Will Middlebrooks reaches out

BOSTON -- A week later, you are reminded of how fresh it still is. The car radio going silent at 2:50 p.m., and staying that way for a full minute, church bells tolling outside.

You arrive at Fenway Park and a security guard tells you this is the first day she has stopped crying, then shows you a picture in her cellphone of her nephew playing soccer with other little boys, and you look closer and recognize the sweet face of Martin Richard.

This is a big city, but such a small town.

The reminders come, too, for Will Middlebrooks, who is told that Mike Chase is at the game and heads over to where Chase is sitting to shake his hand and thank him.

Mike Chase is not a cop or a doctor or a paramedic. He is a guy who coaches high school soccer and is a behavioral specialist at an alternative high school in Beverly, Mass. He is a guy who was sitting with his wife and friends on the outdoor patio of a Boylston Street restaurant watching the Boston Marathon, a guy who when the bombs went off, the second one no more than 15 feet away, covered his wife's body with his own to shield her from the blast, shepherded her into the restaurant out of danger, then returned to the smoke and the screams and the horror.

It was there he encountered Matt Patterson -- an off-duty Lynn firefighter who, like Chase, had been at a restaurant watching the race -- carrying a small boy whose leg had been nearly severed by the blast. Chase gave Patterson his belt and shoelaces to use as a tourniquet; together, the men carried the child to a nearby ambulance.

On Saturday, Matt Patterson was at Fenway Park, one of those asked to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. Middlebrooks shook hands with him, too, and thanked him.

On Monday, he sought out Mike Chase.

"I wanted to go over and shake his hand, thank him for being brave and sticking around to help people out," said Middlebrooks, who even before last Monday's attack had spoken often about his love for his new adopted home, one in which he'd spent the offseason taking the pulse of the place and delighting in all it had to offer.

Middlebrooks said it will not end with Matt Patterson and Mike Chase.

"I want to try and meet as many people as I can who were involved," he said. "We'll see. Hopefully we can get some more people here, visit some people, see if we can put some smiles on those faces."

Middlebrooks came into Monday's game mired in a hellacious slump. Just two weeks earlier, on a Sunday afternoon in Toronto, he had hit three home runs in a single game, something that had been done just 26 times by a player wearing a Red Sox uniform.

Since then, he'd hit safely just four times in 43 at-bats and struck out swinging on his first trip to the plate Monday night.

Before the game, he got a buzz cut. Yes, he admitted, he'd done so to change his fortunes.

"Wore different shoes, ate different, anything you can think of, I tried to flip-flop it," Middlebrooks said.

"Oh, man, this is the longest one I've been through," he said. "In A-ball there were a couple of times, but it was never this consistent, consistently bad. It was tough.

"But my teammates hung with me. They know. They've been through it. Pedey [Dustin Pedroia] has been through it. Nobody gave up on me. I said, 'Hey, I'm not seeing it well, but I'm going to bust my ass, play defense and do something to win every day.'"

There were two runners on base when Middlebrooks came up in the fourth inning to face Oakland starter A.J. Griffin, a large man (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) who was called up to the big leagues last season and has enjoyed considerable success, going 9-1 in his first 18 starts. He had not given up more than two runs in each of his first three starts this season.

With the count two balls and no strikes, Griffin threw Middlebrooks a slider that hung like a Christmas ornament right over the plate. Middlebrooks did not miss. By an unscientific estimate, it took roughly six-tenths of a second for his line drive to land in the Monster seats. The three-run homer gave the Red Sox a 4-2 lead in a game they'd win 9-6.

"That was a lot of frustration on one swing," he said. "It felt good to see it, put the right swing on it. Simple as that.

"Confidence is huge in this game. It's hard to have confidence when you keep failing. It's good to hit a ball well. That kind of builds everything back up."

Good to shake a hand, offer thanks, bring a smile. That kind of builds everything back up, too.