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Jacoby Ellsbury’s Presence a Game-Changer for Boston Red Sox

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COMMENTARY | Eighteen games ago, Jacoby Ellsbury suffered a compression fracture in his right foot in the opening game of a series against the New York Yankees. For fans of the Boston Red Sox, reminders of the previous two Septembers had to have surfaced.

The Red Sox hadn't clinched anything, though they had a healthy 6.5-game lead on the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East. But that lead could evaporate just as quickly as Ellsbury's presence in the lineup. Over the next 16 games -- without Ellsbury -- the Red Sox held it together, going 10-6 in the season's final month. An impressive run without their leadoff hitter, despite the small sample size

But in Ellsbury's return Wednesday night, he reminded everyone what he brings to the lineup. Though he did not steal a single base, as he had 52 other times this year, he did reach twice, crossing the plate each time, in just four innings of work.

What Ellsbury brings to the team is obvious. His 170 hits from the top of the order are second only to Matt Carpenter in MLB, and are by far the most in the AL. On base, his ability to advance is in short supply on the Red Sox -- only Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia have more than 6 steals on the year.

But his value to the team goes beyond what he can do offensively. Ellsbury is one of the best defensive center fielders in the game. When he's healthy, Victorino in right and Daniel Nava or Jonny Gomes in left make up a formidable outfield trio. And that's not to speak ill of Jackie Bradley Jr., who has filled in admirably in the interim. But he's not on Ellsbury's level yet.

With Ellsbury the Red Sox are even more dangerous. If there's one thing they do well -- and there are many more than one -- it's jump out to an early lead. An Ellsbury hit, a Victorino bunt and a Pedroia double may as well be the calling card of their 2013 season.

In the postseason, when runs are at a premium, players like Ellsbury see their worth increase exponentially. He's never an easy out, and when he does get on, keeping an eye on him becomes paramount.

This fall, Ellsbury won't just be playing for a championship. He'll be playing for a contract, with Boston or elsewhere. Should the Red Sox make it to the World Series, all eyes will be on the impending free agent.

Andrew Luistro has followed the Red Sox and Patriots for over 20 years. He also writes for the The Hockey Writers and Sunbelt Hockey Journal.

Follow him on Twitter @ndrewL7.

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