New York Yankees’ center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury received cheers from the classier fans in his return to Fenway Park. For the most part, however, he was booed in his team’s latest three-game set against the Boston Red Sox. Signs displaying slogans of money-grubbing betrayal such as “$ell$bury” evoked those made for Johnny Damon in 2006, such as, “Looks like Jesus. Acts like Judas. Throws like Mary”.
Though incredibly clever (enough to get the author on TV), the jeers didn’t have the intended effect. The first year Damon was branded a traitor to Red Sox Nation, he batted .324/.362/.618 with four home runs, 13 RBIs and 12 runs scored against his former team, to go with a ridiculous .371/.371/.800 slash line in eight games at Fenway.
Ellbury had a similar homecoming this year. In the latest installment of the best rivalry in baseball, he batted .333/.375/.667 with five RBIs and three runs scored. He also played outstanding defense.
Maybe it was refreshing to dig in the lefty batter’s box at Fenway again, one of the best hitter’s parks in the game and the field he called home for just over six seasons, or maybe he was playing with an added chip on his shoulder after being booed by the fanbase to which he helped bring two championships. Maybe it was both. Whatever the impetus, Ellsbury killed his old ball club in the three game series, just like Damon did in 2006.
Their performances could simply be an indication as to why the Yankees signed the two center fielders in the first place – that they’re flat-out good ballplayers. Apparently the team likes to put a spin on the phrase, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” and transform it to, “if they beat us, make ‘em join us”. Still, anyone who saw the Pittsburgh Pirates - Milwaukee Brewers brawl from Apr. 20 knows that baseball is an emotional game, and anyone who watched Ellsbury in this series could see he was playing with an added fire. He didn’t just want to win because it’s his job. To a degree, it was personal.
In seven games against his old ball club this season, Ellsbury has batted .345/.406/.552 with six RBIs, five runs scored and two stolen bases. The Yankees won five of those games against their most-hated rival.
So to Red Sox fans I say this: Keep the signs and the jeers coming – they’re working marvelously.