“This is the time of the year where everybody is struggling physically.”
From David Ortiz’ mouth to more than half of the ears in the Red Sox clubhouse.
The most important moments of Monday night's game came well before the first pitch was thrown in what would turn out to be a rain-shortened, 11-5 Red Sox loss at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park.
Even if the Sox had found a way to win, sit around the clubhouse until Texas dropped its game to the Angels at 12:45 a.m., and proceed to celebrate a postseason berth, it wouldn’t have altered the true storyline.
No, those were scripted early on thanks to a quad, a hip and two backs.
The most important aspect of the evening was where key members of the Red Sox stood in terms of their health. Jon Lester was testing his bruised quad in a bullpen session, Mike Lowell got his second injection of Synvisc in his surgically repaired right hip, Nick Green tested the slipped disc-induced “dead leg” once again, and, perhaps most important, Josh Beckett was forced to step back from his regularly scheduled start to allow a mild spasm in his upper left back to calm down.
All of the ailments had playoff implications, and this time of year those sort of issues always take priority.
So, what did we learn about each of the predicaments?
Injury: Bruised quad suffered when New York’s Melky Cabrera rocketed a line drive back off the pitcher’s leg.
What he did Monday: Threw a 55-pitch bullpen session without incident.
Prognosis: Is on target to make his scheduled start Thursday at Fenway Park against the Indians.
“I felt fine. No problems,” he said. “Just the normal long-tossing and everything. Right around 55 pitches. Everything was good. I felt good this morning when I woke up and walking around and everything. But there’s that question in your mind: 'OK, when I get on the mound, is it going to bug me?' and it didn’t. Everything was good.”
Injury: Soreness in his hip. He originally approached Red Sox manager Terry Francona Thursday in Kansas City about potentially getting a shot after the area had stiffened up on him again, although not to the extent that he dealt with prior to receiving a shot in early July.
What he did Monday: Received a shot consisting primarily of the lubricant Synvisc, which was what he had been injected with in July, resulting in dramatically improved mobility. The shot also included some cortisone as well. Fourteen CCs of fluid were extracted, which was just shy of the 15 CCs taken out in July.
Prognosis: Stemming off the success that came with his only previous shot this season, Lowell felt optimistic that after taking three games off he will be hitting the postseason in good shape.
“I don’t think this was a necessity, but why not do something that’s not going to hurt me and will make me feel better,” Lowell said.
“We were talking about it a couple of weeks ago, more heading into the postseason. I would rather have more ability than less. I spoke to the docs and everything and they said this would be a way to alleviate pain, and it’s looking pretty good. This was a good time to take two or three days off to really get my hip hopefully feeling a lot better.”
(Click here for the entire transcript of Lowell’s pregame media briefing.)
Injury: Slipped disc causing “dead” right leg.
What he did Monday: Some running in the outfield prior to the game.
Prognosis: Green informed Francona that he expects to be able to play in a game in a couple of days, although there is still no certainty regarding his injury. The hope is that the disc in his back somehow slides back into place, alleviating the weakness in his leg.
“He did some tee work and did some running and some throwing. He tolerated it pretty well,” Francona said. “He still fatigues pretty quickly. His hope is maybe he can get into a game in a couple of days, but we’ll see. The good news is that he’s actually thinking about getting into a game in a couple of days. Again, we’ll have to see how he responds. That might be a little bit quick for me, but the fact he thinks he can get in a game means he’s going in the right direction.”
Injury: Mild spasms in his upper left back.
What he did Monday: Skipped his scheduled start in preparation of making his next appearance Saturday at Fenway Park against Cleveland.
Prognosis: Following the Red Sox’ loss, Francona insinuated that Beckett is probably going to make his next scheduled start.
“During the game isn’t the easiest time to discuss that stuff, but we talked a little bit,” Francona said. “We’ll see how he does. I think our thought right now is that we’ll probably keep him on his turn, which means he’ll pitch Saturday. We just want to make sure we do what is in his best interest, and that’s probably realistic. That doesn’t mean it’s a done deal, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s how it works out.”
