BOSTON -- It was the type of clutch situation that hitters dream about.
Eighth inning, bases loaded, the go-ahead run at third base and facing a pitcher, Cincinnati Reds reliever J.J. Hoover, who had already walked two and given up a hit without recording an out. This was the situation Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks found himself in on Wednesday night and he knew exactly how to approach the at-bat.
"He'd been throwing some balls, obviously," Middlebrooks said. "Figured he'd come right after me. He threw me some off-speed early for balls off the plate. Once it was full count, I knew he was going to come right at me with the heater. He didn't want to walk me in that situation."
Middlebrooks figured right as he lined a 93 mph fastball -- right down the middle of the plate from Hoover -- back into center field to drive in the winning run to help the Red Sox finish a two-game sweep of the Reds. The go-ahead hit was Middlebrooks's second of his career in the eighth inning or later (also May 16, 2013, against the Tampa Bay Rays).
"Settled in, got a pitch in the middle of the plate for the base hit up the middle," manager John Farrell said. "For his own confidence in that key spot, good to see him come through."
Prior to the at-bat, Middlebrooks had been mired in a month of May slump that had him hitting .130 (3-for-23) with only one RBI and eight strikeouts. Despite his recent struggles, Middlebrooks was happy with the approach he was taking at the plate, one that resulted in his second-highest total for walks in an entire month (five; career-high is 10 in August 2013) only seven games into the month.
"My approach is right where I want it to be, I'm swinging at what I want to swing at and taking what I want to take," he said. "There was a little hitch right there but that was just timing."
After catcher A.J. Pierzynski hit a ground-rule double that drove in Mike Napoli to tie the game at 3-3, Hoover, a right-handed reliever, opted to intentionally walk Jackie Bradley Jr. in order to face the right-handed Middlebrooks. In the at-bat, Middlebrooks laid off a tough 2-2 slider to draw the count full and get the chance two pitches later to drive in the winning run.
"I've been frustrated but regardless if you're 10-for-10 or 0-for-10, whatever, you're happy to contribute to a win any way possible," Middlebrooks said. "Just glad to get that run in."
Farrell was also glad to see his young third baseman come up with the big hit and get his team back to .500.
"Will's base hit, obviously the difference in this one," Farrell said. "It's good to see him come in at an opportune time."