It's official. Not counting Kevin Youkilis -- who has a one-of-a-kind cheer -- the Red Sox player getting the loudest and longest applause from Fenway crowds these days is Jacoby Ellsbury.
Yesterday, after picking up their "HELP US OBI-WAN JACOBY!" K cards outside the park, fans serenaded their newest idol with raucous applause as he led off the bottom of the first against CC Sabathia. Ellsbury answered with a fly out to deep right, but by the end of the day he would have six RBI besides his name on my scorecard. Twice in the game, first with a three-run homer off Sabathia in the third and then with a two-run single in the eighth, he gave the Red Sox the breathing room they needed to re-tie the Yankees atop the AL East. In his last two at-bats, fans greeted the sweet-swinger speedster with standing ovations.
Fans, bloggers, and sportswriters are justifiably gushing over Ellsbury's breakthrough season, which now has him on pace to finish with nearly 30 homers and more than 100 RBI from the leadoff spot. Dan Shaughnessy called him "the new Fred Lynn" in today's BostonGlobe, but as much as I loved watching Lynn at Fenway, I think a much more apt comparison for Ellsbury's 2011 production would be the rookie season of another leadoff guy everybody seems to have forgotten: Nomar Garciaparra.
Look it up. Before he was moved down to the middle of the order, Nomar batted first for Boston in 152 of his 153 games played during 1997. The American League Rookie of the Year set a MLB record with 98 RBI from the top spot, and led the AL with 209 hits and 11 triples. He finished second on the club (behind Mo Vaughn) with 30 homers, and also had 122 runs scored, 44 doubles, and a .306 average -- all figures right in line with Ellsbuy's current pace. And while he was never in Jacoby's class as a base stealer, Garciappara managed to swipe 22 that year.
The two seasons almost mirror each other (except for triples), yet I have not seen one reference made to Nomar's rookie year when assessing Ellsbury. Perhaps the Lynn comparisons are more logical from a purely visual standpoint -- given both men are movie star handsome and roam the Fenway outfield -- but in terms of sheer numbers and their spot in the order, it is the freshman campaign of Boston's former iconic shortstop which serves as the best reference point. Besides, you need only hear the first name of Nomar or Jacoby to identify them; you can't say that about a guy named Fred.
Does Ellsbury have two batting titles in his future? Will he become the face of the franchise like Garciaparra? Only time will tell; for now, fans can enjoy watching a terrific season continue unfolding.