Nick Cafardo, Globe Staff wrote:
Every day you see this kid, you ask yourself, "Who is he? Haven't I seen him before?"
His speed, his demeanor . . . is he Johnny Damon? Maybe, but he has a better arm and he might have more speed.
When he hits home runs and plays a good center field and runs, is he Grady Sizemore? What an excellent finished product that would be.
The emerging power and offensive ability . . . Bernie Williams? Maybe, but this kid can steal far more bases.
"A little Damonesque," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He has the ability with two strikes to throw that emergency hack on you and stay alive. He has shown the ability to hit the ball out of the park. He can change the game with his legs."
Yes, he is all that.
For now, we may just have to be satisfied with the fact that he's Jacoby Ellsbury, and on nights like this, when he strokes two homers, ignites the winning rally with a bunt, and scores from first in the eighth on a double, maybe Ellsbury is better than the aforementioned center fielders. Maybe this kid is going to carve his own little place in the game and in Red Sox lore.
Right now, he's more than just a rookie leadoff hitter. He's becoming an event.
When he steps to the plate, you expect something you haven't seen before. When he gets on base, he's a threat to steal. He owns the basepaths.
He has scored a run in each of his last six games and 11 of his last 12. He is hitting .371 over that stretch (13 for 35) with 11 walks.
What does he mean to the Red Sox? Well, they have won 11 straight games when he's scored at least one run. They are 9-1 when Ellsbury is the leadoff hitter.
He led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run off Jered Weaver. His explanation was, "He got 0-and-2 on me quick and then just hung a changeup in the zone and I hit it hard."
In the sixth, on an 0-and-1 pitch from Darren O'Day, "He threw me a slider in the middle of the zone and I was just looking to be aggressive and he left it a little too in and I squared it up."
The second homer gave the Sox a 6-5 lead. But this spectacular night wasn't over.
In a 6-6 game in the eighth, with one out, Ellsbury was facing lefty Darren Oliver. He admitted that he would have loved to hit another home run, but his head told him "to take what the defense gives you."
He noticed first baseman Casey Kotchman playing in on the first pitch. All of a sudden, he saw Kotchman playing back. What does he do? He bunts in a perfect spot between first and second. He creates a situation where nobody is covering first. Base hit. Rally on the way.
Then he's on first base, digging in. He has tremendous speed. He has started his major league career 17 for 17 on steals, eight of them this season. Scot Shields is now on the mound for the Angels, and he knows he has to hold Ellsbury on, or else he's gone.
"My mind-set was, if I get a perfect jump, I'm going to go," said Ellsbury, "and I felt there was no reason to take a risk in that situation, especially if [Dustin] Pedroia gets me over with two outs. I can score from first with David [Ortiz] and Manny [Ramírez].
"We just need one hit. It would have been nice to be on second, but I wasn't going to risk it."
As much as he would have loved to steal, he felt he was able to distract Shields enough that Pedroia got a pitch to hit. Pedroia drove it down the third base line. Ellsbury kept running after an initial hitch and never stopped. He scored the winning run.
"He gets to 2-and-0, and in that situation, he's peeking over," Ellsbury said. "He had focus on Pedroia, but some of it was on myself. At 2-and-0, he's probably going to throw a fastball. He's not going to want to throw that changeup in the dirt and have the ball bounce around.
"Pedroia did a good job being patient. He got that pitch over the plate and drove it."
Ellsbury knows from experience that when there's a fast guy on the basepaths, defenses have to change their ways.
"Just having a guy who can run, maybe you change your signs, your slide step," he said. "I was looking for the perfect jump, but there was no reason to take that risk when you have guys in the lineup behind you who can drive me in from first base."
Francona explained, "They have to respect the way he runs the bases. Pedey gets a ball he can handle, hits the double. The Angels play that way. Our team is not really constructed that way, but we have guys who can do that and we try to use it to our advantage."
Every night you are intrigued. What else can Ellsbury do? What else can he create? Power from the leadoff spot is not something you see very often.
Is he Fred Lynn? Ah, maybe not. But two homers in a game . . . it starts to make you wonder whether this kid could be a power guy with speed.
"I definitely have the swing for it, but I don't try to hit home runs," said Ellsbury. 'They're going to come when they come, but that's the last thing that comes for a young player is the power."
Francona wants to harness the expectations and not create pressure around Ellsbury.
"His big thing is to mature as a player, and he'll grow into whatever type of player he is," said the manager. "A pretty mature young kid, though. He asks questions. He's not afraid to ask questions. He tries to play the game right every day."
He's doing that. As for maturing? Part of Red Sox Nation hopes he never grows up.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org