Christian Arroyo had it lined up perfectly.
With the game on the line with two outs in the bottom half of the ninth inning against the Angels on Monday night, Arroyo positioned himself in shallow right field as the dangerous left-handed hitting Shohei Ohtani stepped up to the plate.
In a contest in which Boston was barely clinging on to a one-run lead, Adam Ottavino found himself in one hell of a spot after already allowing a run to score in the last half of the ninth.
With Sox closer Matt Barnes unavailable, it was up to Ottavino to take on Ohtani with runners at first and second, meaning the game was very much in the right-hander’s hands.
After falling behind in the count at 3-1, Ottavino delivered an 80 mph slider to Ohtani that hung out over the heart of the plate. Ohtani, in response, laced a 101.3 mph grounder that had an expected batting average of .910, would have made it into right field, and at the very least scored the tying run if the Red Sox infield was playing traditional defense.
Instead, Arroyo — the second baseman — was playing Ohtani to pull the ball, and that move paid off when the two-way phenom’s screamer was hit right to him on a hop.
Arroyo needed all of a fraction of a second to corral the ball and make the throw over to an awaiting Bobby Dalbec at first base, which in turn secured a 5-4 series-opening win for the Sox at Angel Stadium.
“I knew he was over there,” Ottavino said of Arroyo Monday night. “I always check the shifts, but part of the reason why I wanted to stay breaking ball there is so that if anything, he would pull it, because I knew all our guys were over there. And Christian’s really good at those plays. That’s a tough ball, it’s hit hard with topspin. I was like, ‘Just stop it.’ And he did, so it was beautiful.”
Arroyo’s game-saving play on Monday is just the latest instance of how well he has handled things at second base since the start of the season.
The 26-year-old infielder came into play Thursday having logged 321 innings at second base across 46 games so far this year.
Among the 15 American League second basemen who have played at least 300 innings at the position in 2021, Arroyo — as of Thursday morning — ranks third in Defensive Runs Saved (3), second in Ultimate Zone Rating (2.1), first in Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games (9.4), and third in Defense (2.7), according to FanGraphs.
While Baseball Savant may not exactly favor Arroyo’s defensive efforts (0 Outs Above Average), it goes without saying that the 6-foot-1, 217 pound right-handed thrower has provided the Sox with a reliable presence at second base in his first full season with the club.
Arroyo flourishing in the infield has also benefitted Boston in other areas, as Kiké Hernández — who originally signed with the intentions of being the team’s everyday second baseman — has emerged as one of the more productive defensive centerfielders in the American League.
That being the case because Hernández came into play Thursday, an off day for the Red Sox, having recorded the most outfield assists among all AL centerfielders (5) while putting up 9 Defensive Runs Saved, which is the second-highest amount among outfielders in the AL behind only the Rays’ Brett Phillips, who has 11.
“We always said that when we had the lead, he was going to end up playing second base. It’s just that the other guys stepped up at that base,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said in regards to Hernández on Monday. “That play by Christian (Arroyo) at the end was great. We’ve been able to turn double plays with Marwin (Gonzalez), Christian (Arroyo), and Michael (Chavis), so we’re very comfortable with them at second base. The way he has been playing center field, it’s above average.
“The fact they have to respect their arms, all of them out there, we can shut the running game down just because of who they are. It’s a plus for us,” added Cora.
On paper, the Red Sox may be one of the worst defensive teams in Major League Baseball in terms number of errors committed (60) and fielding percentage (.981), but the fact of the matter is that they are still getting key contributions from a plethora of players in the infield and outfield, including both Arroyo and Hernández.