Francona said that it is an ailment that had bothered Beckett for some time, but when the pitcher couldn’t get comfortable on the team’s plane ride back from New York Sunday night, and then experienced discomfort Monday morning, it was determined that rest would be the preferred approach.
“Every time something happens we try to make it be beneficial,” Francona said. “Rather than whine about something, we try to make something that was maybe a negative today and turn it into a positive. We’ll sit with him and the medical staff and figure out the best course of action for him and we’ll adjust to it.”
Beckett had referenced the importance of getting extra rest while speaking in Baltimore, saying: “I’ve been basically on five days for five or six starts in a row, and it catches up to you. I think this was definitely what I needed. My body needed it. I’ve been dealing with something different almost every start. They’ve made it possible to build that [rest] in over the past four years and my body has become accustomed to it. I haven’t had many breathers other than those two extra days [after the All-Star break] there.”
Pitching on an extra day's rest Wednesday in Kansas City, Beckett allowed two runs over six innings, giving up 12 hits while throwing 103 pitches.
Here are four more things we learned on a day dominated by aches and pains:
ORTIZ IS THE HEALTHY ONE
Through all the talk of bruises, bumps, shots and spasms, David Ortiz sits in the Red Sox clubhouse living an entirely different life than he was a year ago.
The playoffs are upon us and Ortiz is healthy. Times have certainly changed.
"After I came back last year my hand still felt weird. I don't remember a day when I felt good," Ortiz said. "And the cold weather didn't help. But I'm fine now. My knee. My wrist. Everything is fine. I feel good."
The latest example of how good Ortiz feels came when he hit his 28th homer of the season in the Red Sox' loss Monday night, a solo shot in the sixth inning. It was his sixth homer of September, matching his output in the season's final month a year ago. But, as he explained, there is no comparison when looking at the pair of stretch drives.
"I feel good," he said. "Last year I had to deal with my wrist. It was a [expletive], especially when it got cold and it got tight. It was not fun. But now I feel good."
Even before the Red Sox' loss to Toronto there was no secret to how good Ortiz felt. Not only has he hit .284 with a .568 slugging percentage in September (numbers that almost add up to his combined totals for April and May), but since his low point on June 1 (.185 batting average), Ortiz has produced as well as almost anybody in baseball.
Using the first day of June as a jumping-off point, Ortiz has more RBI (77) than Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, and the fourth-most homers of any player in baseball (27). And it's a streak that, thanks in part to the designated hitter's health, doesn't seem to be slowing down.
"I was fine [during the slump]. My problems were more mental and mechanical than anything else. But body-wise, I was fine," explained Ortiz, whose 41 walks and 12 homers in the postseason since 2003 is second only to Manny Ramirez. "I try to get it done. In the playoffs you have a small amount of chances to get it done, but it can happen. I think I’ve done OK in the playoffs.”
REALITY STAR MAKES HIS DEBUT
Dustin Richardson had only performed in front of a larger television audience once before — and that was as a basketball player.
Richardson, a fifth-round pick in the 2006 draft, made his major league debut Monday night, pitching 1-1/3 scoreless innings out of the Red Sox bullpen after previously spending the '09 season between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket. And while it was undoubtedly the largest crowd the 6-foot-5 lefty has ever performed in front of, he had showcased his skills before a larger TV viewership three years prior.
Richardson was one of the two finalists on the ESPN reality show "Knight School," in which students from Texas Tech University competed for a chance to make Bobby Knight's men's basketball team as a walk-on.
"That whole 'Knight School' thing was so long ago, it seems," Richardson said.
But with two outs in the fifth inning, those reality show memories got pushed back even further as Richardson was called upon to face Toronto's Aaron Hill. One pitch and one fly ball to center field, and the 25-year-old officially was a big league pitcher.
