Xander Bogaerts Quickly Becoming Boston Red Sox’s Biggest Game-Changer

BOSTON — Xander Bogaerts almost faced quite the dilemma Friday night after delivering a walk-off single in the 11th inning of the Red Sox’s 2-1 win over the Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park.

Bogaerts’ teammates shredded his jersey during an on-field celebration, only to learn moments later that the final play was under review to determine whether Mookie Betts indeed was safe at home plate.

“I want to know what was going to happen if he was out,” joked Bogaerts, who knocked in Betts with a base hit into center field. “I’ve got to get another jersey? I don’t know what was going to happen.”

The initial call was upheld. Disaster was averted. And most importantly, Bogaerts offered more evidence he’s currently the Red Sox’s biggest game-changer in an otherwise disappointing season for the club.

“He’s really come into his own,” said Red Sox starter Rick Porcello, who tossed seven innings of one-run ball. “I watch him every night and I think about what I’d do to get him out, and it’s really he covers both sides of the plate, he hits a breaking ball well, he’s really been playing great. It’s a lot of fun to watch.”

Bogaerts’ maturation has been in the works for a while. He raised his average to a team-best .310 with a three-hit performance Friday. And his defense has been night and day compared to last season, when his confidence wavered amid a switch to third base and an eventual shift back to his natural position.

There are certain moments that underscore just how sizable a jump Bogaerts has made in his sophomore season, though. Friday’s performance, capped by his 11th-inning game-winner, represented one of those moments, as he again seemed to embrace a pressure-packed situation.

“On the mental side, he’s extremely confident. He’s relaxed, he’s poised in those moments,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “He lets the ball travel so deep (in the strike zone), he keeps the bat in the strike zone, so he’s been able to handle a lot of offspeed pitches in those RBI situations or fight some fastballs off the other way.

“And to his credit, it’s a lot about his approach that he doesn’t give up one side of the plate with trying to pull or trying to do too much with a pitch given.”

Bogaerts is hitting .410 (32-for-78) with runners in scoring position this season. That includes a .513 mark (20-for-39) in such situations since June 7. By contrast, he hit .153 (19-for-124) with runners in scoring position last season and looked overmatched at times. What a difference a year makes.

“He’s grown up a lot,” Farrell said. “He’s learned from his challenges of a year ago, he’s learned about himself and the confidence has certainly come back to allow him to be the player that maybe some lofty expectations going into last year held over his head. But he’s playing a very good game right now.”

Bogaerts obviously is a huge piece of the Red Sox’s future, but his strides this season suggest he’s already on the cusp of evolving into an elite performer. Both Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, who have long been Boston’s biggest game-changers, were out of the lineup Friday. And yet the Red Sox managed to snap an eight-game losing streak on the back of their 22-year-old star shortstop.

“We put together a very good game from the mound,” Farrell said. “But the fact of coming off a road trip where it was a bad road trip, to come back home here, to walk off a win. (Bogaerts) was again the right man in the right spot. A big relief for guys that continue to grind away.”

There could be a few more shredded jerseys in Bogaerts’ not-so-distant future.

Thumbnail photo via Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports Images

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