The ‘Q’ factor: Quintin Berry offers hint of difference-making role
|09.06.13 at 12:56 am ET|
Quintin Berry quickly introduced himself Red Sox fans.
With the Red Sox trailing the Yankees by a run and down to their final out, Mike Napoli singled. That would signal the end of Napoli’s day, and the moment of unveiling for the Red Sox’ new weapon.
John Farrell immediately called for a pinch-runner, inserting Berry into the game to attempt his first stolen base of the season. Even with Mariano Rivera keeping a close eye on him, Berry stole second, advanced to third off a throwing error, and then scored on Stephen Drew‘s broken-bat single to tie the game at 8. That sent the game into extra innings, where the Sox claimed a 9-8 victory in New York.
Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino already offered an element of speed on the basepaths, but Berry gives the Sox an advantage few other contending teams possess in the American League. Berry’s speed makes him a commodity in a league that deals with commodities, but opposing pitchers still are aware the Sox offer a punishing offense. With the addition of Berry, the Sox have a new dimension to their attack.
“We needed that speed off the bench, that one component,” said Farrell. “We felt like from a team standpoint, that was the one area we were a little short. And tonight was the first time he’s been pressed into that specific spot, and he came through.”
Berry’s skills are amplified by virtue of the fact that opponents cannot focus on him at the expense of the hitter. Hence, Rivera did not use the slide step on the pitch when Berry took off from first, permitting him to reach second easily.
“Pitchers know that, so they put more of the concentration on the hitters,” said Berry. “That gives me a window to try to get that extra base and a little extra time to get to second.”
Berry played for Detroit last season before being designated for assignment by the Tigers this year. Although Berry did not have a role with the Tigers, Detroit manager Jim Leyland couldn’t help but crack a small smile upon seeing Berry back in the majors.
“We’re happy for him,” Leyland said during the Tigers’ visit to Fenway Park this week. “There were different periods of time last year when he gave us good adrenaline. With his base-stealing ability, it was an excellent job by the general manager of the Boston Red Sox, in my opinion, to find a guy like that.”
Former teammates in Detroit agreed with their manager’s assessment upon seeing that Berry had arrived in Boston in a trade with the Royals in the waning days of August.
“It’s the sign of a true base-stealer when everyone in the ballpark knows you’re out there to steal a base, and you can still do it,” said Justin Verlander. “If you need a stolen base, he can do it.”
Including the postseason, Berry has stolen 24 bases during his major league career. He has never been caught stealing. Indeed, his 22-for-22 performance in the regular season represents the second-longest base-stealing streak at the start of a player’s career in the last 30 years. It is surpassed only by Ellsbury’s 25-for-25 run.
“Stealing bases takes more than speed, it takes smarts,” said Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson. “You’ve got to know the pitcher’s time to the plate, you’ve got to know who is behind the plate, and really get informed on that information. A big thing with Berry is he likes sliding head first. We had discussions about how there is a delay when you slide feet first. Sliding head first, you’re just running and your momentum is carrying you over onto the bag. He gets good jumps every time. He’s really smart on picking times to steal, and he has a great technique.”
He also has a precise sense of how to prepare for his well-defined role.
“I do a lot of things starting from the fifth,” Berry explained. “I had time last year with Detroit where I had to understand my body and know what it needs – running stairs and using the bike and starting to do some plyometrics and a lot of explosive things to get my muscles firing. It’s kind of tough coming off the bench and having to do something and jolt-start your body. Over the last year, I’ve really kind of understood how to prepare myself.”
The biggest Berry fan in Major League Baseball is Baltimore’s Adam Jones. Berry and Jones met 23 years ago in San Diego, attending elementary school together. The two are still the closest of friends, as Jones served as Berry’s best man at his wedding and is the godfather to his son.
“He’s an unreal baserunner,” said Jones. “I mean, he steals a lot of bags. If he gets on base, he can cause havoc.”
While Jones traveled directly from high school to the majors, making his pro debut at 20 years old, Berry played collegiate ball before the Phillies drafted him in the fifth round of the 2006 draft. He made his MLB debut in 2012 at the age of 27.
“I’m happy for his personal success,” said Jones. “I’ve talked to him and he knows what he has to do. It’s an opportunity to help.”
Berry is relishing the chance to be back with a contender.
“The Sox gave me a great opportunity to come here and help out on the basepaths,” said Berry. “Late in games, if they need me to steal a bag or score from first, whatever they want me to do, I’m here to do it. I’m blessed with the opportunity they’re giving me. I definitely didn’t expect to be in this role, but it’s great to have the opportunity to be here.”
The Sox know the upside of Berry’s role. After all, his steal hearkened back to the most famous one in Red Sox lore — that of pinch-runner Dave Roberts against Rivera in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the ALCS in 2004 — to underscore the significance of a legitimate baserunning weapon off the bench.
“If it leads us to where Dave did,” said a smirking Farrell, “we’ll take that, too.”
“It’s a high pedestal, but I’m [up] for the challenge,” added Berry. “If I can help this ball club the way [Roberts] did, it would be a dream come true.”
Alex Speier contributed to this report from New York.
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