Jackie Bradley Jr. sparks Red Sox with glove, arm, bat

July 07, 2014 - 8:43 am

At the time, it looked like a nice play with little significance to the game. Caleb Joseph hit a fly ball to center field with one out and Manny Machado on third in the top of the seventh. The Orioles already had scored four times in the inning to push their lead to a convincing 6-1 and were trying to add to it with a sacrifice fly. Jackie Bradley Jr. got under the ball and made the catch, and Machado tagged up as expected. But for the first time in the inning, something went the Red Sox' way as Bradley made a pinpoint throw to catcher David Ross to gun down Machado and end the inning. Sure, the play saved a run and was Bradley's 10th assist of the season, tied for most among American League outfielders. But it seemed to be nothing more than a footnote in an otherwise ugly day at the ballpark for the Sox to that point. Instead, the play proved to be key as the Red Sox emerged with a five-run rally in the bottom of the seventh to even the score at 6-6. "[I] saw it up in the air, tried to get some momentum going and try to keep it down, try to fire the best strike I could," Bradley said. By the end of the game, the 8-2 double play wasn't even Bradley's biggest defensive gem of the day. With J.J. Hardy on first base with two outs in the top of the ninth, Bradley robbed Machado of a potential go-ahead RBI with a leaping, highlight-reel catch at the warning track in center field to preserve the 6-6 tie in a game that ended in a 7-6 Red Sox loss in 12 innings. Bradley said he knew that play was going to be close to the wall in center as he was running back to chase the ball, so he timed his jump early in order to prevent the wall from interfering with him. "You see some outfielders kind of get to the wall and leap and actually get caught by the wall, so I definitely wanted to get airborne before I got to the wall," he said. Bradley certainly has been a disappointment at the plate this season. Even with a two-hit performance on Sunday, the 24-year-old is hitting just .218/.298/.310 a little more than halfway through his first full major league season. But his wizardry in the outfield on Sunday proved why he's been a mainstay in the Red Sox lineup. "It feels great," Bradley said. "It's always what I want to be able to do, help out the pitching as much as possible and show them I'm willing to give up my body in order to make a play for them." Despite his season-long struggles offensively, Bradley finally is getting some results at the plate as well. He's batting .428 and has at least one hit in each of his last four games. He singled and scored a run in the Sox' big seventh inning. Bradley said the only change he's made is he opened his stance back up, which makes him more comfortable in the batter's box. "I'm feeling really good at the plate right now, and just trying to battle," he said. Manager John Farrell added: "The extra wok that he's been doing has been starting to pay off. He's starting to reproduce a more consistent swing path, using the whole field, particularly the left side of the field as we've seen in the past.

"But he's in a pretty good place confidence-wise. Couple of really key defensive plays, the catch up against the wall, throws another guy out at home plate, but playing with a lot more confidence over the last two or three weeks."

Now the Red Sox are hoping Bradley can continue to create runs as much as he's saved them.