EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 20, 2013

Ellsbury leaves Red Sox fans wanting more?

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — BOSTON — He’s a center fielder who has been the center of attention for years.

Whether it’s the ladies holding up “Will You Marry Me Jacoby?” signs. Whether it’s kids wearing “Ask Me About Jacoby” t-shirts. Whether it’s sports talk radio hosts debating whether he is injury-prone.

Or whether it’s Bostonian workers standing by the water cooler debating whether he can duplicate his 30-homer power from 2011 or whether he is more of a prototypical leadoff hitter, Jacoby Ellsbury has received his fair share of positive and negative attention/press here in Boston.

But Ellsbury — on the verge of heading into free agency with super agent Scott Boras by his side after this enjoyable playoff run finishes — is showing Boston why he has been worthy of all the talk and headlines since he burst onto the scene in 2007.

Ellsbury drove in the game’s first run last night in Game 6 of the ALCS vs. the Tigers, stroking a RBI single to right field with two outs in the fifth inning. It scored Xander Bogaerts who had doubled off the Green Monster with two outs.

He such a big part of this year’s team and playoff run. It shouldn’t go unnoticed that he has bought into the 2013 Boston Red Sox’ winning formula: grow a beard, do your job and play with resilience.

If he does leave via free agency this offseason, Ellsbury certainly is going out with a bang, one that will cause Red Sox fans’ stomachs to growl with the want and desire for more Jacoby.

After the 2011 September collapse, it was revealed in an ESPNBoston report that Ellsbury kept to himself in the clubhouse and confided only in then-teammate Jed Lowrie.

Going by previous reports and perception, it’s not far-fetched to think that if any Red Sox chose not to grow facial hair this season, it would have been Ellsbury.

But that’s not the case. He’s one of the guys ... and he’s proving to be the most talented hitter of the bunch of hairy guys, maybe only behind David Ortiz.

Ellsbury entered Game 6 here at Fenway Park yesterday leading all major league players this postseason in steals (6) and runs (9 tied) and tied for second in hits (15). He also boasted a best .463 on-base percentage and second-best .405 average among those with 35 or more plate appearances.

And his six steals is a club single-postseason record.

Speedy teammate Quintin Berry — who Boston brought in to be a pinch-running specialist this postseason — has had tremendous fun watching Ellsbury. But who hasn’t?

“Ellsbury really trusts himself,” Berry said.

“He really knows how much ability he has every time he gets on the base to steal a bag. It’s good to watch somebody with that kind of confidence and that kind of awareness to understand that they can get that next bag and help this ball club.”

As his career has progressed since ‘11, Ellsbury has proved to be more of the prototypical leadoff hitter than a power threat. But he has been a darn good leadoff hitter who is going to command big money in the offseason.

He led the majors with 52 stolen bases in 56 attempts this regular season. His 92.9 percent success rate was the best stolen base percentage by any player with at least 50 steaks since at least 1951.

Detroit’s Austin Jackson has talked about how great a base stealer Berry is because he even watches a pitcher’s breath when trying to get jumps. But Berry said he’s not even close to being as good as Ellsbury.

“Ellsbury is on a different level, man,” Berry said.

“Ellsbury does some different stuff that I’m trying to pick up from him. He’s kind of teaching me and taking me into his mind on how he steals bases. I like his style. He gets better jumps than I do.

“He’s definitely looking at body language and what pitchers are trying to do — whether they are trying to quick pitch him, trying to beat him and he can kind of tell,” Berry added.

Certainly, Ellsbury has proved to be the real deal when it matters the most. Hitters typically face the best of the best starting pitching during the postseason and Ellsbury entered last night with a .311 batting average, .368 on-base percentage, .443 slugging percentage and .811 OPS in 118 postseason plate appearances. And his speed has been a big factor in his postseason success.

“He creates a lot of havoc at the top of the lineup, which can be scary,” Jackson said.

Ellsbury burst onto the scene in 2007, winning a World Series title with Boston. Maybe he will exit Boston the same way, with another ring.

One thing is for sure: the type of player he is now will be greatly missed if he parts this city.

Follow Christopher Smith @SmittyOnMLB