BOSTON — What was Seattle thinking?
The Mariners decided back in February that Mike Carp didn’t have a place on their team. They designated him for assignment and later shipped him to the Red Sox for a player to be named later or cash considerations. Ever since, it’s been a classic case of one team’s trash is another team’s treasure.
Carp has been a valuable contributor for the Red Sox all season despite sporadic playing time. Whether it’s starting in place of Mike Napoli at first base, plugging one of Boston’s outfield spots or coming off the bench in a key situation, Carp has accepted each and every challenge. Rather than plead his case for more opportunities — which would be totally understandable given Carp’s production — the 27-year-old is simply enjoying the ride.
“Just getting the opportunity here to play in front of this great city on a great team — it’s been a lot of fun,” Carp said after the Red Sox’ 4-3 win Wednesday. “It’s been a fun ride the whole year. We are playing hard down the stretch, and hopefully we’ll come away with a World Series championship. That’s the goal.”
Carp’s latest heroics came in the eighth inning of Wednesday’s game against the Orioles with the score tied 3-3. Jarrod Saltalamacchia extended the inning with a two-out, wall-ball double off reliever Tommy Hunter, and the O’s opted to intentionally walk Stephen Drew to get to rookie Xander Bogaerts. Red Sox manager John Farrell then turned to Carp — as he’s done plenty of times before — and the result was a familiar one.
Carp hit a soft line drive that just got up over the head of third baseman Manny Machado. Machado stretched out for it, but the ball landed in shallow left field, allowing Saltalamacchia to race all the way around from second base with the go-ahead and eventual winning run. In many ways, it was just another day at the office for the Red Sox, who now have an AL-best four go-ahead RBIs by a pinch hitter this season.
“Both [Carp] and Jonny [Gomes] in that role, one, they stay prepared, and two, they have compact swings,” Farrell said. “There’s not much maintenance to them. They’re able to repeat it. [To] come up and hit 97-98 mph fastballs is not an easy thing to do, and he got enough wood on it in this case.”
Gomes’ pinch-hit heroics have been well-documented, but Carp has been every bit as important. Carp is now hitting .307 (54-for-176) with 31 RBIs this season, and it’s hard to imagine that it was once a legitimate question whether the Red Sox would keep him or Lyle Overbay out of spring training.
“In spring training, [Carp] was just getting familiar with us. New surroundings,” Farrell said. “We tried to get him as many at-bats as possible. He was designated and kind of out of action for eight to 10 days. But we’ve always liked the player [and] liked the swing, and the versatility defensively was the decision at the time over Overbay when it came right down to it. Lyle in his own right has gone on to perform well [with the Yankees], but Mike Carp in the role that he’s been in has thrived.”
Carp said after Wednesday’s win that he tries to anticipate matchups that will occur later in games. That way he’s ready to roll if Farrell calls his number. So far, it’s been a successful approach and one that Carp doesn’t plan on altering any time soon.
“I couldn’t be happier about the situation I’m in now,” Carp said. “It’s tough sometimes not getting the at-bats that you want, but to be part of this team and this clubhouse — the way we go about our business every day — it’s a dream team, a lot of fun. It’s just a dream season altogether.”
Red Sox fans have seen in the past that dream seasons can turn into nightmares very quickly. The current squad seems to have a knack for coming through in the clutch, though, and that should bode well for Boston down the stretch.
“We don’t quit until the 27th out is made,” Farrell said Wednesday. “I know that’s a very bland statement, but this is a group that knows how to play to the game situation that’s in front of them. They love to compete. They love to work and prepare for a given day. We’ve seen it time and time again. I think this is the 30th time we’ve come from behind to win, and it kind of shows the grit and character of this team that’s been present all year.”
Carp isn’t going to win any awards, and he’s hardly the face of the Red Sox’ 2013 turnaround. But his contributions highlight just how special the formula is in Boston right now.