Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell had already been voted World Series MVP by the baseball cognoscenti, but the people's choice for the award was revealed around midnight on Sunday at Coors Field, when Jacoby Ellsbury emerged from his team's dugout in front of a delirious throng of Boston fans in the stands. "MVP!" they roared as Ellsbury stepped onto the field, where general manager Theo Epstein welcomed the center fielder to the postgame bacchanal by emptying a can of Coors on the rookie's head.
Only a few months earlier the image would have been impossible to dream up, but there was the 24-year-old Ellsbury dripping of champagne and beer after Game 4 of the World Series, just four months removed from his first major-league game, six months from Double-A ball and three years from his senior year at Oregon State. In April he was roaming the outfield for the Portland Sea Dogs. His goal for the 2007 season? "Just to make it to Triple-A," he says.
Ellsbury, who began the postseason with 116 career major league at-bats, got his first start of the postseason in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Indians, when he replaced the slumping Coco Crisp, and over the next six games -- all Boston wins -- he hit .391, reached base 12 times and scored in all but one game. In Game 3 against the Rockies he became the eighth player with three doubles in a World Series game and the first rookie in 61 years with four hits. After the game in his Denver hotel room Ellsbury laid wide awake through the night -- "My mind was racing, thinking back on how things have happened so quickly," he says -- and didn't fall asleep until eight o'clock the next morning. Ten hours later he led off Game 4 with another double and scored the Red Sox's first run, and in the ninth inning, with the score 4-3, he leaped into the air and snared a deep fly ball to left by Jamey Carroll.
"He was the man," Boston designated hitter David Ortiz said after Game 4. "If he's not in the lineup, we're still playing right now. That was the story: The rookies stepping up big." Indeed, Boston rookies ruled in the World Series. After earning the win in an 11-2 laugher over the Indians in Game 7 of the ALCS, Japanese import Daisuke Matsuzaka had his best outing of the postseason in Game 3 on Saturday. Before he was roughed up in Games 3 and 4, setup man Hideki Okajima, who began the postseason with 9 1/3 scoreless innings, pitched 2 1/3 brilliant shutout innings of relief in a 2-1 nail-biter in Game 2.
No Boston rookies, however, shined brighter than Ellsbury and second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who were a combined 7 for 10 with four RBIs in Game 3 after becoming the first pair of rookies to bat 1-2 in the World Series. Born one month apart, Ellsbury and Pedroia were both Pac-10 stars (Pedroia attended Arizona State) before becoming Red Sox first-round picks. Ellsbury rose through the minors behind Pedroia, who made his Red Sox debut in September 2006 but struggled in his audition, hitting just .194. "We still knew that he was ready to be our everyday second baseman," Boston's vice president of player personnel Ben Cherington says of Pedroia, who emerged this season as a Rookie of the Year frontrunner and had a hit in all but three of Boston's 14 postseason games. "With Jacoby, we felt he still needed to work on his defense and using the whole field at the plate. Frankly, we didn't ever think he'd be starting for us in the playoffs."
No one did -- not even Ellsbury, who sliced up pitchers at Portland and Pawtucket before getting his ticket to The Show on June 30. He almost instantly became a Fenway favorite after he scored from second base on a wild pitch in his third game in the majors, but over the next two months he shuttled between Boston and Pawtucket before sticking in the majors in September, a month in which he hit .361. Ellsbury stepped to the plate just once in Boston's first eight postseason games a pinch-hit appearance in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Angels.
"To be honest, we didn't know much about him until we saw him in the Series," says Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins. "He showed that he's the whole package -- great hitter, great with the glove. And wow, the speed."
It's no wonder Ellsbury -- whose home-to-first speed has been clocked at 3.8 seconds -- is one of the fastest baserunners in the game. Ellsbury, who is of Native American descent, has family roots with a clan of the Navajo called the Tachiinii, which translates to "red running into water," and, according to family lore, his great great grandfather was so admired for his speed that Navajos called him "Antelope Feet." A native of Madras, Ore., Ellsbury -- whose father Jim is a forester for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and mother Margie is a special education instructor at the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in central Oregon -- was lightly recruited out of high school but quickly became a star at Oregon State, where he set the single-season record for hits in 2005. "Above all we loved his athleticism," says Cherington, whose Red Sox took him 23rd overall in the '05 draft. "He's still developing. One thing you'll see is his power -- balls that are line drives are eventually going to go out of the park."
During the Red Sox's last World Series run, in 2004, while he was a student at Oregon State, Ellsbury -- wearing a Boston jersey and a wig -- dressed up as then Boston center-fielder Johnny Damon for Halloween. "Wasn't very convincing," he says. After his splendid October, Ellsbury looks every bit ready to play the part.