Praise for Jacoby Ellsbury Reaches New Heights After Second Straight Game-Winning Hit

Praise for Jacoby Ellsbury Reaches New Heights After Second Straight Game-Winning Hit BOSTON — Perhaps he wasn't satisfied with a little old game-winning single.

No, Jacoby Ellsbury needed more than that to go along with what has become a sensational season in every regard. So, given a chance to win a game for the second straight night, Ellsbury made it extra special.

The star center fielder hammered an 0-1 fastball from Cleveland Indians reliever Joe Smith into the center-field bleachers with two outs in the bottom of the ninth Wednesday, capping a 4-3 victory at Fenway Park, which has seen Ellsbury get pummeled by his jubilant teammates on consecutive nights.

While the game-winning single 24 hours earlier — which gave the Red Sox a 3-2 triumph — was dramatic enough, this one brought the praise for Ellsbury to new heights.

"He plays the game like a superstar," said David Ortiz, someone quite familiar with walk-off hits, owning 18 of them in his Red Sox career.

With every passing day, Ellsbury is reaching that status. Where he was once "good" and "talented," he is now being called "great" and "one of the best" in the game. At least he was Wednesday night.

"I think he's been one of the better players in the league," manager Terry Francona said. "Men on base, men not on base, plays defense, steals bases, hits home runs. He's turned into one of the best players in the league.

"It's been a lot of fun. We talked all spring about, well, OK, he's healthy, and he certainly has that feel like he has something to prove, but he didn't have a lot of at-bats last year. Not only has he not skipped a beat, but he's taken it and just grown, and you can just see the confidence. It's fun to watch. Again, you just don't know how good a guy's going to get.”

We began to see how good Ellsbury could get in July, when a hot streak that just kept going elicited the first few whispers of Ellsbury among MVP candidates.

When you add back-to-back walk-off hits to that growing resume, it only reinforces that upper echelon status. Statistics are all well and good, and Ellsbury's are fantastic, but moments like the ones he has provided the last two nights often stand out when voters have to scribble in a name.

Ellsbury is taking the drama in stride, but knows it will have a more lasting effect than mere numbers.

"[Tuesday], I just kind of waited for my teammates at first," he said when asked about being mobbed by his mates on consecutive nights. "After you hit [the home run] you just run around the bases, the game's over. It was fun, something I'll always remember, definitely."

When the ball disappeared into the front row of the bleachers, Ellsbury became the first Red Sox player since Butch Hobson in 1978 to have game-winning RBIs on consecutive days. Ortiz sandwiched walk-off hits around a day off in June 2006, and of course matched Ellsbury's feat in the 2004 American League Championship Series.

However, those guys never approached 30/30 status, which Ellsbury could get to before it's all said and done with another power surge (the homer was his 18th, he already has 31 steals). They didn't play star-caliber defense in center field. Ortiz may be remembered as one of the finest clutch hitters the franchise has ever seen. Ellsbury is cementing himself as one of its best all-around players.

"Jacoby’s great," said Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who scored the game-winner Tuesday on Ellsbury's single. "He's been great for us all year long."

That he has, and after 455 major league games without truly experiencing walk-off glory, Ellsbury's done it twice in less than 24 hours. What was once good has become great.

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