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BOSTON -- They were born 336 days and 140 miles apart, Jose Iglesias first in Havana, Yasiel Puig less than a year later in Cienfuegos. Iglesias is 23, Puig is 22. They played together, Iglesias said, on the Cuban national team. He was the shortstop, Puig was in the outfield.
Now they are in the major leagues, overnight sensations both. Iglesias, called up on May 24, is tearing up the American League for the Red Sox. Puig, called up June 3, is tearing up the National League for the Dodgers.
"It's fun," Iglesias said Tuesday night of his homeland's place in one of 2013's most entertaining storylines. "And it's a big step. There's a lot of talent down there. Crazy.
"[Puig] is a great player. Special."
|In addition to hitting .434, Jose Iglesias has performed admirably at a new position: third base.|
Puig is the bigger story because he is a virtual unknown hitting with remarkable power, bashing seven home runs in his first 20 games. His was a name familiar mostly to baseball insiders, many of whom thought the Dodgers were reckless in signing him to a seven-year, $42 million deal based on a couple of batting practice sessions in Mexico City.
But Iglesias is composing a remarkable tale of his own. Stalled at his natural position, shortstop, by the Red Sox's acquisition over the winter of Stephen Drew, Iglesias has improbably become the team's everyday third baseman, a position he had never played until just before his call-up from Pawtucket.
His place on the team was cemented by Tuesday's demotion of Will Middlebrooks, who at this time last year was 2012's rookie sensation, displacing Kevin Youkilis as the team's third baseman and prompting Youkilis' trade to the Chicago White Sox.
Now it is Middlebrooks who has been displaced, at least temporarily, by Iglesias, who gave little indication in Pawtucket, where he was batting .202 and benched for an attitude adjustment, that he was primed to make such an impact on the big club.
"I'm glad to have the opportunity to play every single day," Iglesias said. "It kind of surprised me. I never thought about playing third base in my life. Now to get a chance to be here, and in the lineup, it's fun."
Iglesias observed his promotion Tuesday night with three more hits in Boston's 11-4 win over Colorado -- an opposite-field single on a two-strike slider in the third, a gap double to left-center in the fourth, and a single smoked off the Monster in left in the eighth.
He has reached base in all 27 games in which he has had a plate appearance since his call-up, the longest such streak by a Red Sox rookie since Trot Nixon reached in 27 straight in 1999, and Nixon was already 102 games into his season.
Overall, Iglesias has posted a slash line of .434/.484/.575/1.059 in 34 games, which compares favorably to the .425/.459/.725/1.184 Puig took into Tuesday night's game against the Giants. They are the only two players with more than 80 at-bats hitting over .400.
"It's been really impressive what he's done," veteran pitcher Ryan Dempster said of Iglesias Tuesday night. ''There have been times when people have said, 'Oh, it's a soft .400.' Is there such a thing? Try to figure that out, it's still .430. He's hitting, and he's driving the ball too."
"On top of all the hitting and that's all great -- what he's done with his glove, whether he's playing third or short or second or center field, I don't know, he's got this amazing glove and he does a really good job. It's good to see the success he has and you just kind of ride it for as long as it lasts."
On style points, Iglesias said, Puig wins.
"I think he still has that Cuban style to playing the game, some flash," he said. "It's fun to watch.
"I still have a little bit, but I've got Butterfield on top of me, to not be flashy." Brian Butterfield is the team's third-base coach and tireless infield instructor.
"He wants me to be a champion," Iglesias said. "I've got to make sure I'm not too flashy. You have to have a little flash to make some plays, but be secure, take care of the rock. That's what Butterfield tells me every day. He makes me a lot better player every day."
Almost every night, Iglesias said, he speaks with Leo Posada, the former Cuban big league outfielder who is the uncle of former Yankees catcher Jorge Posada. Iglesias works in the offseason with Posada, who lives in Miami and watches every one of Iglesias's games on TV, offering advice and encouragement in his phone calls.
"I've always been a confident guy," Iglesias said. "I try to stay as positive as possible, which has been good for me so far."
He appreciates that Middlebrooks, despite his bitter disappointment at his own performance this season, has been so vocal in his support of the man who wrested his position away from him.
"That's big," he said. "It tells you how good this group is. Will is a great person, a young guy who unfortunately has been through some things. He'll find a way to get out of it. He's a great kid and a special player."
The Sox are counting on Middlebrooks to regain his stroke, which will leave them some intriuguing decisions at the trading deadline. Do they move Drew and slide Iglesias over to short? Or do they move Middlebrooks, because he may bring back more in a deal and Xander Bogaerts, who hit his third home run in five games in Pawtucket Tuesday night and fourth in 11 games since his promotion to Triple-A , is waiting in the wings.
It will all be sorted out in time. In the meantime, just as the Dodgers are looking to Puig to spark a renaissance, the Red Sox have come to depend on their little Cubano.
"He's been great since he got here," first baseman Mike Napoli said. "He plays good defense, hits the ball the other way and does whatever the situation calls for. He's been big for us, and we don't expect him to stop."