Jul. 9—What the heck are the Boston Red Sox doing within a game of the best record in baseball?
It's a legit question.
Nobody predicted this but here the idle Sox are 54-34 through Thursday, trailing only San Francisco (54-32).
Not even Sox president Chaim Bloom, who I interviewed in a lengthy Q&A last December. Although he did say: "I think we can make some noise and compete here in the short term as well."
Sure the Red Sox had a core of guys in the middle of their lineup with MVP-caliber resumes: Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez. But the holes elsewhere, even with these three playing at the top of their games, were too many.
Bloom went out and got some duct tape, as in players with not much value, and plugged them in as if he were King Midas.
Almost all of them have added value to this unexpected year.
The great thing about baseball is every player has a story. Everyone is different. Every path is different.
Enter one of those value-added, the path-less-taken players, Christian Arroyo.
Who is he? How did he get here? Why is he, when in the lineup, the life of the party?
He arrived here in the middle of August during Boston's unwatchable 2020 COVID-19 season.
So it's understandable you might not know how this guy actually arrived here.
Well, Bloom signed Arroyo after the Cleveland Indians waived him.
Bloom knew Arroyo, whose claim to fame a pro baseball player was that he was part of the deal that sent Tampa Rays legend Evan Longoria to the San Francisco Giants for four players.
Arroyo, now 26, didn't play much for Bloom and the Rays, only 36 games over the 2018 and 2019 seasons, due to freakish injuries, but his passion apparently stayed with Bloom.
Tampa eventually dealt Arroyo to the Indians before the 2020 season and the rest his history.
But to really know Arroyo you have to go back earlier in his career, basically high school.
That's when he was being followed by a then-Giants scout named Mike Metcalf, now a coach at Florida State University.
"Red Sox fans have seen the passion he plays with," said Metcalf. "You can see he cares. Well, that's what I saw when he was in high school, the same thing. He was fun to watch, that fire. He put that Hernando High (in Brooksville, Fla.) on his shoulders for an incredible run in the state tournament."
Passion, or as they say "make up," isn't enough to become a major leaguer. Not when you're recommending to your bosses in San Francisco that this Arroyo kid is worth drafting in the first round.
But he could hit the ball hard.
"Christian had an innate ability to find barrel, every time," recalled Metcalf. "He wasn't necessarily hitting a two-run homer or a double every at bat, but everything was hard. You don't see that often with high school kids. He really wasn't a big name heading into the spring of his senior year, but he was after that year."
Arroyo also copped MVP honors while playing for the Team USA high school team.
The Giants drafted Arroyo with the 25th pick, paying him $1.87 million to forego a college career 90 minutes from his home at the University of Florida.
Because of Arroyo's size, some teams saw him a future catcher, but he wanted to the chance to be an infielder, which is where he has played since being drafted in 2013.
Metcalf has followed Arroyo's career closely and says that while he showed promise even in the Giants minor league system, hitting just under .300 over five years, injuries have kept from playing more.
Before being hurt with a bone bruise and being placed on the disabled list on June 20, he was establishing himself as a regular.
And he was acquiring a flair for the dramatic, with four home runs in June that either tied the game or put the Red Sox ahead, including a seventh-inning grand slam in Atlanta that put the Sox ahead for good in a big, 10-8 win.
His celebration running around the bases was epic.
And Metcalf happened to catch it live.
"I actually pulled into house and turned the TV on when he hit that bomb," recalled Metcalf. "It was vintage Christian, running around the bases, pointing to the dugout. "Then seeing him get pushed in that grocery cart. Nothing this guy does surprises me. To get through the adversity he has had in his career, you have to have the make-up he has."
Well, Arroyo returned to the lineup on Monday and hit another home run in the Red Sox' only win in Anaheim, 5-4.
Metcalf wonders if Boston shouldn't be Arroyo's home, long-term.
"He's a hair-on-fire guy who cares about baseball," said Metcalf. "Honestly, he really fits that Bostonian mentality, that hard-core baseball guy those fans seem to love. If he gets the opportunity, I believe he's keeper there."