During Jose Iglesias's first stint with the Red Sox in 2013, his confidence rubbed some veteran teammates the wrong way. The defensive whiz played cocky and didn't care who knew it.
The ensuing decade has offered Iglesias some lessons in humility, not that he's necessarily taken them. When the Angels cut him on Sept. 3, he could've wondered, at age 31, just how much baseball he had left.
Instead, he quickly signed with the Red Sox, and all he has done in the two-plus weeks since is prove indispensable to a playoff push that is suddenly resembling a runaway Acela on that one little speedy patch of Connecticut. It's too bad he'll be hopping off somewhere around Stamford a week from Sunday when the regular season ends and not continuing on to the playoffs. It's actually a loss the Red Sox will feel acutely.
How can that be? Because Iglesias wasn't in the Red Sox organization on Aug. 31, he's ineligible to join the postseason roster. He signed on Sept. 6, meaning whatever impact he'll make on this season must come between now and the Oct. 3 season finale in Washington.
That's a shame, because on Wednesday night, he reminded the Red Sox of both what they have and what they'll be missing in a great all-around effort during a 12-5 win vs. the Mets. He went 1 for 3 with a triple, two runs, and two RBIs, but even more impressively, he started the team's best double play of the season, a legitimate Web Gem that highlighted why he's still entitled to a little cockiness.
Iglesias arrived in Boston with more experience at DH than second base, but the lifelong shortstop shifted across the bag to fill the hole created by Kiké Hernández returning to center field and every other second baseman on the roster being stuck in some form of COVID purgatory.
All he has done since is make plays, none better than Wednesday's slick twin killing on a Francisco Lindor grounder that deflected off the umpire and kicked towards his face, where he calmly snagged it on the slide before pirouetting and nonchalantly feeding shortstop Xander Bogaerts with a backhand flip that a soccer fan might call "cheeky."
"That double play was amazing," said manager Alex Cora. "I think it was a game-changer right there, right? That ball goes by, and we might have to go to our bullpen earlier. It's a different ballgame. He got to the ball. His reaction was great, the feed was awesome, and the turn was great."
Watching an expressionless Iglesias transition from pop-up slide to back-pedaling strut encapsulated the hubristic style he has brought to the diamond since debuting out of Cuba in 2011, when Terry Francona was his manager and teammates included Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek, and Adrian Gonzalez.
He actually boasts an older institutional memory than Bogaerts, though it has been interrupted by stops in Detroit, Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Anaheim. Theo Epstein signed him for a little over $8 million as an international free agent in 2009. He debuted in 2011, suffered like everyone else through 2012, and then made an impact in 2013 before joining the Tigers in a three-way trade with the White Sox that brought right-hander Jake Peavy to Boston.
Iglesias hit .357 in that American League Championship Series, though his error in Game 6 set the stage for Shane Victorino's clinching grand slam. He hasn't made a playoff appearance since, and that streak is guaranteed to continue in 2021, even though he has played a significant role in the current seven-game winning streak and is hitting .378 with a 1.074 OPS since rejoining the Red Sox. He had to be on Cora's mind when the manager noted, "I do believe this is the most complete roster we've had the whole season."
There's little doubt Iglesias would be starting the wild card game at second if he were eligible. Alas, that is not the case. His satisfaction will have to come in helping the team get there.