BOSTON -- When Jarrod Saltalamacchia hammered a fastball into the right-field bleachers for a decisive grand slam Friday night against the New York Yankees, it represented more than just a big man hitting a small ball a long way.
Not only was it another sign of Saltalamacchia’s ascension into a more complete offensive player, but it gave support to the notion that you are only as strong as the last man on your bench. In the case of the Red Sox, that bench, and all the support it has offered for regulars like Saltalamacchia, has proven incredibly valuable.
Saltalamacchia needed several days off earlier in the month to rest a sore back. He was hitless in six at-bats in his first two games back but has homered in consecutive games, looking very much like the guy who hit at a fairly consistent clip from May through August before a swoon as the calendar turned to September.
"I felt that I wasn't helping the team," he said of his decision, with the training staff, to take some time off. "I didn't want to hurt the team. We had worked too hard and done too much so it felt like it was the right thing. Get it looked at, take some time, take a couple of days off, get back to where I was to help the team."
The decision has proven to be a wise one.
"It's showing in his game," manager John Farrell said. "Whether it's the transfer on his throws, which have been strong. The freedom in the lower back has allowed that swing to play as we've seen before. He's doing a hell of a job with a little extra rest right now.”
With expanded rosters and the ability to carry three catchers, it was easy to give Saltalamacchia a breather without necessitating a massive roster shuffle. However, several guys (Dustin Pedroia excluded) have taken similar respites throughout the season. Most have returned from their layoffs with obvious indicators that rest was all they needed to get back to where they needed to be.
"It's huge," Saltalamacchia said of the team's depth. "Victorino's had to take time off. Stephen [Drew], [Jacoby Ellsbury]. When you have those core guys that have to take a few days, it's better to take a few than be out for the season. So to have guys like [Mike] Carp and [Daniel] Nava step up and just do an unbelievable job really just says a lot about this team and where we're at."
In this game rife with numbers, ratios and percentages, it is not always easy to quantify the precise impact a few days of rest can have on a catcher down the stretch. With this edition of the Red Sox, however, the ability to manage those little storms has been a constant theme and has to be a major factor in the team's impressive win-loss record.
Credit goes to the top.
"That's been the key to this season," Farrell said. "Not to take anything away from the individual performances, but the depth has allowed us to go to a guy when someone else needs a day or three. [General manager Ben Cherington] has put together a very good roster."
On Saturday, there is a day game after a night game and, perhaps, a good chance to get Saltalamacchia off his feet again. The same may occur for others who pounded their way through the club's 17th game in 18 days. If recent history is a guide, the fill-ins will do just fine and the regulars will return ready to contribute.