Commentary

Rob Refsnyder making the most of his chance as Red Sox try to do the same

The outfielder has made clutch plays over the last week with Kiké Hernández on the injured list.

Rob Refsnyder points after an RBI single for the Red Sox
Rob Refsnyder's RBI single on Sunday is part of a 9 for 23 start in his limited time with the team. Sarah Stier/Getty Images

COMMENTARY

Let me throw a couple names at you: Dave McCarty and Bobby Kielty. Daniel Nava a bit easier to recall? José Iglesias for sure, given recency.

It might be a little too early to add Rob Refsnyder to that club, but he has certainly nominated himself in just nine games of early summer action for the Red Sox.

The bit players who help good seasons stay on the rails.

“I just try to be a small piece to the puzzle,” Refsnyder said earlier this month, after his five-star catch in Seattle helped win a game on what’s, so far, a defining road trip in a turnaround.

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Even the best teams are gigantic puzzles, an array of a few dozen names arranged across seven months. That takes a lot of great performances, and they aren’t all going to come from the highly paid and easily remembered.

McCarty played his way onto the ’04 Red Sox bench in spring training, won them a couple games in May with big hits (including a walk-off at Fenway) and hung around the roster nearly all year. He didn’t play in the postseason, but Curtis Leskanic did, and without his getting the final four outs of Game 4 in the ALCS against the Yankees (including Bernie Williams with the bases loaded), who knows how different history is?

Kielty was plucked off the waiver wire in August 2007, saw one World Series pitch to cap a 600-game MLB career, and slammed it for a title-clinching home run. Nava had late-game, go-ahead hits in seven Red Sox wins in 2013, one of multiple career years (Mike Carp, anyone?) that helped bring that championship home.

Iglesias, brought back in the final month of last season, was a stabilizing force without which the Red Sox almost certainly don’t make the playoffs.

“I think what he brings to the equation in the clubhouse, it means a lot,” Sox manager Alex Cora said down the stretch last fall. “It helps a lot of guys, and he’s a veteran that understands how to win ball games.”

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The 31-year-old Refsnyder doesn’t necessarily fit that mold, a fifth-round pick by the Yankees a decade ago with only 242 games (including postseason) as a major leaguer. The Red Sox are his ninth organization; he just about made the team out of camp as a fourth outfielder, but was a late cut who stayed on the radar in Worcester. (He’s played nearly 500 games at Triple-A since first getting there in 2014.)

Refsnyder made a three-game Boston cameo in late April, then was recalled again on June 10. That night in Seattle, he scored the winning run after getting hit by a pitch and going first to third on a single. Two days later was the catch. Two days after that, he had three hits in Oakland. After his RBI single on Sunday against St. Louis, he’s 9 for 23 (.391).

It’s a small thing. A small sample, a small add, a small contribution. If it needs to be something more, the Red Sox are probably closer to the team that still hasn’t won a series against an American League East opponent than the one that’s 13-5 since they lost their last — whatever that five-game, late-May mess against the Orioles was.

We can point to this weekend against the first-place Cardinals, same as we pointed to the two-of-three against the first-place Astros a month ago, as a possible proof of concept. Michael Wacha (2.28 season ERA) and Nick Pivetta (1.77 ERA in his last nine starts) carried the weight. The offense twice posted double-digit hits. Tanner Houck twice wobbled, but did not fall when Boston twice needed its closer in games that were 6-1 entering the ninth.

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“Every season has certain moments where you want to see how the team responds,” Jackie Bradley Jr. told reporters, “and this was one for us.”

“I think it sets in stone what type of baseball team we are,” Pivetta added.

The news was hardly all good, despite Pivetta’s froth. (Boy, were those final three strikeouts and subsequent exultation fun to see.) We learned Nate Eovaldi’s injury absence may be extended. Houck’s four saves in four opportunities, Mariano Rivera-esque among his peers, makes him a more critical piece just before another Toronto series he may exclude himself from.

And that’s with a team that’s leaned harder on relievers than almost any finally needing to cut down to 13 pitchers.

For now, they’re doing enough. Finding the relief innings, finding the big hits, finding their way to pile up wins against opponents they should beat. That doesn’t mean they’re a great team yet, but every great team has done it that way because there is no other way.

Cora doesn’t need the lesson, but he’s another reminder of it. He was arguably the best hitter on the April 2007 Red Sox, cracking go-ahead hits on back-to-back nights and holding down a spot while some rookie named Dustin Pedroia found his footing in the majors.

It’d be asking a lot for Refsnyder’s contributions to add that much to Red Sox history. But for now, he’s certainly justified his place on a team that’s trying to justify theirs as our primary focus of the summer.

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