BOSTON -- A year ago, Xander Bogaerts might have been the last person the Red Sox would have wanted at the plate with runners in scoring position and the game on the line.
What a difference a year makes.
"Right man, right time,'' boasted John Farrell after Bogaerts delivered a sharply-hit, three-run single to the right of the second base with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, bringing the Sox from two runs down to a run ahead in a 4-3 win over the Miami Marlins.
Last year, Bogaerts was a paltry .153 (19-for-124) with runners in scoring position; Tuesday's game-winner improved Bogaerts' average in such situations to .388 (26-for-67). Over the last month, he's hitting .500 (14-for-28) with runners in scoring position.
"You can say his entire game has improved dramatically,'' said Farrell. "Defensively, offensively . . . I just think he's grown up after a year in which he was challenged and learned a lot about himself along the way. He's a guy we talk a lot about lately in those key spots -- he's playing with a lot of confidence and [there was] no bigger moment than tonight.''
That the hit came off Miami reliever Carter Capps only made it more impressive. Capps can touch 100 mph with his fastball, and the fact that he takes a modified crow-hop in his delivery -- somehow deemed legal by Major League Baseball -- makes him that much more difficult to solve.
"I never faced that guy before,'' said Bogaerts. "You don't know what to expect until you're up there hitting. I was kind of tracking the first pitches. I was lucky that he threw (three) balls so I could see him pretty good and I put a good swing on the last one. I've faced a guy who throw pretty hard, but they have normal deliveries. This guy has a weird thing going on.
"A lot of guys would want to hit with the bases loaded, but I'm not sure too many (would want to) against that guy. As I said, it's not too easy to hit against that guy -- funky delivery, throws hard.''
As he's done in other similar situations this season, Bogaerts went up to the plate with a simplified approach.
"All I was thinking was not just touch hit, just hit it hard,'' he explained. "Not swing hard, just hit it hard instead of just touching it. I'm just trying to be aggressive for my pitch. [Last year] they would throw me a first-pitch fastball right down the middle and I would just take it and they would get to throw whatever pitch they feel like. Just trying to hammer on that first good pitch has been helpful.''
Hitting coach Chili Davis isn't surprised with the improvement Bogaerts has shown with runners in scoring position. Since spring training, he's watched Bogaerts mature as a hitter in virtually every situation.
"Now he understands he can use the whole field,'' said Davis. "I think it started earlier in the year where he was just taking what he gets from pitchers -- singles, doubles. He's not trying to do too much. It just carries over.''
From his spot in the dugout, Davis had nothing but admiration for the at-bat against Capps.
"No big over-swinging, no cheating, nothing,'' said Davis. "Just trying to put the barrel on the ball and let whatever happens, happen. He's pretty much simplified his approach with runners in scoring position knowing that, 'Hey, I'm just trying to make good contact, square the ball up and let it go where it goes.'''
More often that not, in stark contrast to a year ago, those at-bats have resulted in big hits in big spots for the Red Sox.