BOSTON -- The Red Sox began the season with Jacoby Ellsbury batting leadoff and Cody Ross among those filling out the last half of the lineup, often even the last third. Because of the many changes on the roster, especially in recent days, they’ve become an unlikely but extremely productive tandem in the middle of the lineup.
The departure of Adrian Gonzalez and the continued absence of David Ortiz have left a gargantuan hole. Ellsbury has slid into the third spot and Ross has been the default cleanup man. Yet, the lineup hasn’t missed a beat. In fact, it has taken off.
In Monday’s 5-1 win over Kansas City, Ellsbury homered and had three hits and Ross drove in three runs. Their performances highlighted the club’s third straight victory, during which it has hit .353 and individual players have continued their late-season surges.
Ellsbury has a season-high seven-game hitting streak and is 11-for-24 (.458) with four extra-base hits and a pair of steals in his last five games. He homered to right field in the first inning Monday and doubled to left in the sixth, spraying shots like he does when he is locked in.
“I’m feeling good at the plate,” he said. “Throughout the course of a season you have good months, you have better months. I’ve only been back about a month, month and a half. It was just a matter of time.”
The speedster also pointed out that some of his outs have come on hard-hit balls lately. Such was the case for Ross, in a roundabout way, in what proved to be the decisive at-bat in Monday’s game.
After Royals starter Luke Hochevar made Ross look silly with a bevy of breaking balls in the first inning, Ross unloaded on one in the third, driving in two runs with a wall-ball single. He was out trying to advance to second, but the Sox had all the runs they would need.
Ross added another RBI on a base hit in the sixth. He is hitting .321 (18-for-56) with 13 RBIs in 15 games as the No. 4 hitter.
Just as Ellsbury’s play will give him momentum as he enters a contract year in 2013, Ross’ surge has increased talk of the organization bringing him back next season. General manager Ben Cherington indicated this past weekend that he would like to re-sign Ross, and manager Bobby Valentine had his opportunity to make a pitch Monday.
“He’s hitting fourth, rising to the occasion as he has all year. He’s been a really good player for us,” Valentine said. “I don’t know where we’d be this year without him. Probably be with the same void next year without him.”
Ross admitted he has thought about next season and his status with the team. He also hinted at how he's trying hard to make the most of this opportunity.
“I’d be lying if I said I don’t put any thought into it,” he said. “To be honest with you, I don’t put a whole lot of thought into it. Worry about going in day in and day out and doing my job. That way I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the year and say that I gave it my all. If I’m worried about other stuff that I can’t control then I wouldn’t be putting forth my best effort.”
Ross has played with six teams in nine years. He’s been traded twice, plucked off waivers and made one appearance as a free agent. That was this offseason, when he signed a one-year, $3 million deal with Boston. After he had signed, the talk instantly turned to how Fenway would be a perfect home for his pull-happy swing. It may just become a long-term home if his production continues.
“My swing has always been like this,” he said. “Finally got to play in a place that it actually works.”
In a strange, backwards way in this strange, backwards season, so too has Boston’s unlikely 3-4 pairing.