Child's play: Victorino always goes all-out
Red Sox outfielder's full-throttle effort continues during the postseason
BOSTON -- Put Shane Victorino on a big stage like the postseason and viewers all over the map quickly take note of the relentless way he plays. Just don't be fooled into thinking the energetic right fielder for the Red Sox changes his effort level with the calendar.
Victorino goes full speed ahead in every play of every game, and it's not something he's grown into. That all-out style is the only way he ever remembers playing.
"That's what you get," Victorino said. "I play that way. I've always played that way. Every little thing counts. I've always played that kind of baseball."
So when you watch him take out a second baseman to prevent a double play (ask the Rays' Ben Zobrist about that) or run into a wall (ask walls all over the American and National Leagues about that), it's important to note where that style of play developed within him.
You'd have to go all the way to state No. 50 -- Hawaii. For Victorino -- the flyin' Hawaiian -- that's where it started and has since never stopped.
And it will continue Saturday night, when Victorino bats second and starts for the Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series (8 p.m. ET on FOX) vs. the Tigers.
"It's something that I was taught as a little leaguer and all the way up," Victorino said. "I just was taught those types of things as a kid, to play that way. Importantly, when I go out there, just remember the things that you did when you were a kid. That's why I play the game the way I do. I still feel like I'm a little kid playing the game I love and going out there every day and doing it."
Surely, the way Victorino played helped the Red Sox quite a bit in a regular season. But in the postseason, when every situation becomes crucial, Victorino's all-out hustle and smarts can be more noticeable and important.
Just ask Jonny Gomes, Boston's current left fielder. Back in 2008, Gomes and his Tampa Bay Rays lost the World Series to Victorino and the Phillies.
"He was on that 2008 team that beat us with Philly," Gomes said. "He set the table for them. He made that team go, too. He's a championship-caliber player."
Victorino also helped the Phillies get to the World Series in '09, where they lost to the Yankees in six games.
In ravenous sports markets that can be hard to please, Victorino was first a fan favorite in Philadelphia and is developing into that in Boston.
"I go out there and play the game the way I do because I want to help the team win," Victorino said. "If that's the style of play you like and you get accustomed to, then, as I said, that's the way I play the game. It's one of those things I've always thrived on -- being an energy guy"
Did the Red Sox understand what type of player they were getting in Victorino?
"I knew," said Dustin Pedroia. "I played with him in the [World Baseball Classic] and then watched him. He's a great baseball player. He does things that impact a game just by having his name in the lineup. Playing right field, he's been pretty good out there. His arm changes the game. He changes where I position. We can do so many things just because he's in the lineup."
In most cases, championship-caliber players will do anything to win. In Victorino's case, that often means taking one for the team.
A switch-hitter, Victorino has only been hitting right-handed in recent weeks, due to weakness in his left hamstring. His notoriously open stance from the right side often leaves him right in the path of oncoming pitches.
If the Red Sox are trying to win a game and need a baserunner, Victorino never blinks. He just takes the pitch to whatever body part it's headed for and trots to first.
In the AL Division Series against the Rays, Victorino was hit four times. He also hit .429 (6-for-14), stole a base and caught everything in right field.
"Do I love getting hit? Heck no," said Victorino. "It starts to hurt. But I understand situations. These guys are just trying to make their pitches. They're trying to pitch in. And sometimes I get hit. I don't look at it any differently. But, you know, the little things like that, on-base percentage, a guy like me, that's what I get paid to do. That's what I'm supposed to do, is be on base."
Sometimes that pitcher who is just trying to make his pitch -- and hardly misses his target of the strike zone -- gets annoyed when a part of Victorino's flesh absorbs the baseball.
"Am I close to the plate? Yes," Victorino said. "Players are going to say that. I heard one guy yell, 'Quit crowding the plate.' Hey, it is what it is. I'm going to hit, I'm not going to move. I've been able to escape serious injury and I hope that never happens. I don't want a serious injury to happen because of a hit by pitch, but that's just the way I play."
When Victorino signed a three-year, $39 million contract with the Red Sox back in December, there were many in the industry who questioned the deal.
Victorino was coming off a subpar season (.255/.321/.383) offensively, which was split between the Phillies and Dodgers. Perhaps his intangibles were overlooked by the critics, not to mention the chance that his numbers could rebound at the age of 32.
"Last year was one of those years, an unfortunate year," said Victorino. "But again, I don't like to use the word unfortunate because I'm very fortunate to play the game I love. Last year I didn't thrive and I didn't live up to my expectations.
"What was it? I don't know. Was it free agency and not knowing where I was going to be? All those things kind of collectively added up. For me, I think coming in here, just being a part of these guys and being a part of a group and understanding that, hey, I'm still a good player, and just going out there and letting it happen and not worrying about it has been the key. My goal every year is to try to be a better player than I was the year before."