The last time Nicholas Anthony Green made the Major Leagues, he went 0 for 7 with three strikeouts in six September games for the Seattle Mariners.
He never even made it to the big leagues last year, posting an uninspiring .233/.285/.373 line for the Yankees' AAA club in Scranton. At age 29, his career was teetering on extinction.
And it had never been much of a career. In 95 games as a 25-year-old rookie for the Braves in 2004, he managed a 79 OPS+. He was no better the next season with the Devil Rays in 111 games. By 2006, entering what should have been his prime at age 27, he was a journeyman, splitting time between the Devil Rays and Yankees.
After 17 games with Tampa Bay that season, Green sported the awful line of .077/.200/.077 — three singles and six walks in 45 plate appearances. After being purchased by the Yankees, he posted a 75 OPS+ in 46 games. His 2007 featured just those seven hitless plate appearances; with no time in the majors in 2008, Green's 272-game career was worth exactly half a win above replacement level.
Then something funny happened on the way to oblivion.
Green signed a minor-league contract with the Red Sox in January, was given a spring-training invitation, and knew he was likely spending the season in Pawtucket. Until Julio Lugo got hurt, and Jed Lowrie also went down. And Green's minor-league deal became a $550,000 Major League contract.
Suddenly, Nick Green with his career 72 OPS+ was the Boston Red Sox' starting shortstop. And he started hitting. He's now hitting .292/.345/.459 — an .804 OPS in 164 plate appearances, a full 106 points over his previous career high.
More than just the surprising turnaround is the timing of his hits.
Entering today's game, Green was hitting .409/.500/.545 with runners in scoring position, .364/.434/.530 with men on, .373/.418/.549 with two outs, .500/.560/.636 with runners in scoring position and two outs, .308/.379/.500 with the game tied and .330/.390/.479 when the game is within two runs.
And today, on the first pitch in the bottom of the ninth in a tie game, he hit one of the cheapest home runs you'll ever see, wrapping the ball around Pesky's Pole to win the ballgame. One swing, symbolic of a player's entire season.
Nick Green is having a once-in-a-lifetime year for the Boston Red Sox. True, he's not a great fielder, and even in this career year is simply flirting with the league average, but he's living the dream again after it seemed to be over.
When you root for a team with some of the deepest pockets in baseball, players like Green are some of the most fun to watch. Congratulations, Nick. Keep surprising us.