.
UPDATE 08/27/09: Nick Green’s pitching line: no hits, no runs, three walks, 35 pitches, 13 strikes, one slider, 0.00 ERA.