Sox show strength when others fret
Boston has been able to overcome injuries with shrewd moves
NEW YORK -- Nice job by the Red Sox -- mixing, matching, filling, patching. They have had an answer for adversity's every visit, and this season, adversity has been, and still is, a regular caller for the Boston club.
The Sox just keep coming up with legitimate answers to baseball's difficult questions. Injury and/or ineffectiveness in the starting rotation? Here's Paul Byrd, just in time to beat the Yankees. One outfielder on the disabled list, need some depth? Presto, everybody's idea of a professional, Mark Kotsay.
The whole mess with Manny Ramirez? The Red Sox emerged with Jason Bay in left field, hitting .333 in August, playing solid defense, fitting in perfectly in the clubhouse.
"Theo seems to be accumulating baseball players, which is really a nice thing," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona on Thursday, making a reference to general manager Theo Epstein.
That's the deal. Whether from the farm system or the rest of the baseball world, when reinforcements are needed, reinforcements have arrived.
Still, the problems keep coming. Josh Beckett didn't make his scheduled start on Tuesday against the Yankees because of numbness in his pitching arm and inflammation in his elbow. Then he was tentatively scheduled to pitch on Friday against the White Sox. But Epstein said on Thursday that while the numbness had subsided, Beckett's elbow was "not 100 percent." Instead of pitching on Friday, Beckett will be visiting noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews.
So the pattern continues. The list of 2008 injuries and issues for this club attacks not only quantity but quality; 15 players, 18 stints on the disabled list at one time or another. David Ortiz missed 45 games. Mike Lowell, twice on the disabled list, including right now. J.D. Drew, currently on the DL. In addition to an earlier stay on the disabled list for Beckett, starters Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield also were on the DL.
Clay Buchholz, a no-hit phenom last season, was also on the DL in May, came back, never consistently regained full effectiveness and had to be sent to the Minors. And Curt Schilling never threw a pitch off a Major League mound in 2008. That's just a sampling of the issues that have been faced by this club. But its organizational depth and adaptability is such that it can suffer an injury and actually come out ahead.
This is what happened when shortstop Julio Lugo went out with a strained left quadriceps in mid-July. The Red Sox brought up Jed Lowrie, who turns out to be better than Lugo both offensively and defensively. This was the one position where it previously appeared that the Red Sox were less than average. No longer, because Boston's farm system had a ready, willing and able replacement available.
There is no question that the Red Sox's offense is not as powerful without Ramirez, and that Ortiz is seeing fewer hittable pitches without Ramirez hitting behind him. But the Red Sox traded for sanity when they dealt Ramirez. They are a more contented, less distracted club without him, and the play of Bay has made the whole transaction more plausible, credible and successful.
Despite the notable absences in the lineup, the Red Sox have received wonderfully consistent production from Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis. Without Ramirez, with Ortiz losing considerable time and power to an injury, you would think that Boston's offense would suffer mightily. Pedroia and Youkilis have not allowed this to happen.
Plus, the Red Sox have not changed their fundamentally sound approach. Francona has consistently said that the Sox's offense would be OK, regardless of injuries, if everybody would swing at strikes and trust the guy behind him in the lineup. Despite missing key personnel, Boston retained this approach, remaining relentlessly patient and selective at the plate, routinely driving up opponents' pitch counts.
"They just drive the opposing pitching staff crazy," said Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon, who has seen this rivalry from both sides. "They do have a lot of patience, and when they get their pitch, it doesn't seem like they're missing it."
The Red Sox had a difficult 3-2 loss to the Yankees on Thursday. But they had already made their point in the rivalry and in the standings by winning the first two games of the three-game series. And they finished their current road trip 6-3.
"I think everybody around here feels good about our ballclub," Francona said. "But we just lost a tough game today."
For all the changing and adjusting and realigning that this club has had to do, as the end of August approaches, the Red Sox are in a bit of a gray area. By the traditional measurement, they are more than fine, six games up on their archrivals, the Yankees. But this year, to date, what that gets them with the emergence of the Tampa Bay Rays is second place in the American League East and a relatively narrow lead in the AL Wild Card race.
This situation requires some adjustment, too. A 14th straight postseason appearance by the Yankees appears to be a work of imagination now. But the Red Sox have to chase the Rays, while whichever AL Central team finishes second, the Minnesota Twins or the White Sox, offers extremely viable competition for the AL Wild Card spot.
Even with the continuing difficulties and questions marks, based on the previous track record of knowing how to win, and based on this season's display of organizational depth and maneuverability, the Red Sox, one way or another, should once again be a postseason team. With the obstacles placed in this club's path this year, that is an even larger accomplishment than usual.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.