MINNEAPOLIS — Xander Bogaerts had four hits and drove in three runs for the Red Sox on Saturday afternoon. But his most impressive feat came with, well, his feet.
The Red Sox found themselves tied with the wretched Minnesota Twins in the sixth inning when Bogaerts slapped a single to left field. As David Ortiz stepped to the plate, the Twins did what all teams do and shifted their infield defense to the right, leaving only shortstop Eduardo Nunez on the left side of the infield.
Ortiz accommodated the Twins by knocking a ground ball at second baseman Brian Dozier. But Dozier stumbled and his throw to Nunez at second base was late. Bogaerts never hesitated, hitting second and sprinting to third base. By the time Twins pitcher Kyle Gibson realized he should have been covering the bag, it was too late.
“After I saw Dozier miss the ball, no way the pitcher is going to remember that he has to be at third,’’ said Bogaerts, who has taken an extra base twice against a shift this season. “Nunez was the last guy close to that side and he was on the base.’’
The alertness paid off when Hanley Ramirez’s sacrifice fly scored Bogaerts with the go-ahead run.
“An electrifying type of play; it turned the dugout on because you don’t see it often,’’ Sox manager John Farrell said. “Just a great heads-up base running move.’’
That the Red Sox went on to win, 15-4, lessened the impact of the play. But it didn’t diminish the idea that Bogaerts is fast developing into one of the best players in the game.
Bogaerts is 8 for 10 with two home runs and seven RBIs in the last two games, raising his league-leading batting average to .358. He had an RBI double in the first inning Saturday, a two-run homer in the eighth, and scored four runs.
At the plate, on the base paths or at shortstop, the 23-year-old is playing like an All-Star, if not a candidate for Most Valuable Player.
“Xander, every day he does something that impresses me more and more. The way he’s playing the game every day is something that’s scary,’’ Ortiz said.
“At that age? We’ve been talking about this the last couple of years now. The way he carries himself right now is like a superstar. He’s not missing anything.’’
Gifted young shortstops are blossoming around baseball, a time reminiscent of when Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez were in their nascent years in the mid-1990s.
Baltimore increased the value of 23-year-old Manny Machado by moving him over from third base. There are the two young stars from Puerto Rico, Carlos Correa (21) with Houston and Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor (22). Corey Seager of the Dodgers, at 22, is another cornerstone player.
For the moment, and perhaps for years to come, Bogaerts leads the group.
“He’s way too good to believe. He’s the best shortstop in the game by far. I throw him on top of anybody in the game,’’ Ortiz said. “He’s in the top-tier best players in the game right now. No question. You tell me two players better than him in the game right now, more complete than him. I don’t think there’s that many.’’
Bogaerts is one of three players in the majors with consecutive four-hit games this season and the first Red Sox player since Ortiz in 2013. His OPS is up to .934. His defense grades out among the best at his position, too.
“There’s nothing on the field he can’t do,’’ second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “When you have his talent and understand the game, that’s pretty damn good.’’
Bogaerts ducked his head when his teammates’ praise was relayed to him.
“That’s a huge honor. But it’s a long season and we have a long way to go,’’ he said.
The Red Sox had 15 hits off six Minnesota pitchers. Jackie Bradley Jr. contributed a three-run homer in the first inning. Sandy Leon was 4 for 4 with a walk and two RBIs.
The Sox scored 10 runs in the final two innings, sending 19 men to the plate. They have scored 23 runs on 31 hits in the first two games of the series.
There’s a reason the Twins are 18-43.
There was a downside. Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez allowed four runs on six hits and four walks and could not complete five innings.
“We’ve got work to do with Eddie,’’ Farrell said.
Five relievers combined on 4? innings of one-hit, scoreless relief. Heath Hembree (3-0) was the winner, going an inning.
The Red Sox have won three of four on their road trip, which ends Sunday afternoon with Rick Porcello facing rookie lefthander Pat Dean. They are tied with Baltimore atop the AL East.
Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.