ST. LOUIS -- The incomparable Xander Bogaerts, who has spent so much of his young Major League career doing the improbable, on Saturday did the near-impossible: He put a ball in play against Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal.
It wasn't quite enough for a Red Sox team that lost Game 3 of the World Series, 5-4, on an obstruction call in the ninth, but Bogaerts' eighth-inning single off Rosenthal temporarily tied the score and capped another multihit night for the 21-year-old rookie.
In truth, Bogaerts' thought process was more complicated than that. Stepping to the plate with runners on the corners and two outs in the eighth and the Sox trailing by a run, Bogaerts noticed that shortstop Pete Kozma was shading him heavily toward third. That left a sizable hole up the middle of the diamond, which Bogaerts viewed as a target.
As is his custom, Rosenthal opened the at-bat with three consecutive 99-mph fastballs, the last of which Bogaerts bounced directly toward that hole. Kozma gloved the ball but had no play, which allowed Shane Victorino to score the tying run.
"I saw Kozma in the hole and I said, 'You know, up the middle is big, so why don't you hit one up the middle?'" Bogaerts said. "I'm lucky I hit it right up the middle. Even to touch the ball against that guy is pretty good."
"It was a tough inning," Rosenthal said. "I was happy to keep it close and give us a chance to win. With our offense, there's a good chance we were going to able to score some runs if we kept that approach."
Though that is ultimately what happened, the Cardinals might have run away with Game 3 if not for Bogaerts, who also tripled to lead off the fifth inning and scored on Mike Carp's fielder's choice for Boston's first run.
Starting in all three World Series games at the age of 21, Bogaerts is 2-for-10 with two RBIs, and 5-for-16 overall in October.
"All I want to do is try to get on base," he said.
For the briefest of moments, he was actually the Game 3 goat for his inability to corral Matt Carpenter's leadoff single in the seventh -- a check-swing dribbler that found Bogaerts as soon as he shifted from third base to shortstop. Manager John Farrell made the move because of Stephen Drew's continued struggles -- 4-for-44 this postseason, with 17 strikeouts.
"We were playing [Carpenter] up the middle," Bogaerts said. "He just got that check swing, and I had to go and get it. I think I saw on the video that he was going to beat it out, but I should have made a better throw to at least make it closer."
Boston can live with a mistake like that, and considering how Bogaerts has played the rest of this postseason, he is a lock to continue starting nightly. The Red Sox have made it clear that they want Bogaerts' bat in the lineup every day, even if his role may change going forward.
In the emotion-packed postgame minutes of Game 3, Farrell was unwilling to discuss his Game 4 lineup, but he may consider shifting Bogaerts to shortstop for Game 4 and starting Will Middlebrooks at third, re-assigning Drew to the bench.