Will Middlebrooks’ Surprising Sacrifice Bunt a Testament to Red Sox’ Ability to Adapt, Focus on Task at Hand

Will Middlebrooks, David OrtizThe Red Sox aren’t above adapting on the fly.

Will Middlebrooks smacked a bases-clearing double in the ninth inning of Thursday’s game to lift the Red Sox to a 4-3 win over the Rays. He stepped up to the plate in the 10th inning of Friday’s game with a chance to play hero again, and he bunted.

Middlbrooks, who dug in with runners at first and second and no outs, dropped down a sacrifice bunt to move Pedro Ciriaco — who pinch ran for David Ortiz — to second base and Dustin Pedroia to third base. The bunt paved the way for Jonny Gomes’ game-winning sacrifice fly two batters later — after Stephen Drew was intentionally walked — and further verified that the Red Sox’ No. 1 priority is winning ballgames.

Never before had Middlebrooks been asked to drop down a sac bunt in a big league ballgame, but just as John Farrell said following the Red Sox’ first ninth-inning come-from-behind victory on Thursday, there’s a first for everything.

“What we’ve seen is he’s a very good athlete. He’s got good hand-eye coordination. Knowing that it wasn’t part of his game as an offensive player, still I thought the game situation called for it,” Farrell told reporters following Friday’s 3-2, extra-inning win. “He executed it perfectly. … Just gave him a heads up that it may be coming. In the 1-0 situation, knowing they’d have to throw him a strike, it was the pitch that he did a very good job with.”

Farrell’s decision to have Middlebrooks bunt was surprising. Middlebrooks came through in the clutch on Thursday, he has been making strides offensively of late, and Farrell has shown reluctance in the past to take the bat out of his hot hitters’ hands.

The Red Sox trailed 3-2 in Saturday’s game against the Blue Jays when Middlebrooks led off the ninth inning with a double. Instead of trying to bunt Middlebrooks over with Stephen Drew at the plate, thus putting the tying run 90 feet away with one out, Farrell opted to let Drew swing away. Drew ended up lining out, Daniel Nava flied out and Jacoby Ellsbury grounded out to end the game. Some second-guessing ensued, but Farrell was steadfast in his decision to let Drew take his cuts.

Friday’s decision came in a much different situation, of course, as the game was tied and the successful bunt moved two runners into scoring position with one out. But Farrell easily could have given in to the temptation to see what Middlebrooks could do for an encore, especially since a big inning wasn’t outside the realm of possibility after the first two hitters reached. Farrell didn’t give in, though, and the Red Sox have a win to show for it.

Farrell isn’t the only one who adapted. If Middlebrooks — who despite going 0-for-4 on Friday hit a deep fly ball to the warning track in the fourth inning — wanted to see if he could be the hero two nights in a row, who would blame him? Instead, the 24-year-old more than willingly accepted the situation.

“I came up and [third base coach Brian Butterfield] came up and talked to me,” Middlebrooks told reporters. “They had a pitching visit, I told him, ‘If you want to give it to me I can get it down.’ They didn’t give it to me first pitch, second pitch they gave it to me and I got a good pitch to do it on.”

A single, walk, bunt, intentional walk, sac fly sequence — or, in other words, station-to-station baseball at its finest — hardly contains the drama of a three-run double in a two-run ballgame. It can still yield the same winning result, though, and it’s obvious that’s all the Red Sox cared about.

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