Xander Bogaerts on walkoff: 'I'm just glad I didn't have the bunt sign'

May 29, 2014 - 7:43 pm

Technically, it wasn't a walkoff hit. Yes, Xander Bogaerts set in motion the decisive play of the game when he rocketed a ball to the left of Braves third baseman Chris Johnson. But while Bogaerts was credited with a hit after Johnson dove to knock down the ball and fired to second, had second baseman Tommy La Stella gloved the catchable throw, the bases would have been loaded. La Stella did not secure the ball, however, and so Jackie Bradley Jr. sprinted home from third with the game-winning error, sending the Red Sox to a 4-3 victory. The play had echoes of Bogaerts' last walkoff hit -- a walkoff error in Double-A Portland -- but proved considerably more satisfying. "We won [in the Double-A game], but you don't want a walkoff error," mused Bogaerts. "I mean, I'll take [Thursday night's] one. I'll take that. Especially in the big leagues, yeah, I'll take that one." Though Bogaerts wasn't credited with the game-winning RBI, the fact that he played a central role in the game-winning rally has moved beyond the realm of surprise. The 21-year-old has been on a tear over his last dozen games, hitting .417 with a .472 OBP and .646 slugging mark. He went 3-for-5 on Thursday, his second straight three-hit game. While Bogaerts crushed a double off the Green Monster early in Thursday's game, however, it was his late-innings at-bats that commanded the most notice. First, with the Sox trailing, 3-1, in the bottom of the eighth and Brock Holt on second with no outs, Bogaerts fell behind reliever David Carpenter, 1-2. But after getting back to 2-2, Bogaerts scorched a 96 mph heater away to right-center for an RBI single. "You can't start thinking in your mind you're going to get a strikeout. Go up there, be confident and put the ball in play," Bogaerts -- who is hitting .261 with a .359 OBP and .387 slugging mark when one strike away from a punchout -- said of his two-strike approach. "I went to talk to [third base coach Brian Butterfield] and he said just use the whole field. ... It's been a while since I've gone the other way. Guys are pitching me different now, so I'm happy I got that one and just hit it where no one was." Then, after the Sox tied it in the eighth, Bogaerts once again stepped up in the ninth, this time with runners on first and second and no outs and Braves closer Craig Kimbrel on the mound, an opportunity for his first big league walkoff hit. His thought? "I'm just glad I didn't have the bunt sign on. That's Craig Kimbrel. He's throwing 99 and nasty curveball," said Bogaerts. "I'm just glad I didn't get a bunt sign because that would not have been fun." Kimbrel started Bogaerts with back-to-back curveballs that resulted in a called strike and a foul ball. Bogaerts acknowledged feeling the tension of the moment. "I was a bit nervous. I even bit my lip and then I told myself, you know what? Just calm down," Bogaerts recounted. "Try to get the run in or hit a deep ball so a guy can advance and [Dustin Pedroia] can do some damage." Kimbrel decided to go to a 98 mph fastball. Bogaerts smoked it, but looked up in horror as he saw third baseman Johnson gloving it. "Oh, man. When I saw he caught it, I'm like, come on," said Bogaerts. "I think he dropped it and he threw bad. I didn't know what the scoring was, but we won, so it's OK." Bogaerts isn't supposed to be doing this sort of thing at age 21. If he'd grown up in the States, he might be a college junior preparing for the draft right now. Instead, he's delivering critical hits for a Red Sox team looking for a lift. For Bogaerts, the torrid stretch coincides roughly with the news that the Red Sox were going to re-sign Stephen Drew. How does he explain the confluence of his production and that piece of information? "I guess I want to play, you know?" he grinned. "Just being happy to be in the lineup and helping the team out, that's important for me." It appears safe to imagine that Bogaerts will remain in the heart of the Red Sox lineup for a long, long time.