Sunday, June 21, 2009

Green's highlight reel keeps growing

The last time Dusty Brown saw Nick Green, the catcher and shortstop both were longshots to make the Red Sox roster. Green had come to spring training as a nonroster invitee well behind Jed Lowrie and Julio Lugo on the depth chart at shortstop. Brown had come to spring training with the big-league club for the third straight year -- and for the third straight year, he had virtually no shot to be anywhere on April 1 but Triple-A Pawtucket.

Green, as has been well-documented, ended up making the 25-man roster thanks to Lugo's knee surgery, and he stuck on the roster thanks to Lowrie's wrist surgery. Brown got his first call to the major leagues late Saturday night when Terry Francona and Theo Epstein realized they had a chance to add an extra catcher once Daisuke Matsuzaka was placed on the disabled list.

"He played so well in spring training, you hoped he would get a shot," Brown said, "and he did."

Brown, wearing an I'm-only-here-until-Thursday No. 59 on his back, was out in the bullpen warming up Manny Delcarmen when he heard a sharp crack of the bat on the first pitch of the bottom of the ninth inning.

"I didn't even get a very good look at it," he said. "I heard it and the crowd started cheering, ... and the next thing I know, it gets louder and he's rounding the bases. It was cool."

That it was. In the Hollywood story that is the Red Sox career of Nick Green, it might not ever get any better than this.

Green himself, though, wasn't totally aware of what was going on. All he knew was that he'd seen a fastball he liked, and he'd taken his best whack at it. He knew he'd hit it pretty well, but a fierce wind blowing in all afternoon already had knocked down a couple of would-be home runs -- including a bullet to center field by Atlanta's Nate McLouth in the fifth inning and Casey Kotchman in the seventh.

"McLouth couldn't hit it any harder to right, and that's Casey Kotchman's best shot," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He crushed that ball."

Said Green, "The last thing I wanted to do was hit the ball in the air right there. The wind was so bad. I thought I hit it decent to right field, but I thought it was going to be caught."

Green actually helped himself by hitting it down the right-field line -- the wind wasn't quite as fierce there as it was in the alleys. He didn't know it was gone until he saw it settle into the bleachers behind the Pesky Pole.

But it wasn't until he looked back at home plate, where a mob of white jerseys were in a Father's Day frenzy, that it dawned on him what he'd really done.

"For some reason, I didn't comprehend it was the bottom of the ninth until I hit second base," said Green, who hit a walk-off home run for the Braves against the Red Sox five years ago. "Once I hit second, I saw everybody at home plate and realized what was going on."

He didn't even get his helmet off in time. David Ortiz -- who hit a home run himself, his sixth of the season -- has perfected the art of the helmet toss in the home stretch of his trot to the plate. Green, though, hasn't done it enough to know better -- and he got himself pummeled. He had his helmet on when he disappeared into the mob, but it was long gone by the time he emerged.

"I was hoping not to get hit, but I did," Green said. "I'm sure a couple of people enjoyed it -- Josh Beckett, for one."

Green had to have enjoyed it, too, even if he'll wake up with a couple of bruises on Monday morning. He hasn't just turned shortstop from a position of weakness for the Red Sox almost into a position of strength. He's made some very real contributions to a team that's as well-positioned to win the World Series as any in the game.

"We've talked a lot about the evolution of this from non-roster in spring training," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "It's gotten to the point where he's just been a really good player -- not just a really good non-roster player., but a really good major-league player, hopefully, on a winning team."

Walk-off or no walk-off, though, he still sees himself as that same guy who was fighting for everything he could get back in spring training. Heck, he still owns a "Rescue Squad" T-shirt.

"I still feel like I'm still filling a hole," he said. "It's one of those things where, if I get overconfident, I'm probably going to not do well. I still feel like I'm a utility guy at the moment. Except that I'm a shortstop, per se, I'm just going to do whatever job they want me to do."

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