The Red Sox’ starting rotation enjoyed a very impressive stretch around the middle of August. It’s no coincidence that David Ross rejoined the club shortly before that run.
Ross, who spent time on the 60-day disabled list during the regular season with a concussion, has been more than just a backup catcher for the Red Sox. He has been the model of veteran leadership, and his impact continues to be felt as the Red Sox sit one win shy of a World Series berth.
“This series is not over,” Ross said shortly after the Red Sox defeated the Tigers 4-3 on Thursday to take a 3-2 series lead in the ALCS. “They’re really good. They’ve got two really good pitchers [Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander] still in their back pocket, so we need to come out, set the tone early [in Game 6]. We’re just happy to be going home up one [game].”
The Red Sox have a damn good starting catcher in Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Ross complements him perfectly. Even when Ross isn’t behind the dish, he’s helping to impact the game — whether it’s through his handling of the pitching staff, his work with the coaching staff or his calming presence.
Ross made his second start of the postseason in Game 5 of the ALCS on Thursday. He went 2-for-3 with an RBI double and helped guide Jon Lester through 5 1/3 innings despite the left-hander not having his best stuff. He also stood his ground on a collision with Miguel Cabrera in the first inning and went all-out to try to jar the ball loose from Tigers catcher Alex Avila while running the bases in the second inning.
“Once I step onto that field, I’m not worried about getting injured,” Ross said. “If you play scared — or not to get hurt — you’re probably going to get hurt.”
Manager John Farrell has said multiple times throughout the year that having Ross around is like having an additional coach. The 36-year-old backstop’s preparation is second to none, and it tends to have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the Red Sox’ well-prepared clubhouse. For a team that preaches accountability, Ross has been more than willing to stand up and answer questions after each game, win or lose.
It’s difficult to quantify Ross’ exact impact on the Red Sox because so much of what he brings to the table is intangible. He’s totally capable of making an offensive impact like he did Thursday, though, and that makes it even easier for Farrell to insert the veteran into the starting lineup in these all-important October contests.
“It’s something I always have to work on. I’m not a great hitter. I feel like my bread and butter is catching and throwing, calling a game and handling a staff,” Ross said. “But I try really hard at hitting, and I pride myself on not giving away at-bats. It was nice to get some hits tonight.”
There aren’t a lot of teams that can comfortably turn to their backup catcher in the playoffs and expect to not skip a beat, but the Red Sox are able to do that. It speaks to both their overall depth and the trust that Ross has garnered since Day 1 of spring training.
Saltalalamacchia will continue to carry the load for Boston behind the plate. But Ross’ intelligence, poise and game-management ability — as well as some occasional offensive flair — remain an underrated aspect of the Red Sox’ winning formula.