Vazquez changes game with defensive acumen

Pickoff at second base helps get Red Sox out of a jam

Vazquez changes game with defensive acumen

BOSTON -- Before Mitch Moreland could hit the game-winning home run in Boston's 3-2 win over the White Sox on Friday, Christian Vazquez had to make a game-changing throw.

In the top of the 11th inning, the White Sox were threatening with runners on second and first base and just one man out. With reliever Heath Hembree on the mound and struggling to preserve the lead, he needed a little help from his catcher.

With Yolmer Sanchez at the plate and Nicky Delmonico representing the go-ahead run at second, Vazquez started to notice something peculiar.

Not only was Delmonico a few feet off of the bag, but he didn't seem to have both feet under him. On the next pitch, the catcher knew he would fire.

"He was getting a big lead on second base, so I was trying to get him out of balance and get the out," Vazquez said.

Without hesitation, Vazquez took the following pitch from Hembree out and launched a bullet across the diamond to shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Delmonico tried to race back to the bag, but stumbled and was called out upon his retreat.

The pickoff was Vazquez's second of the season, and shifted all of the momentum in Friday's matchup.

"I firmly believe there's an ability to gain momentum from the defensive side," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "He's been able to do that. It gives us some energy. Tonight, it's the plays in the 11th inning."

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Farrell pointed out that only a select few would notice the runner at second base being off balance and would actually be able to capitalize on it.

"There's something that is generated in those plays, and his throwing arm and ability to turn pitches around to nail runners at second base is as good as it gets in the league," Farrell said.

And as far as defensive momentum goes, Vazquez's play helped Hembree power though the inning unscathed.

"When Vazqy took the guy off second, that took a lot of pressure off," Hembree said. "I was pretty much able to attack the next guy and the single doesn't score a run. It made my job a little bit easier.

Vazquez's impact was felt even the play before the defensive highlight. With two men on and no one out in the inning, Vazquez directed Hembree to go for the forceout at third after a sacrifice bunt attempt by Adam Engel. Hembree followed, and nabbed the runner.

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After those two plays, the Red Sox could start to feel everything going their way.

"It's a huge shift," Farrell said. "We're looking at a dire situation. First and second, nobody out … and approximately three or four pitches later we're at a two-out, man-at-first situation. Credit to our guys for being able to execute in pivotal moments, and the ability to throw a baseball. That's Christian Vazquez's calling card. He's a premium defender."

For Vazquez, the praise falls on a week where he's been depended on more than normal. Sandy Leon was injured sliding into home in a game against Kansas City last week, and Vazquez has been called on to catch every day since.

With Friday's pickoff, and his first walk-off home run against Cleveland on Wednesday, it seems like the catcher has had no problem with his new role.

Evan Chronis is a reporter for MLB.com based in Boston and covered the Red Sox on Friday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.