The young stars: Sox may not be preparing for playoffs if not for their rookies
David Ortiz has far more hits than Dustin Pedroia, driven in more runs and has collected more home runs, but he still can share the feelings of the rookie second baseman.
“I was a rookie before, and now I’ve been around a long time,” said Ortiz.
“I know what it takes to get to this point, and the only way you can get to this point is to play. If you don’t play, you don’t get to this level.”
There’s little doubt the Red Sox are a team led by veterans. Ortiz has had another superb year, Mike Lowell is an MVP candidate and Josh Beckett could win the Cy Young award.
But there’s also little doubt the Sox would be preparing for the playoffs next week if they didn’t get key contributions from their rookies.
Pedroia is in the top 10 in batting and has played stellar defense at second base all year.
Jacoby Ellsbury, with just a month of big-league time, has displayed a potent bat and spectacular glove.
The two Japanese pitchers, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima, have been solid, if not sensational, all year.
“It says a lot about the organization, how they brought guys up and the kind of depth we have to bring guys up from Triple-A and have them contribute at the big league level,” said veteran relief pitcher Mike Timlin. “They’re not coming up here and filling a role; they’re coming up here and doing something. These guys have performed all year long.”
And they’ve been accepted as part of the team. Sure, there’s still some good-natured ribbing and the rookies know they have to earn their acceptance with their teammates.
Said Timlin, “We don’t want to make it too easy on them, but we don’t want to make it too hard.”
And there is the rookie ritual they had to go through. On their final road trip to Toronto, the rookies had to dress in, shall we say, embarrassing outfits for the border crossing into Canada.
But that comes with being a rookie. Next year, they’ll get to do it to others.
“I’ve always gotten along with guys very well,” said Ellsbury. “It wasn’t an issue of fitting in. Being a young player, you don’t want to distract any of the veterans out of their routine. You just want to be understanding of them.
“I have to give the veterans all the credit. They make our job a lot easier. We’ve been put in a situation to succeed and, without the guys around here, we (the rookies) wouldn’t have as much success as we’ve had.”
Matsuzaka was the most heralded rookie at the beginning of the season. A star in Japan, he’s brought his talent and professionalism to the Red Sox and has been solid in the starting rotation all year.
Okajima was less known but has been equally effective. For most of the season, he’s thrown scoreless eighth innings so Jonathan Papelbon could do his thing in the ninth.
Pedroia, after a slow April, entered the final two weeks of the season with the highest average among all major league rookies, and he’s a lock to break the mark for the highest average by a rookie second baseman. Jim Viox of the Pirates set that mark (.317) in 1913.
Ellsbury has been the latecomer of the group. He started the year in the minor leagues and was called up briefly at midseason. Sent back down, he was called up again in September and began with a 13-game hitting streak.
“It’s awesome,” Hinske said of the rookies. “It shows that a big-market team can have guys come in their first year and perform and help the team win. Pedroia and those Japanese pitchers have done great all year, and now Ellsbury shows up and he’s hitting every day. It’s very cool, definitely.”
The playoffs, however, could be a different animal. Experience counts for something, but you won’t find anyone on the team who thinks the rookies will let them down when the games become more important.
“We make them feel comfortable,” said Ortiz, “but at the same time, we make them feel confident. That’s the reason those kids are performing the way they’ve been. Every time you walk through that door, you put the confidence shoes on. You’re going to get it done.”
And they’ve been getting it done.”
“They got to the big leagues for a reason,” said Hinske. “They belong here and will stay here for a long time.”