Ellsbury reminds Sox what they're missing

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
1:00
AM ET

BOSTON -- After all the pleasantries were out of the way, after he had delivered his obligatory -- and canned -- "it's great to be home" speech. After all the Boston writers had gone away satisfied that the prodigal son had not been beaten up too badly by the Fenway faithful in his return as a Yankee, it was time for a brief glimpse into the "real" Jacoby Ellsbury.

Told that he had stuck a knife deep into the heart of his old fan base, not only in the top of the first inning when he narrowly missed hitting a leadoff home run to the deepest part of the ballpark, but also in the bottom of the inning, when he robbed Grady Sizemore of at least a double with a sliding catch, the sober-faced Schoolboy Ellsbury -- the one who walks around the clubhouse in rectangular horn-rimmed glasses before the game -- was replaced for a moment by his alter-ego: Killer Jacoby.

"I made that same catch to end the game in New York. Grady hit that same ball," Ellsbury said, wearing a grin he could no longer hold back. "They’ve seen it for seven years. They know. They know. They still know."

It was tough to tell if "they" referred to the Boston Red Sox or their rabid fans. Perhaps it was safe to assume he was talking about both.

[+] EnlargeJacoby Ellsbury
David Butler II/USA TODAY SportsJacoby Ellsbury unleashed the beast against his former club at Fenway.
And from that moment it was clear: For all his studied blandness in group interview situations and his seemingly mortal fear of winding up on the back page of a New York City tabloid, there is something about the way he left Boston that still eats at Jacoby Ellsbury, as it should.

But it has to be eating more at Boston on Tuesday, after the display he gave in the New York Yankees' dominant 9-3 victory in the first of three games at Fenway. From Jon Lester's third pitch of the game -- a fastball that Ellsbury rocketed off the top of the wall nearly 420 feet from home plate, where some fan in the stands got his hands on it, reducing what might have been a inside-the-park home run to an almost equally disheartening leadoff triple -- it was as though he was telling a team, and an entire city, just look at what you let get away.

We all know the story by now. After helping the Red Sox to two world championships in his seven years, the club didn't even bother to make an offer when he hit free agency. In all likelihood, the Red Sox never would have matched the Yankees' seven-year, $153 million proposal. But damn it would have been nice of them to at least try.

Ellsbury has refused to address the issue since he signed with the Yankees. But you always suspected that, somewhere deep down, it stung.

Now, you know.

And if you're a Yankees fan, that has to come as welcome news. Because even if Ellsbury will never publicly own up to it, he sure looked like a guy playing with a chip on his shoulder, to borrow Dean Anna's phrase from Sunday, in his Fenway homecoming.



Ellsbury tripled and scored in the top of the first, robbed Sizemore in the bottom of the inning, hit the ball hard but into bad luck in the third -- his one hopper over second would have been a two-run single had practically anyone but Dustin Pedroia, who turned it into a double play, been playing second -- and delivered a two-run double into the gap in the fifth that ran Lester out of the game.

"I thought it was great," he said of the reception he got from the crowd, which booed him for about 12 seconds before his first at-bat. "I thought the fans were great. They’ve always treated me well here. They’ve always cheered for me."

They weren't cheering tonight. Although, fans being fans, there were the usual pleas for baseballs to be tossed into the stands. "At times, it felt like a home game," he said before acknowledging, in fact, it really didn't.

"When I was with the Red Sox, you always knew how [an opponent] was playing by the boos," he said. "The louder the boos, the better you were playing. I was expecting it, but I thought they were great as a whole. I thought they were tremendous even at the end of the game."

The Red Sox played a brief video tribute to Ellsbury between the first and second innings. It was a gesture he said was "classy of them." And honestly, the reception was nowhere near as hostile as the one that greeted Johnny Damon in his first appearance here in pinstripes, nor the one that always greeted Alex Rodriguez on every trip to Boston.

Still, you could sense there was a great sense of satisfaction for Ellsbury, who since taking the money -- a move any one of us, including each of the 37,041 in the stands, would have done -- has had to put up with allegations he was soft or brittle or lazy.

Ellsbury certainly didn't look like any of those things Tuesday, nor has he in his first 20 games as a Yankee. He is batting .342, with a .395 on-base percentage, six doubles, two triples and eight stolen bases in 10 attempts.

In short, he looks like the kind of guy you would love to have on your team.

And the kind, if you're a Red Sox fan, you absolutely hate to see in a Yankees uniform.

"They know," Ellsbury said with no small degree of pride. "They still know."

And now they must be wondering how the Red Sox ever let him get away.
Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Masahiro Tanaka
WINS ERA SO IP
12 2.51 135 129
OTHER LEADERS
BAJ. Ellsbury .293
HRM. Teixeira 17
RBIM. Teixeira 48
RB. Gardner 59
OPSJ. Ellsbury .778
ERAM. Tanaka 2.51
SOM. Tanaka 135