If Will Middlebrooks’ situation is any indication, more players should start injuring their ribs.
Middlebrooks delivered a base-clearing double with two outs in the ninth inning on Thursday to lift the Red Sox to an improbable 4-3 victory over the Rays. The third baseman is now hitting .296 (8-for-27) over his last seven games, which coincidentally coincides with a rib injury he suffered during a collision in foul territory with teammate David Ross on May 7.
Middlebrooks left that game against the Twins and missed the following contest, but he’s looked much more comfortable at the plate since returning on May 9. Middlebrooks snapped a 15-game homerless stretch on Wednesday, and each of his last eight hits has gone for extra bases.
Middlebrooks will likely be the first one to tell you he’s not completely where he wants to be, but considering the struggles he’s endured this season, the recent stretch is very encouraging. Middlebrooks’ bread and butter is obviously his power, and he’s exhibiting it to all fields while having a much better plate presence of late.
“It’s just reps and I couldn’t ask for better teammates,” Middlebrooks said following Thursday’s dramatic win. “They’ve hung with me. They’ve had my back. When I’ve been failing, they’ve been picking me up and we’ve been winning ballgames. I couldn’t ask for better teammates.”
On Wednesday, Middlebrooks jumped all over a slider from Rays reliever Kyle Farnsworth and sent it sailing over the fence in right-center field. But even before that eighth-inning big fly, which extended Boston’s already commanding lead, Middlebrooks showed an ability to go the other way with pop by driving a David Price offering into right field for a double in the second inning.
Thursday’s heroics were something special, though. Not only did Middlebrooks come through in the clutch, but he showed a lot of poise during an interesting pitch sequence from Rays closer Fernando Rodney.
Rodney started off Middlebrooks with back-to-back fastballs. The first one, which registered at 97 mph, was good for a called strike. The second one, which clocked in at 98 mph, was fouled off. Rodney — who walked Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Daniel Nava to load the bases before facing Middlebrooks with two outs — then reared back and dialed his third pitch up to triple digits, firing a 100 mph fastball that just missed the outside corner. It was a little too close to take with two strikes, but Middlebrooks laid off and eventually did his damage on the next pitch.
Rodney tried to follow up his 100 mph heater with an 85 mph changeup, but Middlebrooks wasn’t fooled. The slugger stayed back and drove the pitch into the alley in left-center, scoring Pedroia, Pedro Ciriaco — who pinch ran for Ortiz — and Nava to catapult the Red Sox from two runs down to one run ahead.
“[Rodney’s 1-2 pitch] stays up a little bit and [Middlebrooks] didn’t try to overswing,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “The bat stayed in the zone with a good path. Fortunately, it got by the left fielder and we score three [runs] and that’s the difference in tonight’s game.”
The big thing now is for Middlebrooks to stay locked in. He looks as comfortable now as he has all season, which makes you wonder if Ross actually knocked something straight when the two collided back on May 7.