Red Sox flash stellar defense to help take Game 2

Red Sox flash stellar defense to help take Game 2

Red Sox flash stellar defense to help take Game 2

BOSTON -- It might have been the most important at-bat in the Red Sox's 7-4 win over the Rays in Game 2 of the American League Division Series Saturday night, and it ended in a walk.

Evan Longoria wouldn't bite on a 3-2 changeup from Craig Breslow. At the time, Longoria represented the tying run with James Loney on first. The Rays were down, 6-4.

"We all know what Evan Longoria is capable of doing," Breslow said.

NLDS

The walk of Longoria may have looked like a loss at the time, but there are two reasons why it was actually a big win for the Red Sox: One, Breslow understands the game as well as anybody. Longoria is the Rays' best hitter and Breslow gave the at-bat his best shot, nearly striking him out with some creative pitch-selection. Longoria just wouldn't bite. And two, the Red Sox's defense -- which turned three double plays for the first time in a postseason game since the 1918 World Series -- has shown incredible range this season.

"As good of a defense as I've ever pitched for," Breslow said.

The first time the count was 3-2 on Longoria, catcher David Ross called for a sinker away. Longoria's hot zone is inside, and Ross figured the safe bet was to go outside. But Ross had noticed something in Longoria's swing. Going inside could work. Breslow had seen it too.

"He shook to a heater in," Ross said. "So that tells me he sees the same thing I see ... But for him to notice that, it gives me that much more confidence that when I do call a pitch, he knows what I'm thinking in that situation."

Breslow went inside with a 93-mph fastball and Longoria bit, barely making contact and fouling the pitch off. The next pitch, Breslow walked him.

The logic -- with one out, a ground ball still ends the inning.

Two pitches later, Breslow got a liner off the bat of Ben Zobrist that took one hop before Dustin Pedroia made a quick jab, eventually turning the double play.

Inning over.

"Not easy," Breslow said of the defensive play. "Looking at Pedey's reactions, it looked like the ball took an unpredictable hop. But those guys are so good up the middle. If you give them a chance, they're going to get one or two outs for you. I was just trying to keep the ball down and give ourselves a chance to get the double play. Glad it worked out."

The middle of the Red Sox infield as been as good as any team in 2013. Pedroia ranked second among second basemen with a 10.9 ultimate zone rating (UZR). Stephen Drew was 11th among shortstops with a 5.3 UZR.

"Yeah, I mean, obviously at this ballpark, if you get a chance to turn two, you better turn it," Pedroia said.

And the outfield defense has been just as good.

Shane Victorino tracked down a couple of screaming line drives on Saturday, but that's no different than what he's been doing all season. Victorino is second among right fielders with a 25.0 UZR while Jacoby Ellsbury comes in sixth among center fielders with a 10.0 UZR.

"Maybe because guys aren't the flashiest, it often gets overlooked," Breslow said. "But they make all the routine plays and then some. You feel so confident that if the ball hits the ground and you see that in front of you, that's going to be converted to an out. They range so well that I know balls on the right side of me, Pedroia is getting them or on the left side, Drew is making plays up the middle.

"When you combine that with the homework our coaching staff does in positioning guys -- off the bat I feel like a number of times this season I've given up a hit and I turn around and it's squaring somebody up."

Jason Mastrodonato is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.