- Gordon Edes, Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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NEW YORK -- Burying David Ortiz's jersey in the concrete foundation of the new Yankee Stadium was supposed to bring all manner of misfortune on its occupants.
How's that working out so far? The Yankees won a World Series in their first season of residency in the billion-dollar palace and now, this weekend, they have a chance to bury Ortiz and the rest of the Red Sox, much as they did in 2006, when a five-game sweep in Fenway Park put the Sox out of their misery.
Perhaps if the jersey had not been discovered and exhumed, the original intent of its construction-worker donor might have been met with better results, though there was one positive outcome: The subsequent auction of the unearthed artifact did raise big bucks for the Jimmy Fund.
But the unceasing calamity visited upon the Red Sox this season -- Kevin Youkilis' season-ending thumb injury is merely the latest manifestation -- might lead one to wonder how John W. Henry incurred the wrath of the Gods upon his enterprise, if one were inclined to grasp for such explanations. The Curse of the Bambino mercifully has been taken out of circulation, so more recent developments come under suspicion: The Mark of Manny, perhaps?
The wonder of it all is that despite all their injuries, the Red Sox still have a pulse in the AL East. They come into the weekend trailing the first-place Yankees by six games, and are 5½ behind the second-place Tampa Bay Rays for the wild card.
But that was also the case in 2006, when the Sox began that fateful August weekend just 1½ games behind the Yankees and a mere 76 hours later were tumbling out of contention, 6½ back.
Joe Torre, managing the Bombers at the time, was asked if he could have imagined such a sweep, one in which the Yankees outscored the Red Sox 49-26 to become the first team since 1954 to win a five-game set in the Fens against the Sox.
"Managers have visions of sugarplums,'' said Torre, whose team completed its humiliation of the Sox with a final-game lineup of Nick Green at short (yes, the same Nick Green who played in 2009 for the Sox) and Sal Fasano behind the plate; Green doubled and scored the winning run on a wild pitch..
The parallel to '06 has already been invoked numerous times this season when discussing the wreckage inflicted upon the roster assembled by Theo Epstein. Youkilis became the 15th player to go on the DL in 2010, and the sixth Opening-Day starter. The number of games lost to the DL was 258 just a week ago, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In 2007, when the Sox won the World Series, they lost just 48 games on the DL. That number now will easily eclipse 350 and approach 400.
"Going from worse to worse,'' is how Ortiz described it to reporters Thursday night in Boston, after the Sox had salvaged a split with the Cleveland Indians on a grand slam by Adrian Beltre and good work from Daisuke Matsuzaka.
That was how it felt in 2006, too, when in the span of just five weeks after the All-Star break, Tim Wakefield (rib cage), Trot Nixon (biceps strain), Jason Varitek (knee surgery), Alex Gonzalez (back spasms) and Jon Lester (shoulder) all went on the disabled list. But there was more. Ortiz had a scare with heart palpitations. Ramirez came out of the final game of the Yankees series with what was described as a hamstring cramp and started just eight games the rest of the way. And most shocking of all, Lester was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
The casualties became too much for the Sox to bear, especially after Ramirez, who was spectacular in defeat (8-for-11, two homers) during the Yankees series, ran up the white flag and essentially took the rest of the season off.
There has been no shred of similar quit in these Red Sox, whose lineup has been greater than the sum of its parts all season long. But the loss of Youkilis on the eve of this Bronx showdown -- especially with Dustin Pedroia still on the shelf -- may be one too many to bear.
Beltre, whose grand slam was the difference-maker Thursday night, has been a revelation this season, but Youkilis had been the one constant day in and day out, performing at an MVP level. He had been murder on the Yankees, too, batting a team-best .462 this season, with half of his hits going for extra bases.
Maybe Mike Lowell, called upon to replace Youkilis after four months of serving as an afterthought, can turn farce into fable with a storybook finale. The Sox are resting their greatest hopes on a starting rotation that gives them a chance to win every night, regardless of the names playing behind them.
But there is no room for slippage, especially this weekend. It won't even require another Boston massacre. Anything less than a split, and the Sox are finished.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.