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Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Clutch Victorino keys Sox's 2-0 start

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

NEW YORK -- On the eve of the 2013 season, seven writers for a national magazine offered their nominations for this season's biggest free-agent flop. Only one player received more than one vote. That was Boston Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino, with four. Three years and $39 million for a guy coming off career lows in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage? And 32 years old to boot?

Good luck with that one. That was the consensus message to Ben Cherington and the Red Sox.

But run that one past Victorino, as someone did Wednesday night, and rather than flaring up in indignation (a perfectly reasonable response), Victorino shrugged and said that he'd worn himself out worrying last year, and wasn't about to go that route again.

"It's not going to do you any good to sit there and worry about what people say about you," the right fielder said after the Sox made it two straight over the Yankees, winning 7-4.

Shane Victorino
Shane Victorino's timely hitting and aggressive baserunning have set the tone against New York.

"A perfect example is last year. I worried about free agency. I worried about not getting off [to a good start], I worried about not getting a contract done early in the season. You let all those things accumulate, the next thing you know I'm hitting .255 at the end of the year.

"That's the kind of stuff you have to handle. I can't control what happens off the field and let that get to me. And they won't come face-to-face with me and tell me that, either."

Besides, Victorino is having too much fun in his new circumstances, which, it should be mentioned, include the greatest financial security he's ever had. On Monday afternoon in the season-opening 8-2 win, Victorino drove in three runs with two singles, both of which came with two outs.

On Wednesday night, Victorino was at it again. He lined a single that Yankees pitcher Hiroki Kuroda tried to grab with his bare hand, but he wound up bruising his middle finger and departing in the second inning. An inning later, Victorino hit another two-out RBI single during a four-run Boston rally and stole a base. And in the eighth, when Yankees shortstop Eduardo Nunez couldn't handle his sharply hit ground ball, Victorino hustled his way to second. He advanced no further, but it was indicative of the way the Sox have applied pressure early and have not eased off the accelerator.

"I told you, I put 2012 behind me," he said. "We're just two games into it, but I worked hard and I'm going to continue to work hard and have fun doing it.

"It helps to have a great bunch of guys around you. We support each other. You can talk about chemistry, but you can tell by the way we're playing the game we're having fun. Yeah, winning helps that, but it's about the way we're playing the game -- running the bases hard, taking extra bases, good defense, good pitching, timely hitting, that's how you win."

Kuroda's departure, of course, contributed greatly to the Sox's inflicting another beating on the Yankees, the Japanese pitcher unable to resist reaching for Victorino's screamer through the box. Pitchers have the tendency to do that, Victorino said.

"They do it a lot," he said. "Just natural instinct. I think it was one of those things he was trying to get out of the way more than he was trying to catch the ball. He looked like he ducked and put his hand up.

"I never want to see anyone hurt. Hopefully he'll be fine. It sounds like one of those things where he couldn't find his grip, and it might hurt him if he misses his next start. But hey, it's part of the game. I'll take the hit, and I'll take whatever else happened after that."

What happened was Kuroda misfiring, hitting Jackie Bradley Jr. with a pitch, walking Jacoby Ellsbury to load the bases, then hitting Daniel Nava, forcing in a run. That was all Yankees manager Joe Girardi needed to see, and he pulled Kuroda. The Sox scored four runs off Cody Eppley in the third inning, and Yankee Stadium soon looked as deserted as the 161st Avenue subway stop after the bars have closed.

"It's what it's all about, it's about scoring early and getting them out of here," Victorino said.

Still, he said, he reminds himself that he's now part of the biggest rivalry in sports.

"It's pretty fun to be up 2-0 to start the season," he said. "Those guys are missing a lot of guys. They're going to be a different team the next time we see them.

"But you know what? Every game counts. Game 1 is just as important as Game 162. If we've got a chance to sweep 'em tomorrow night, then go out there and take another one."

And if you want to predict a Hawaiian Flop, that's your business. Yes, the Sox are just two games into it, but Victorino obviously has his own ideas.