Jacoby Ellsbury has flipped the switch. Perhaps all it took was a little extra motivation.
Ellsbury, who was once on the verge of being dropped down in the lineup, turned in a record-setting performance in the Red Sox’ 9-2 win over the Phillies on Thursday. The Sox’ leadoff man now finds himself in the midst of a hot streak, and it couldn’t come at a better time for Boston.
Ellsbury reached base five times on Thursday via three singles and two walks. Ellsbury’s real damage came on the basepaths, though, as he set a new Red Sox single-game record with five stolen bases. The five thefts surpassed the four stolen bases he racked up on Aug. 9, 2010, and the four steals recorded by Jerry Remy on June 14, 1980.
Thursday’s effort shows just how dangerous Ellsbury can be at the top of the order when everything’s clicking. He’s a threat to steal every time he gets on base, which makes him an ideal leadoff hitter, but getting on base hasn’t always been easy this season. And that became an issue.
Ellsbury started the month with a skid that saw his average dip to .241 and his on-base percentage drop to .303 as the Red Sox kicked off a three-game series against the White Sox. Since then, Ellsbury has drastically improved at the plate, which, in turn, has created more opportunities for him to use his speed on the bases.
“It started to come together for him the last couple of games in Chicago,” manager John Farrell said after Thursday’s win. “He started to take some walks, some base hits the other way. I think the walkoff hit against Cleveland [on Sunday] really added something during that stretch you’re referring to. Tonight, single-handedly, he changed the game himself with not only getting on base, but with the five stolen bases. [He’s] a dynamic leadoff hitter.”
It’s interesting that Farrell referred to Ellsbury as a “dynamic leadoff hitter” while talking with reporters Thursday, simply because it came less than two weeks after the skipper wouldn’t rule out making a lineup change if Ellsbury didn’t improve offensively. Perhaps that little bit of doubt cast over Ellsbury before the Chicago series was exactly what the doctor ordered.
Ellsbury was dropped down in the order in 2009 when Terry Francona was in charge, and he eventually hit well enough to regain his leadoff role. Apparently, just the thought of moving down in the lineup was enough to light a fire under Ellsbury this time around. The 2011 MVP runner-up is now hitting .478 (11-for-23) with four doubles, four RBIs, four runs and eight steals over his last five games, and he heads into a difficult stretch for Boston with a full head of steam.
“I think once you get a little success, you get a little roll going, I think you have a tendency to relax at the plate. [It] probably allows him to see the ball a little bit more clear at the plate and he’s put some good swings on it,” Farrell said. “I know there was a lot of talk of getting him out on the leadoff spot, but we started to see some signs coming, I stayed with him and he’s doing what he’s very capable of.”
Even just looking at Thursday’s record-setting performance, it’s clear that Ellsbury is a man motivated by outside factors. He was drilled in the back with a pitch from Jeremy Horst right after Jonny Gomes’ pinch-hit home run in the sixth inning, and he responded by swiping both second and third base with Daniel Nava batting. Ellsbury didn’t end up scoring, but it was clear that he was running with a purpose.
The Red Sox now face a stretch that includes clashes with the Yankees, Rangers, Angels, Rays, Orioles, Tigers and Rockies. That means the Sox need to be on their A-game, which is something that becomes a whole lot easier from an offensive standpoint when Ellsbury’s switch is flipped in the right direction.