"[Monday night] I was numb. It happened so fast. It was a blur," said Richardson. "It took until about the third inning, while sitting in the bullpen, that I started feeling like a baseball player again. I had been here before with the Futures at Fenway earlier this year, but obviously it's not quite the same. The fans, at night ... I don't want to say it was scary, but I kind of just wanted to hit the fast-forward button to get through it all."
Richardson, who wore No. 54, went a combined 2-2 with four saves and a 2.55 ERA over 45 relief appearances between Portland and Pawtucket. He compiled a 2.70 ERA in 38 games with Portland, earning Eastern League All-Star honors and holding opponents to a Double-A-best .186 average. Richardson had been promoted to Pawtucekt on Aug. 21, giving up two earned runs over 10-2/3 innings with 16 strikeouts in his final seven appearances.
All of the cachet that came with his success was put on the back-burner, however, as the sudden "oohs" and "aahs" emanating from the stands reminded Richardson.
"The roar of the crowd was incredible," he said. "I'm sitting in the bullpen and a lot of offense was going on and I'm just hoping that didn't happen to me."
Richardson had been working out for the past 1-1/2 weeks in Fort Myers with a collection of other Red Sox minor leaguers who provide the kind of insurance the pitcher supplied Monday.
"I didn't find out until 1 o'clock," he said. "I almost threw this morning. I was getting ready to warm up, but they shut me down because something was going on and they told me to sit tight."
PAPELBON IS READY TO PARTY
With the Red Sox having a chance to clinch a playoff berth Tuesday, the poster boy for postseason-clinching celebrations, Jonathan Papelbon, was gearing up.
Papelbon, whose signature move in the playoff-induced celebrations has been the on-field dancing (along with an occasional beer case on the head), has been involved in eight postgame parties to commemorate either advancing into, or through, the postseason.
Now another one of those instances was on the horizon, a notion that didn’t escape the closer’s radar.
“I just like to have fun,” Papelbon said. ”That’s the whole thing, you let loose because you go through so much throughout the season, so many ups and downs, the stress, and travel, to accomplish something, so when you do, it’s no holds barred.”
While the Red Sox would have to wait one more game to clinch thanks to the rain-shortened loss to Toronto, it might have worked out better for the Sox anyway. If they had won, the belief was that most of the team would be watching the conclusion of the Angels-Rangers game — which didn’t start until after 10 p.m. — in the team’s clubhouse.
“We’re in a pretty good spot,” catcher Victor Martinez said. “We’ll see what happens and we’ll go from there. We’ll have to wait, come back tomorrow and play a game. We’ll see what happens. … I’m pretty excited when that moment comes, I’m really excited about it.”
START STOPS BOWDEN’S MOMENTUM
Michael Bowden’s second major league start didn’t come under ideal circumstances, but he isn’t about to make any excuses or have a single regret.
Bowden was called upon to fill in for Beckett after it was determined the Boston ace couldn’t make his regularly scheduled start due to the spasms in his back. It appeared to be the next big opportunity for the rookie, who had previously pitched exclusively in relief this season, making six prior appearances.
Bowden, who was getting somewhat used to life of a reliever, had performed admirably since his September call-up, allowing two runs in 6-1/3 innings of work while holding opponents to a .227 batting average.
Prior to Monday night, Bowden’s only other major league start came last season when he allowed two runs over five innings. This one, however, didn’t go quite as well.
He surrendered four runs in the first inning and left after allowing seven runs over three frames.
“I feel like I let the team down,” he said. “I didn’t get the team in the game. I went out there, threw a lot of pitches, was up in the zone, got hit and set a bad tempo for the game.
“I felt strong. I warmed up well. I went out there and when I had two strikes on guys I was leaving the ball up, giving them a pitch to hit. Other than that, just around the zone, throwing a lot of pitches, and just giving them something to hit.”
The entire experience was certainly not a highlight in a season that has had plenty of shining moments for Bowden.
“It’s always tough, but it’s inexcusable,” he said. “They could have told me at 7:05 and I should have been able to put forth a better effort than I did tonight. It’s just a terrible feeling, going out there and letting the team down and giving up that many runs so early in the game.”