Defense lifts shortstops Drew and Kozma

BOSTON -- David Ortiz’s grand slam in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series may have produced the largest roar during this postseason run for the Boston Red Sox. Or perhaps it was Shane Victorino’s in Game 6.

Not far down the list was the one that arose from the fans at Fenway when shortstop Stephen Drew made a remarkable over-the-shoulder grab to rob Prince Fielder of a hit and end the top of the ninth inning of Game 1 of the series, keeping the Sox within a run. And perhaps right above that one was the reaction when Drew made a great diving stop of Miguel Cabrera’s bouncer up the middle in Game 6, which ended a Tigers threat moments before Victorino’s blast all but ended the series.

Boston manager John Farrell has insisted that Drew’s ability to make those plays helps the team so much more than the shortstop’s dismal performance at the plate (3-for-35 with 12 strikeouts in the postseason) hurts it. Even if the slump continues, Boston has done just fine with that game-changing element on the field.

“For me, being in the infield and knowing my job and understanding the game, at the end of the day, yeah it’s huge, because at the end of the day you never know, you can’t say what’s going to happen,” Drew said Tuesday at Fenway Park as his team prepared for Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday. “They could have a big inning right after that. It’s always going to be a bonus if you play really good defense to help your pitching out.”

Farrell has shown a willingness to go to Xander Bogaerts in a pinch-hitting role for Drew, and fans seemed to push for a downright shift at shortstop between the youngster and the veteran as Drew struggled at the plate in the American League playoffs. The fact that Bogaerts was able to spell Will Middlebrooks at third base made it a moot point, but it’s likely Farrell wouldn’t have gone with the bold move anyway. There is just too much value in a glove that can make those game-changing plays.

As third base coach Brian Butterfield told Drew, “if we didn't have him during this series I’d be home in my recliner in Maine right now. He’s made some plays, starting double plays, that a lot of guys can’t do because he attacks the ball. He’s taken care of the rock.”

Drew’s counterpart in the World Series is St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma, who ranked in both traditional and sabermetric circles as one of the premier defensive players at his position this year.

Kozma, too, has seen the value in a fist-pumping race into the dugout after a big out, especially in October. He made a sparkling play to begin a big inning-ending double play in the sixth inning of Game 4 of the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, helping to preserve a 3-2 advantage. One inning later, he snuck in behind a runner at second base for a pivotal pick-off.

A .217 hitter during the regular season who is 5-for-25 in the playoffs, Kozma recognizes the merit of his glove-work.

“It seems like there’s always that one play, seems to be a little momentum change or something like that,” Kozma said Tuesday. “Seems like there’s always one defensive play that seems to be the deciding factor in each game.”

While the Bogaerts over Drew discussion may have had some merit, Drew himself emphasized another reason why making such a shift at this time of the season is a bit too bold. Simply put, he is prepared.

“It also helps when you’ve got knowledge of hitters and you’ve been around the league and getting to play behind your pitchers your whole year and getting to know their tendencies,” he said. “To be able to get to that ball [off the bat of Cabrera], it is a big shift. The other side is, oh there’s a hit and we’re getting another run, and then you get the out. They kind of get deflated a little bit and your team picks it up. So it definitely plays a huge part.”

And it will continue to do so, even if the strikeouts and outs pile up for Drew and Kozma.