X factor Bogaerts gives Sox fresh air

DETROIT -- And where were you two weeks after your 21st birthday?

"That's a great question," Red Sox catcher David Ross said. "Probably still getting over my hangover."

"I know exactly where I was," Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo said. "I was with North Pole in the Alaska Summer League, getting ready for my senior year in college."

"Twenty-one? I had just signed," said Sox manager John Farrell. "I was in Old Orchard, Maine, playing Triple-A."

Feel free to add your own response to that question, then measure it against the place Xander Jan Bogaerts, native of Oranjestad, Aruba, found himself Thursday night, just 16 days after celebrating his 21st birthday.

Know this: In the 113 seasons the Red Sox have been playing baseball, there has never been a player as young as Bogaerts wearing a Boston uniform and starting in a postseason game. You might have heard of the guy who used to be the youngest until Bogaerts came along. Fella by the name of Ruth, who was 21 years, 246 days old when he pitched 14 innings to win Game 2 of the 1916 World Series.

And there have been only two big league players who were younger than Bogaerts when they ascended to the same stage he did Thursday night, the American League Championship Series: Claudell Washington, who was 20 years, 55 days old when he played in the '74 ALCS, and Bret Saberhagen, who was 20 years, 176 days old when he pitched in the '84 ALCS.

Then think about whether you could have been in that place.

No, Ross said.

"I wasn't doing what that young man was doing," he said after Boston's 4-3 win, in which Bogaerts doubled and scored in the second inning, fielded and started a rally-killing double play in the sixth and drew a full-count walk to start the ninth inning of a one-run game. "Special person and a special player."

No, Lovullo said.

"His composure is amazing," he said. "His ability to rise up to the challenge is incredible."

No, Farrell said.

"He's well beyond his years," Farrell said, then repeated himself. "Well beyond his years. His pulse rate doesn't ever seem to elevate, the smile never leaves his face, very composed."

Lovullo told the story about a conversation he had with Bogaerts about 10 days ago, when the coach was outlining all the scenarios in which the Sox might choose to use him against the Rays. Very specific situations -- as a defensive replacement here, a pinch hitter there, a pinch runner here.

"He put his hand on my shoulder," Lovullo said, "and said, 'OK, Torey, let me make sure I've got this straight.'"

He repeated all Lovullo had just told him seamlessly. "I didn't think he would retain it as quickly as he did," Lovullo said, "and I didn't think he'd put his hand on my shoulder to comfort me and assure me that he had it secure. That's rare for a 21-year-old."

Dustin Pedroia was a rookie when the Sox went all the way in 2007, sweeping the Colorado Rockies in four straight games in the World Series. He'd become a grizzled 24-year-old that August. How does Pedroia know whether a rookie like Bogaerts, who began the 2012 season in Class A Salem, Va., can handle the big stage?

Pedroia might as well have been talking about himself.

"They don't care," he said. "They don't fear anything. They play baseball, they're alive. This is fun, and no situation is too big for them."

After Wednesday night's 7-3 loss to the Tigers, Farrell, his coaches and the team's baseball operations staff, headed by GM Ben Cherington, had discussed what they could do to breathe life into a lineup that had been suffocated by a troika of Tigers right-handers: Anibal Sanchez, who was starting Game 5 after no-hitting the Sox for six innings and striking out a dozen in Game 1; Max Scherzer, who didn't allow a hit in Game 2 until the sixth and struck out 13 in seven innings; and Justin Verlander, who gave up four hits and a run in eight innings while striking out 10.

They settled on starting Bogaerts, who had delivered a pinch-hit double in place of struggling third baseman Will Middlebrooks Wednesday night off Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit.

"As we talked about it last night, just the need for more production from the left side of the infield," Farrell said, discussing his decision before Game 5.

"And the one thing Xander has shown in the brief opportunities he has had is, I think, a consistent approach, and it's time to throw him in the fire."

Farrell told Bogaerts that night he'd be playing. The manager told Middlebrooks he'd be sitting when he arrived at the park Thursday. He wasn't happy about the news.

"Who would be?" Middlebrooks said. "But at the same time, it's a team game, we're going to win. I trust them. It worked out."

Bogaerts, who began this season in Double-A Portland, played a couple of months in Triple-A Pawtucket and was promoted to the Sox in mid-August, had appeared in two games in the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays. He was a pinch runner for Middlebrooks in Game 3 and came around to score, and in Game 4 replaced Stephen Drew midgame and drew two walks, scoring both times.

He came to bat in Game 1 of the ALCS against Benoit with the tying run on base and two out in the ninth and popped out for the final out of a 1-0 Sox loss, but not before battling Benoit to a full count.

"I thought the most impressive 'take' was the split he took with two strikes and didn't offer at it," Farrell said. "He shows the emotional control under the environment, and this is a unique environment right now, as compared to the regular season."

Bogaerts said he learned from that at-bat, and vowed to "do some damage" the next time he faced Benoit. Sure enough, he lined a double on one hop over the right-field fence in the ninth inning Wednesday. What did that tell Farrell?

"That he can tell the future, I guess," he said.

Then came Thursday, when Bogaerts, regarded as the team's best position prospect in years, offered another foreshadowing of a future that has few apparent limits.

"Wow, it's a crazy year, I would say," he said, as relaxed as ever in front of a roomful of reporters. "Very blessed. Sometimes I can't even believe I'm here. At 21 and starting in Double-A, and now here in the ALCS, one game away from the World Series? Sometimes it's hard to believe. But it's good so far."

And promising only to get better. Lovullo marveled at Bogaerts' last at-bat, when he led off the ninth by drawing a full-count walk off Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque.

"For a guy to step out of the box on a 3-and-2 pitch and call time out to regain his thought process in a crucial at-bat in the ninth inning speaks volumes about how comfortable he is," Lovullo said.

"Nothing he does amazes me."

As another Bogie famously said: "Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."