The 2004 Red Sox showed how important speed was against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. With Boston about to be swept away in Game 4, it was speed that saved the day.
The Yankees were ahead, 4-3, in the bottom of the ninth with closer Mariano Rivera on the mound. Kevin Millar led off with a walk and was lifted for pinch-runner Dave Roberts, now the Dodgers’ manager. With Bill Mueller at the plate, Roberts stole second against Rivera and then scored on a single by Mueller to tie the score, 4-4. The Red Sox went on to win the game, 6-4, in 12 innings on a home run by David Ortiz.
The Red Sox then won the next three games against the Yankees before winning the World Series against the Cardinals.
Roberts’ basestealing success was not a surprise -- he had 38 stolen bases in 41 tries combined with the Dodgers and Red Sox that year. It was that speed that made Roberts a part of Red Sox lore.
This week, we asked our AL East beat writers to pick the best speed for each of the five teams in the division. When they get on base, these runners can cause opposing teams fits:
Blue Jays: Teoscar Hernández
It might not show in the stolen-base totals, but Teoscar Hernández holds a slight edge in speed over the rest of the Blue Jays' regulars. His sprint speed of 29.1 feet per second, according to Statcast, is closely rivaled by Derek Fisher and Anthony Alford, who will be battling for reserve outfield roles behind Hernández when baseball resumes. Hernández has legitimate wheels even in a league-wide context, with that sprint speed ranking 51st in the Majors last season. His athleticism is off the charts, which is one reason Toronto thinks there's still some extra power potential in that bat. Any defensive miscues Hernández has had in the past were because of decision-making, not his foot speed, giving him the ability to fill the gaps in multiple outfield positions. -- Keegan Matheson
Orioles: Richie Martin
On April 8 last season against the A’s, Richie Martin and Cedric Mullins combined to triple thrice, resulting in the Orioles’ first three-triple game in 26 years. It was a showcase for the O’s top speedsters, who rank first and second on the team in terms of both sprint speed and bolts, per Statcast. Both averaged better than 29 feet per second last season, well beyond the MLB average of 27 feet per second.
Of the two, Martin got more opportunity to show his speed. And his is also closer to elite. Playing the entire season in the Majors as a Rule 5 Draft pick, the shortstop led Baltimore in average sprint speed at 29.5 per second. (Thirty feet per second is considered elite.) He also paced the club with 20 bolts. Martin stole 10 bases in 11 tries as a rookie. -- Joe Trezza
Rays: Kevin Kiermaier
Kevin Kiermaier is arguably the best defensive center fielder in the Majors, and his speed is a big reason why. Last season, Kiermaier finished in the 97th percentile in sprint speed, covering 29.4 feet per second, according to Statcast. The combination of top speed and instincts in the outfield has made him a three-time AL Gold Glove Award winner.
Speed hasn’t always translated into stealing bases. Kiermaier stole 21 bags in 2016, a career high, but he hasn’t been able to break the 20 steals mark since. Injuries have played a role in his diminished numbers the last few years, but Kiermaier certainly has the speed to be able to steal around 25 bases in a season. -- Juan Toribio
Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts
Because Xander Bogaerts has developed into a bona fide middle-of-the-order hitter, you likely won’t see the shortstop reach double digits in stolen bases anymore, as he did in three consecutive seasons (2015-17). That doesn’t change the fact that Bogaerts has the best pure speed of anyone on the Red Sox. In fact, even when Mookie Betts was still around last season, Bogaerts edged him out with the best average sprint speed on the team, at 28 feet per second, per Statcast. Betts was 27.9. This is based on players who had at least 120 competitive sprints during the season. Bogaerts also edged Betts out at best home-to-first speed at 4.25 seconds. Betts just missed beating his good friend out at 4.26.
Three other players on the roster have speed that can nearly match Bogaerts: Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi and the newly acquired Alex Verdugo. The fastest player in the organization is prospect Jarren Duran, who put on a show during Spring Training after stealing 46 bases in the Minors last season. Duran, a center fielder, could get the chance to play regularly for Boston as early as 2021. -- Ian Browne
Yankees: Tyler Wade
Before the 2017 season, the Yankees pitched Tyler Wade on the idea of increasing his versatility, envisioning him as a super-utility player similar to Ben Zobrist or Brock Holt. Wade embraced the suggestion enthusiastically, believing it would assist his path to the Majors. His impressive speed projects to be useful, counteracting a lineup that has historically been filled with station-to-station sluggers.
According to Statcast, Wade posted a sprint speed of 29.1 feet per second last year, which placed him among the top 7% of Major League players (and just ahead of teammate Brett Gardner, who was clocked at 28.9 feet per second). Wade was successful in all seven of his big league stolen-base attempts last season, and he was 13-for-18 (72.2%) at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. -- Bryan Hoch