The first two weeks of the Major League Baseball season are always the most fun for stat heads. Over the course of just a few games, a perusal of their favorite teams’ box scores can show players hitting .500, .625 or even .800. Every hit can send the batting average up a dozen or so points, while a slump can put a usually dangerous slugger well below the Mendoza line.
For Stephen Drew, who incurred a concussion in spring training and wasn’t ready on Opening Day, all the quirks of the first part of the season have been happening on two-week delay. Drew’s first game with the Red Sox was April 10, nine days after everyone else started, but in most ways, he was even farther behind. While most of his teammates entered the regular season ready to play and shook off the rust quickly, Drew was relegated to no baseball activity for part of spring training and some of the days leading up to him joining the roster. He has been forced to work out his Fort Myers-level tune-up schedule at the big league level.
That all changed Monday night. Drew, batting out of the No. 9 hole, showed that he’s ready to be an offensive force for the Red Sox, and he did it on a night the team especially needed him.
Each of Drew’s five at-bats Monday night were solid, with three of his four hits driving in a run. His final hit — a well-struck double with two out and two men on base — emptied the dugout as the Red Sox won in the bottom of the 11th.
Drew entered the game hitting just .182, but by the time he had recorded two singles, a double and a home run to close Monday’s box score, his average was up to .225. His rise matches the usual trajectory of any baseball player — minus the 2013 version of David Ortiz, perhaps — who is getting his timing together coming out of spring training.
“I’ve been working on some things, and tonight was just a good night for me,” Drew said.
The shortstop, who has been fine defensively, started the year 2-for-23 but has batted .292 with a .364 on-base percentage in the last 14 games.
Drew wasn’t the only member of the Red Sox struggling coming into the game. Third baseman Will Middlebrooks is batting just .195 and hadn’t recorded a hit Monday evening until he finally connected on a single in the bottom of the 11th. Middlebrooks’ hit, which made him the final Red Sox starter to get on the board in the Red Sox’ 17-hit evening, was what opened the door for Drew to have a chance to provide the game-winner.
“I knew I hit it good,” Drew said of his double. “You never know here sometimes. It was a good night. Everybody battles. Salty beats it out, and Middlebrooks gets a hit. We’re just trying to have fun.”
That word — “fun” — is a strange one to use on a night that looked anything but for starter Clay Buchholz and his Red Sox teammates. Boston’s bats struggled through the opening innings as Buchholz gave up four runs, and the team was dealt another setback in the ninth when Joel Hanrahan gave up a tying home run.
But the Red Sox chipped away all night, adding runs inning after inning and continuing to press on offense even if they didn’t look impressive doing so. In that way, they were much like Drew, who has kept his head down for the last month even when the results were slow to come, and when his spring training held court on major league grass.
“He’s been swinging the bat much better of late,” manager John Farrell told reporters. “A big night for him, a key hit, obviously to walk it off. The home run gets us another run closer earlier in the ballgame. The one thing we’ve talked to Stephen about is that over this past 10 days or so, it’s almost like the end of spring training for him with the number of at-bats he’s starting to compile, and you see his timing getting better and better. A solid night at the plate for him.”
It’s a night Drew will have an opportunity to build on as the Red Sox search for more help at the plate. Drew is ready to hit his way up the order, and into the stat heads’ hearts.