Sox like chances in war of attrition
As freak injuries mount, Boston's depth, determination are tested
SAN FRANCISCO -- Can the Red Sox have any more weird injuries in one weekend?
Not unless David Ortiz gets run over by a float in Sunday's gay pride parade here on his way to the ballpark.
Friday night, second baseman Dustin Pedroia, coming off the best performance of his big-league career, fouls a pitch off his left foot, breaks a bone and is lost to the team for weeks -- at least two, maybe four, six, eight. Way too long for the Sox to be missing their Jeter.
Saturday afternoon, Clay Buchholz collects the first hit of his big league career; moments later, he pulls up lame between first and second base. The verdict? Hyperextended left knee, which left it to Scott Atchison to pick up where Buchholz left off -- in the second inning.
"It was indecisiveness on my part going into second base," Buchholz said. "I was either going to slide or bail off. I landed weird and felt a little pop behind my knee."
And what possessed Terry Francona to defy the Dark Side and send another pitcher, John Lackey, to the plate as a pinch-hitter in the fifth?
"He was not going to run hard," Francona said of Lackey, who jogged down the line after rolling out to first. "I yelled at him before he got up there.
"We're in the fourth inning, we have J.D. [Drew], we have [David] Ortiz, we don't have enough bodies to do that."
The Sox somehow escaped Saturday with a 4-2 win over the Giants. The bullpen pieced together eight innings, and Mike Cameron hit his first home run of 2010 and made a catch that he hoped impressed one of the day's honored guests, Hall of Famer Willie Mays.
But the attrition rate is reaching alarming levels -- the Sox should request bodyguards for Jon Lester for his duel with two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum on Sunday. And you wonder how much longer the team can continue to patch and fill before the promise of this season unravels the way it did in 2006.
You remember 2006, don't you? First place in August, out of the playoffs in September, as injuries to Trot Nixon, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek and Manny Ramirez (hamstring strain, fractured conscience) ultimately took their toll.
"We don't think like that," Francona said when asked whether he wondered what calamity might befall the team Sunday. "We're just going to show up and try to beat a good pitcher [Lincecum]. That's what we're supposed to do."
There's also a flip side to all these injuries, voices in the clubhouse insisted -- Francona, Cameron, Jonathan Papelbon.
We just took a big blow to the chest, man, to lose Pedey. It's going to come down to who wants it more, who can take the blows, who can't.” -- Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon
"[The attrition] doesn't help, but we've played with so much more personality in the last month and a half," Francona said. "Guys like Atchison, two months ago he was having mop-up innings, now he's coming into games, and I guarantee he's feeling good about himself. Teammates mobbing him. This team is forming its own personality, which is great.
"I think we're real fortunate to have a guy like Billy Hall to go play second. We all know what Pedey means to this team. That's why we love him so much, that's why we brag about him every day. And if you pitch, you always give yourself a chance. We used seven of 'em, but they got 'em out."
Cameron had gone a team-high 111 at-bats before connecting for a three-run home run in the second off Giants rookie left-hander Madison Bumgarner, clearing the center-field wall. Then, in the eighth, he ran the equivalent of a gun lap to overtake Pablo Sandoval's drive to the gap in right-center, reaching behind and over his head to make a catch that left him sprawling in the dust of the warning track.
"It's good to contribute at a time when we've got so many guys going down," Cameron said. "I haven't been able to run that good in a while."
It will remain a challenge, Cameron said, to win without Pedroia.
"It's tough," he said. "It's definitely going to zap some of what we're gifted with as a baseball team. Losing the fire that a guy like Pedroia brings, offensively and defensively, definitely takes effect on you, but we've got enough guys in here that can weather the storm.
"We've been weathering it for awhile. Many guys have been contributing, doing different things. As we move forward, it's going to be important that everybody become a piece of it. We've had so many contributors over the course of the season. Losing Buchholz is very big. Losing Pedroia, who goes out there every day, gives every ounce he has every single day, [and] is a major part of this team, it hurts, but we need to rally up, try and go out and do the best we can."
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The last word, on the field and off, belonged to Papelbon, the closer who blew back-to-back saves in Colorado, but needed just eight pitches -- the same number he threw while giving up two home runs in Denver -- to close out the Giants.
"This division this year is stronger than it has been in the six years I've been in the big leagues," said Papelbon, who talked again about pulling himself up off the mat, just as he did a month ago after blowing a save against the Yankees.
"It's going to take some tough chins to win this now. Hopefully guys can see me, in my position, hey, I got beat up for two, but I ain't backing down. Hopefully that can rub off on some of the guys in our bullpen and I can show the rest of the team that, hey, I ain't backin' down. Nobody has to be backing down. We've got to fight this thing out."
Even more so, Papelbon said, with Pedroia going down.
"We just took a big blow to the chest, man, to lose Pedey. It's going to come down to who wants it more, who can take the blows, who can't."
Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.