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Sports

July 26, 2009

Need for Speed

Sox no longer content to wait for the longball

BOSTON — It took one mad Jacoby Ellsbury dash to cause rising Red Sox prospect Derrik Gibson to jump from his chair at Fenway Park and cheer at the top of his lungs.

"I couldn't believe what I had seen," said Gibson, the fastest man in the Red Sox organization. "I was at the game and I stood up because the play just gave me chills. He can turn a game upside down. I don't think the Yankees were ever in the game after that."

The play that still gives Gibson goose bumps wasn't a massive home run over the Green Monster and Citgo Sign. It wasn't a blast that looked as if the cover could tear off the ball in mid air.

The moment was when Ellsbury stole home on April 26 off bewildered Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte. It has emerged as the defining play of the 2009 Red Sox season.

A trip to a local New England sports pub, or 10 minutes listening to sports radio, and the odds are that the listener will encounter talk of Ellsbury's exploits on the basepaths during his just over two seasons in the big leagues.

But Ellsbury is just part of a growing change within the Red Sox organization. After about a century of waiting for aging free-agent sluggers to hit the all-important three-run homer, speed and baserunning are now key weapons for the Sox.

"We see something than can help us win games," said Ellsbury. "Whether it's stealing bases, getting into scoring position or anything that will help the team win. ... I might be able to, when I get on base, make things happen."

Speed has always been Ellsbury's signature. It was a main reason the Sox selected him with the 23rd overall pick in the 2005 amateur draft. And it allowed him to spend just two full seasons in the minors (stealing 105 bases) before being called up to Boston in 2007.

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