<
>

Victorino's sacrificial style pays off for Sox

BOSTON -- Red Sox left fielder Daniel Nava is no stranger to getting hit by pitches. He took 15 off his body this season, tied for fourth in the majors, and recognizes it as part of the game and a product of, as Nava puts it, "letting the ball travel."

Still, what Shane Victorino has endured is an entirely different matter.

"Insanity," Nava said Thursday after the team workout at Fenway Park when asked what it takes for Victorino to survive a steady stream of hit-by-pitches.

That insane approach, however, is the most clear-cut reminder of what these Red Sox are all about. Sacrifice. Team. Win.

Victorino was hit by a pitch four times in the American League Division Series triumph over Tampa Bay, already tying the record for a single postseason. He also had six hits in 14 at-bats, three RBIs, one of the team's six stolen bases and some aggressive baserunning that altered more than one game. The all-out approach that had some wondering if Victorino would be able to avoid falling to pieces before the end of September is now, more than ever, a driving force in what Boston is trying to accomplish in October.

Despite the bumps and bruises, it isn't going to change when the Red Sox continue their pursuit of the World Series on Saturday with Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. In fact, Victorino thrives on it.

"It's just all part of the game, I don't look at it any other way. Get on base and that's what it takes," said Victorino, who was plunked 11 times in 115 plate appearances as a right-handed batter against a right-handed pitcher during the regular season. "It is what it is. I'm going to get hit. I'm not going to move.

"It ain't fun but it is what it is. I gotta get on base. If it leads to a run scored, stolen base, whatever, that's what you get."

You also get a little of everything else, all part of that mindset that Victorino said has driven him as a player since he was a Little Leaguer. Every little thing adds up. The baseball version of "Death by a Thousand Cuts."

"All those things collectively you look at in a game, those things will all come into play," he added. "I think they came in big in the last series."

If Dave Roberts has the most famous stolen base in Red Sox postseason history, Victorino has the top two spots on the hard-slide-to-break-up-the-double-play list, both accomplished in the four games against the Rays. One of those came in the immediate aftermath of a hit-by-pitch and allowed Boston's first run to score in Game 3, when he absorbed an Alex Cobb pitch before causing second baseman Ben Zobrist to throw away a potential double-play relay.

So, without making contact, drawing a walk, driving in a run or scoring a run, Victorino had altered a game, simply getting forced out at second base. The proof was in the reaction of his teammates, who were as fired up as they would be if David Ortiz sent one 450 feet into the bleachers.

"Guys get pumped up," Victorino said. "For me, I want to do it clean, I don't want to do it dirty. I'm gonna break up a double play, I'm gonna slide hard. If I'm gonna break it up, I'm gonna break it up. It's one of those things I've always learned, the little things. ... All those things, collectively, you put that all together and you kind of look at it all together and you say, wow, that thing led to this.

"Those are all little plays that don't really get talked about but they all count just as big as hitting a solo home run."

Now 126 games into his Red Sox career, counting the postseason, Victorino's teammates are getting used to what his presence can mean, not just by taking out a second baseman or keeping the line moving by taking one off his elbow. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia had perhaps his best defensive season, in part because he was able to cheat here and there knowing the range and the arm of the guy behind him.

"He's a great baseball player," Pedroia said. "He does things that impact a game, his name in the lineup. Playing right field, he's pretty good out there. His arm changes the game, where I position, so we can do so many things."

Victorino said multiple times Thursday that he was fortunate to "escape serious injury" due to his many on-field incidents. If an injury were to occur, the void would be felt in many areas.

Nava wondered if more extreme measures should be taken.

"I'm surprised he hasn't thrown on a catcher's leg guard or something like that," Nava said, pointing to his forearm. "We need that guy. Anything we can do to keep him ... staying healthy is huge."

That's obvious, but nobody on the Red Sox side wants Victorino to change his style. Not now. There will be time to rest his weary bones in November.