was booed in his first plate appearance as a visitor at Fenway park. (Elise Amendola/AP)
After nine years, 3,200-plus plate appearances and two World Series titles with the Red Sox, Jacoby Ellsbury returned to Boston as a villain. On Tuesday night, Ellsbury dug into the batters box at Fenway Park wearing the road grays of the New York Yankees, earning a healthy round of boos from Red Sox fans as the two teams opened a three-game series. But Ellsbury didn't let the boos faze him. Instead, the 30-year-old centerfielder and former first-round pick of the Sox tormented his old team, lashing two extra-base hits and driving in a pair of runs to key New York's 9-3 win over Boston.
As he did so many times with the Red Sox, Ellsbury opened the game with a bang, taking a Jon Lester fastball and ripping a line drive high off the wall in left-centerfield for a triple. The hit was disputed, though, as a fan appeared to reach over the wall and make contact with the ball before it landed on the field. Second base umpire Phil Cuzzi signaled fan interference, and after a short review, the umpires awarded Ellsbury third base.
[mlbvideo id="32286695" width="600" height="336" /]
One pitch later, Derek Jeter laced a line drive into centerfield for an RBI single, scoring Ellsbury for the game's first run.
Lester got the better of Ellsbury in the next two at-bats—getting him to fly out to left with two on in the second and then ground into a double play in the third—but the fourth at-bat proved to be the game's big blow. With the Yankees up 5-2, Ellsbury stepped to the plate with two on and two out against a tiring Lester. Though he fell behind 3-0, Lester battled back to make the count full at 3-2. Then, on Lester's 118th pitch of the night, Ellsbury looped an 88 mph 3-2 cutter on the outside corner over Xander Bogaerts at shortstop and into leftfield for a two-run double. That ended Lester's night and gave the Yankees a commanding lead that they wouldn't relinquish.
Ellsbury didn't just hurt the Red Sox with his bat, however. In the bottom of the first, he flashed some leather to rob Grady Sizemore—one of the players brought in to help replace Ellsbury's production in the outfield—of an extra-base hit. Leading off the bottom of the inning, Sizemore got a hold of an offspeed offering from Masahiro Tanaka and lifted a ball into left-center, but Ellsbury ranged over and made a sliding, tumbling catch on Sizemore's liner, prompting a fresh wave of boos from the crowd.
It wasn't all revenge for Ellsbury on Tuesday. Between the first and second innings, the Red Sox showed a video tribute to Ellsbury on the Jumbotron, compiling some of his best moments in Boston. That got a big cheer from the crowd and a wave of the cap from an appreciative Ellsbury. After the game, Ellsbury told reporters that he was happy with the fans' reception:
“It’s a great feeling,” Ellsbury said of the reaction all night. “I spent nine years in the organization and gave this organization everything I had each and every day I stepped on that field. For them to just take a moment to have some cheers [for me] it was nice.
“I thought it was great. I thought the fans were great. They’ve always treated me well here. They’ve always cheered for me and it showed again today.”
On the night, Ellsbury finished 2-for-5 with a double, triple, two RBI and two runs scored, and drama and emotions aside, Tuesday's effort was a perfect example as to why the Yankees gave him a seven-year deal for $153 million. Ellsbury is now hitting a sizzling .342/.395/.479 in 81 plate appearances and has already notched eight stolen bases, giving New York a spark atop its order and Gold Glove-caliber defense in centerfield. That the signing weakened the Yankees' biggest rival is just icing on the cake; Boston has struggled mightily to replace Ellsbury's offense, especially in the leadoff spot.
All told, New York ripped Red Sox pitching for 16 hits, seven for extra bases, in Tuesday's rout; the only Yankees starter who finished the game hitless was Yangervis Solarte
, who went 0-for-5. All of that was in support of Masahiro Tanaka, who improved to 3-0 by allowing two runs in 7 1/3 innings on seven hits (two homers), no walks and seven strikeouts. The win was the Yankees' fourth in five meetings against Boston this season, and it's hard to imagine a more satisfying result for either New York or Ellsbury in his Fenway homecoming.