|For Will Middlebrooks, a milestone-filled debut in La-La Land||05.03.12 at 12:35 am ET|
In the bottom of the second inning in the Red Sox 4-2 loss to the A’s Wednesday night, Will Middlebrooks stepped to the plate for the first time as a big leaguer. This was a moment the 23 year-old had dreamed of his whole life. Four pitches later he found himself jogging down the first base line, taking the free pass offered by A’s pitcher Brandon McCarthy, whom Middlebrooks befriended while the two trained together at Athelete’s Performance Institute two years ago.
It’s not that Middlebrooks is a particularly patient hitter — he’s tallied seven walks in 93 plate appearances playing for the PawSox this season — but since he had waited this long (“About 23 years,” he joked of the amount of time he’d spent anticipating his first call-up), surely, waiting another few innings before taking his first big hack wouldn’t hurt.
So Middlebrooks, who entered Fenway Park homering in four of his last six games in Triple-A, stepped to the plate in the fifth inning. This time the 2007 fifth-round pick made contact, rolling a dribbler down the third base line with so little force that third baseman Brandon Inge could not glove it and fire the ball to first in time to catch the rookie. Middlebrooks earned his first big league hit, legging out an an infield single.
“At first I was like, ‘Oh I got a hit,’” Middlebrooks said. “But then I was like, ‘Man I wish I got a real hit!’”
Kevin Youkilis feigned as if he was giving away Middlebrooks’ personal relic to a fan before stashing it away for him to retrieve after the game. Of course, the Sox were not generous in the way in which they delivered the memento.
“It said, ‘My first hit off Jenny McCarthy,’” Middlebrooks chuckled.
Still, there was enthusiasm for an accomplishment that resonated among Middlebrooks’ teammates who could relate. It was Youkilis’ injury that prompted Middlebrooks’ call up to the major league roster. And while the 33-year-old mainstay wants to get back on the field, he also took note of how special a moment Wednesday’s game was to Middlebrooks.
“It’s a good opportunity for him to come out here and play at this level,” Youkilis said before the game. ”It’s an exciting time for him tonight. He’ll remember this the rest of his life, so hopefully he goes out there and does well. I always tell him, ‘Don’t try to do to much, just understand you’ve played this game your whole life, and this is another level, but you can play at this level.’”
The top Red Sox prospect, known primarily for his excellent defense at third and his ability to pulverize a baseball, wasn’t done flashing his speed. Moments after his walk, Middlebrooks stole second base. It was a productive and succussful night through five innings, but eerie nonetheless: A walk, an infield hit, and a steal all from a power hitter with only three registered steals in 24 games in Triple-A this season. Not that it mattered, however. Middlebrooks was still on cloud nine.
“Words can’t describe it,” said Middlebrooks of his first experience playing in the majors. “Just to come here and play at Fenway Park with these guys was unreal. The first two innings, I was still in La La land. About the third inning I realized it was just like every other game, just more people watching.”
Later in the night, Middlebrooks stayed on a cutter away and scorching a double down the right-field line, showing the ability to impact the ball to all fields that has been such a critical part of his emergence.
“I just try to use the whole field,” Middlebrooks said. “Try to take what they give me, and use my strengths.”
A’s reliever Ryan Cook ended the starry eyed third baseman’s night like most who enter next level of their career, by whistling a fastball blown by him with a runner in scoring position. Still, with Youkilis on the shelf, one cannot help but be intrigued by the tools Middlebrooks displayed Wednesday night.
It was a promising beginning, yet Middlebrooks hopes it is merely the start. He hopes not merely to notch personal milestones, but after seeing the Sox fall, 4-2, to the Athletics in his debut, he would like to see his performance impact his new club.
“I want to do what I can to help this team win games while I’m here,” he said.
Based on the initial showing on Wednesday, it appears that he is capable of doing just that.
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