Commentary

Ellsbury gives Red Sox spark at top of order

Originally Published: October 27, 2007
By Amy K. Nelson | ESPN.com

DENVER -- He was back in his familiar place, batting leadoff much the way he did all throughout college and in the minor leagues. But what came next was unexpected by the masses, perhaps, but not by those who play with him and those who know him.

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The debut of Jacoby Ellsbury at the top of the Red Sox's batting order in Game 3 of the World Series was a move that went largely unheralded but one that certainly seemed to spark Boston and one with which he created his own coming-out party. The rookie center fielder had four hits, two RBIs and two runs scored to help the Red Sox beat the Rockies 10-5, helping put his team one win from its second title in four years.

In April, Ellsbury was playing in Portland, Maine, for Boston's Double-A team. By October, the 24-year-old became the third rookie in the history of the game to have four hits in a World Series game, joining Fred Lindstrom (1924) and Joe Garagiola (1946).

Soft-spoken Ellsbury already has had a fairy-tale season, but being placed in center field (replacing an offensively inefficient Coco Crisp) and at the top of the order came full circle for him. After all, it was at Oregon State that he drew national attention as a leadoff hitter, and from there that he was drafted by Boston in 2005 as the 23rd overall pick.

It was a simple change in the top of manager Terry Francona's lineup, moving a rookie from the No. 9 spot to the top, that arrived without much fanfare but made perhaps the biggest difference. Francona's most-discussed decision was whom he would bench with the loss of the designated hitter (it was Kevin Youkilis, in favor of David Ortiz playing first base on a gimpy knee). The insertion of Ellsbury into the leadoff spot was significant yet slightly under the radar (as possible as such a thing is in the World Series).

"I've been the leadoff hitter pretty much my whole life," Ellsbury said. "Tonight, I was a little bit more relaxed and just was more aggressive. If [Francona] would have batted me anywhere in the lineup, I would have just been happy to have been out there."

Francona already had bucked the system when he started Ellsbury over Crisp in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. The decision seemed justified at the time; Crisp was hitting .156 with a .182 on-base percentage in eight games in the playoffs. Even down in the bottom of the order, Crisp's offensive ineptitude could not be hidden.

[+] EnlargeJacoby Ellsbury
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesJacoby Ellsbury doubled and came around to score Boston's first run of the game in the third inning.
So Francona went with the rookie, who hadn't been much better, batting .188 with two RBIs in nine games, to bat leadoff in Game 3. But all that was erased when Ellsbury led off the game with an infield single, then opened a six-run third inning with a double. He came around to score in the third on a double by Ortiz, then added an RBI double later in that inning and another one in the eighth, that time giving his team an insurance run and a 7-5 lead.

Ellsbury's night made fellow rookie Dustin Pedroia, the normal leadoff hitter, look pedestrian; Pedroia went 3-for-5 with two RBIs and a run scored. Visions of the next 10 years might have floated through Boston fans' heads while watching the rookie tandem set the tone.

"Ever since he got called up," Pedroia said, "he's impressed everyone. And we're so proud of him."

Backup infielder Alex Cora can appreciate the speed, arm, bat and makeup Ellsbury brings. Ellsbury might not be boastful and bold like Pedroia, but he has a presence about him.

"I don't want to say it comes easy for him," Cora said. "His tools? If you're a scout -- I don't know how he got drafted so late, to tell you the truth. His tools are off the chart. His character, the way he walks around, is off the charts.

"Those guys, they come once in a while. It's a pleasure to see him play."

Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com.