More than a backup: Why David Ross appears poised to keep navigating Sox through World Series
|10.29.13 at 2:35 pm ET|
ST. LOUIS - After their worst season in 47 years, the first addition the Red Sox made to their roster was David Ross, a 35-year-old backup catcher. Almost a full year later, Ross may very well be the man behind the plate when the last out of the World Series is recorded.
The Red Sox allowed 806 runs in 2012, ranking fourth worst in the majors in that category. For the first time since 2006, the Red Sox allowed more runs than they scored, and they were in desperate need of ways to reinvent their run prevention culture this past offseason. Ross was an integral part of the strategy.
Adding reliable arms to the pitching staff was obviously a key part of preventing runs in 2013, but the catching situation was in need of an upgrade as well. Red Sox catchers managed to throw out only 20 percent of base stealers in 2012, while the league average sat around 25 percent. Ross had ranked among the top four National League catchers in caught stealing percentage in six of the eight years prior to signing. He’s gunned down 37.5 percent of runners in the past eight years, a mark that is second only to the catcher in the other dugout this World Series: Yadier Molina.
“Coming in, there was a lot of talk about [Molina], and obviously it’s well-deserved,” outfielder Jonny Gomes said after Monday’s game six victory. “But Ross can throw some guys out too. He’s done a heck of a job to shut down the run game.”
But Ross’ value extends beyond controlling the running game. His game management is just as important to run prevention. Prior to 2013, Ross had led the majors in catchers’ ERA over the previous four seasons. During the regular season, Red Sox pitchers posted a 3.12 ERA with Ross behind the plate, as opposed to 3.86 with Jarrod Saltalamacchia and 4.55 with Ryan Lavarnway. In the postseason, the Red Sox staff is pitching to the tune of a 1.96 ERA with Ross behind the plate, and they’ve allowed only four runs in the 27 World Series innings Ross have caught. Ross has established a relationship with Jon Lester that has led to the lefty posting a 1.33 ERA in the four postseason starts in which Ross has been his battery mate.
“The rapport that he and Jon have continued to refine as we’ve gone through this postseason, you know, is the reason why we’ve won the games in which he started and they’ve worked great together,” manager John Farrell said Monday night, after the Sox claimed a 3-1 win to move within a single win of a championship.
Looking ahead to Game 6, it’s very likely that Ross will receive his third straight start, catching John Lackey in what the Sox hope will be the clinching game. During the regular season, Lackey threw to Ross only twice, but the results were positive: he allowed three earned runs in 11 1/3 innings. The two were paired in Game 2 of the American League Division Series as well, a contest in which the Sox claimed a victory over the Rays.
Ross has earned a chance at starting the rest of the way this postseason not just because of his work behind the plate, but at it as well. The 36-year-old was not signed for his offensive abilities; he’s got a career .237 average with a .764 OPS over his 12-year career and hit .216/.298/.382 this season. He’s a bottom-of-the-order hitter, slotting just above the pitcher in National League games and generally hits ninth in American League contests.
“There’s a reason why I hit in the eight hole and the nine hole in the American League,” Ross joked on Monday night. “I’m not very good at hitting.”
But he’s had a solid postseason offensively, batting .286 with three doubles and two RBI, including a pivotal RBI double in the top of the seventh inning that snapped a 1-1 tie and put the Red Sox on top for good in Game 5. Thanks to a combination of his offensive and defensive capabilities, the Red Sox have gone 5-1 with Ross in the lineup this postseason.
“Offensively, he’s given us a bit of a spark in there,” Farrell said. “He can do some things: He’ll draw the third baseman in with an attempted bunt. He’s come up with some big hits in the series and against Detroit.”
With his performance on both sides of the ball this postseason, the veteran catcher, who is playing in his first World Series, may earn the chance to be the one to catch the final out of the 2013 season, and he’s already thinking ahead to Wednesday’s contest.
“I’m worried about Game 6 already,” Ross said in his postgame press conference on Monday. “There’s a pit in my stomach already. … It’s awful the way my nerves and stomach get me riled up.”
As anxious as Ross may be for Wednesday, Gomes reasserted his faith in the 12-year veteran.
“As good as he is a catcher, he’s twice the teammate, twice the competitor, and we’re very lucky to have him.”
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