For Quintin Berry, being fast means being lonely.
Sure, he warms up with the rest of the Red Sox before games, shagging flies, taking batting practice, throwing and stretching with the group. Then, he sits on the bench with his buddies and watches the first four innings of the game, munching sunflower seeds and fist-bumping his pals as they jog on and off the field.
"For the first four innings, I stay off my feet," Berry says. "I just sit there and relax."
But once the fifth inning rolls around, Berry disappears.
He'll still watch the game, but on the TVs in the Red Sox weight room, where Berry spends the entire second half of the game alone, warming himself up again -- and then staying warm -- so he's prepared to do the one, very specific thing he is paid to do: Run.
Berry has never been caught stealing as a Major Leaguer. In 94 regular-season games with Detroit last season, Berry went 21-for-21. In the 2012 postseason, Berry stole one base each in the ALDS and ALCS. This season, after being called up by the Red Sox in early September, he stole three bases in 13 games, including one off of Mariano Rivera that blew apart what would have been the closer's 650th save and put one of the final nails in the Yankees' playoff coffin.
He stole another off Orioles' closer Jim Johnson. Then, he stole second in Game 3 of the ALDS against Tampa Bay. All together, Berry is 27-for-27.
Obviously, he'd like to keep that streak alive, so forgive him if he's particular about his solitary routine.
"I know I'm going in to run for Papi or Mike Napoli, and they're not going to come out of the game before the 7th inning," Berry says. "So in the fifth, I go in the back and I start running around."
What does that mean? It means riding the bike, jumping rope and jogging. It means high-kneeing, backpedaling and side-stepping through the quick-foot ladder. It means rolling out his legs on the foam roller and continually stretching.
Quintin Berry is 27-for-27 in steal attempts in the Major Leagues. (Getty Images)
"We even have this little vibrating machine you put on your legs that I use to loosen up my quads," Berry says.
And he has to stay loose for five full innings, because he could get the nod at any moment.
"I get more of a workout now and I'm more tired after games than I was when I used to play the whole game," Berry says. "It's exhausting."
But he's exhausting to the opposition, too.
When Berry is put into the game to run, everything changes. Speed forces the issue. Pitchers must adjust their times to home plate and their looks to first. They may switch to the slide step, or throw more fastballs to give the catcher a better shot at throwing Berry out. If the ball is put in play, fielders have to rush, knowing they have less time to work with if they have any prayer of throwing Berry out on the bases.
"I love it," Berry says. "It puts all the focus on me, so the pitcher is more likely to make a mistake and give the guy hitting an opportunity to put the ball out of the ballpark. He's going to turn that one run he's worried about into two, especially with the way these guys here in Boston swing the bat. Nowadays, guys aren't used to seeing guys who have a lot of confidence in running. It's a wrinkle you can throw at them, and you can affect the whole game."
The Tigers had a chance to see Berry's effects up close last year, when he spent more than half the season in a Tigers' uniform. And Berry knows the Tigers -- from personal experience, and from the countless hours of video he's watched, looking for pitchers' tells and catchers' tendencies. He claims Detroit starting pitcher Doug Fister is the fastest to home plate, and says catcher Alex Avila makes the throw to second base quicker than most. The respect is mutual.
| "I get more of a workout now and I'm more tired after games than I was when I used to play the whole game. It's exhausting." |
|-- Quintin Berry |
"You're born with the speed, but you have to learn to steal bases," says Avila. "You have to learn pitchers' tendencies and pick-off moves and Quintin has done that. There are plenty of guys who are fast who aren't smart baserunners who get thrown out a lot. And there are guys who aren't very fast who seem fast because they're smart. But Quintin is fast and smart. He has the best of both worlds."
Which makes him one of the most dangerous baserunners in baseball.
"He's a weapon," says Tigers manager Jim Leyland. "Even when everyone in the ballpark knows he's going to go, he can still steal the base. That's what I call a legitimate base-stealer."
So when Berry disappears from the Red Sox bench, Leyland and the Tigers know exactly where he's gone, and what he's preparing to do.
"I love everyone worrying about me," Berry says. "But I have no fears. I feel like I can get a base at any time."
The Red Sox hope he's right.
Lindsay Berra is a reporter for MLB.com.