Commentary

Sox get win without Jacoby Ellsbury

Criticism of center fielder arises after he returns to the disabled list

Updated: August 15, 2010, 1:52 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- After Jacoby Ellsbury returned to Boston to be examined Saturday morning and Dustin Pedroia began his two-game minor league rehab assignment, their teammates produced another dramatic victory, 3-1 over the Texas Rangers on Saturday night.

The Sox's win comes on the heels of back-to-back devastating losses, to the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday and the Rangers on Friday.

[+] EnlargeMarco Scutaro
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezMarco Scutaro and the Red Sox pulled out a win Saturday after back-to-back losses.

The adversity won't end for the Red Sox, but they're only getting stronger. Just when it appears things are ready to implode, Boston finds a way to get it done.

"We've got a lot of winners in here," said Red Sox utility man Bill Hall. "Obviously we know this is a winning organization. I knew from the first day of spring training it was a different mentality here when it comes to winning. It's not a lot of rah-rah, but everybody comes in prepared to win a ballgame every single day."

That mentality has kept this club in contention from Day 1 despite all the adversity it has faced all season with key players out of the lineup for extended periods of time.

"We've been pretty banged up all year long, and getting more banged up as the season goes along," Hall said. "If this was something new to us, who knows how we would handle it. Having handled it all year long, it makes it easier when somebody goes down. We know we can get the job done and we've been doing it all year."

It appears the Sox will have to do it without Ellsbury, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list Saturday.

Fortunately, Pedroia will return to the lineup Tuesday, which will be a huge help for the Red Sox down the stretch.

There's almost a sense in the clubhouse, and it's been this way for the majority of the season, that the Sox can win without Ellsbury. Sure, Boston is a better club with him in the lineup, but the Sox have shown they can win without him.

Saturday's victory again proves that point.

Now that Ellsbury finds himself on the DL for the third time this season after reinjuring his ribs Friday night, the criticism has begun about whether or not he's soft.

When Ellsbury was developing in the minors, he was compared to then-Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon because of their similar speed, athleticism and star-like qualities. It was an easy argument to make a few years ago, but not now.

Case in point: During the 2005 season the Red Sox were playing the Rangers in Arlington in early July. Boston had 2½-game lead in the AL East and Damon was banged up with a variety of bumps and bruises, including a shoulder injury. Manager Terry Francona decided he would give Damon a day off and posted the lineup without his name on it. A little while later a new lineup card was posted with Damon playing center and leading off.

When asked about it, Damon told a reporter, "We're in a pennant race."

It was that determination that made Damon one of the best. He continues to play that way and has never played fewer than 143 games in a season during his 16 seasons in the big leagues. He actually played 161 as a 24-year-old with the Royals.

If you want a current-day example, look no further than the Red Sox clubhouse.

The only reason Mike Cameron is on the disabled list with a lower abdominal strain is because Ellsbury was able to return to the lineup. Cameron has been bothered by a groin injury/hernia all season, but he's still managed to play 48 games despite two trips to the DL. It's a serious injury that he's been playing through -- an injury that will require surgery at some point.

Ellsbury has received some criticism along the way.

In the midst of his month-long hiatus from the club when he was rehabbing at Athletes' Performance Institute in Arizona, Red Sox teammate Kevin Youkilis criticized Ellsbury for being away from the team while other injured players remained with the club -- both at home and on the road -- during their rehabs.

Ellsbury has maintained all along he wanted to play despite the discomfort, until it was too much to handle. Even when he reinjured his side on Friday, he told Francona he didn't want to be removed from the game.

"He didn't want to," Francona said. "It was pretty obvious to me he was hurting. He didn't want to come out, but I'm glad I took him out because he was obviously hurt. If he got hurt worse, that doesn't help anybody."

Ellsbury was a major spark plug late in the 2007 season, helping the Red Sox to a World Series title. In 2008, he played 145 games and occasionally complained of minor bumps and bruises, forcing veterans to sit him down and explain that playing with discomfort comes with the territory.

Ellsbury played 153 games last season and led the league with 70 stolen bases and posted a .301 average with eight homers and 60 RBIs.

[+] EnlargeJacoby Ellsbury
G. Newman Lowrance/Getty ImagesJacoby Ellsbury returned to the disabled list on Saturday for a third time this season.

This season has been marred by the rib injury he suffered when he collided with third baseman Adrian Beltre on April 11 in Kansas City. Ellsbury fractured five ribs and hasn't been the same since.

Now that he's back on the shelf, Francona will use a combination of Ryan Kalish, Darnell McDonald and Bill Hall in center field. Kalish will likely see the majority of the time in center and he said he's ready for the opportunity.

"It's a shame with Jacoby because he's been a real awesome guy with me," Kalish said. "I know what kind of player he is and I know he doesn't want to be hurt. I feel terrible for him. In his absence, I'll try not to make the game too big and I'll try to slow the game down. There's more responsibility placed on me. This season has been filled with injuries, and a guy like myself, I'm going to make the best of it. It's a shame [about Ellsbury], but we'll keep going."

The rookie outfielder, who has been compared to Trot Nixon, has heard the criticism of Ellsbury and doesn't understand it.

"I don't agree; Jacoby plays the game hard and he's been a great teammate," Kalish said. "For me, I know what it feels like to play with something that doesn't feel 100 percent. To say Jacoby is dogging it is unfair. I just want Jacoby to get himself [healthy] because when he's right, he's a spectacular player."

Texas Rangers left fielder David Murphy is a product of the Red Sox development system and played with Ellsbury at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. Murphy was traded to Texas as part of the deal that brought reliever Eric Gagne to Boston on July 31, 2007.

Murphy has emerged as a solid full-time player for the Rangers and believes Ellsbury is an important part of the Red Sox organization despite this season.

"It's always been a guy who plays hard," Murphy said. "He's been huge for the Red Sox the last few years out of the leadoff spot. It's obvious his speed is pretty much at the top of anybody in major league baseball. You put him in a class of Carl Crawford. He's a gamer, and I know he's had a difficult season."

There's no denying the fact that playing with five fractured ribs would hamper anyone's performance. Swinging a bat, throwing the ball and playing center field involves so much torque of a player's core, it's nearly impossible not to feel pain with such an injury.

"I can't imagine what it would be like to play with broken ribs," Murphy said. "I give him a lot of credit to get back as soon as possible, trying to play through it and gut it out. Obviously, it's been a struggle and a tough season for him. He'll be fine once he gets completely healthy."

Murphy suffered bruised ribs on his right side with only two weeks remaining in the regular season last year. He attempted to make a catch at the wall in Anaheim when he left his side unprotected and slammed into the fence.

He finished the season but had trouble breathing and sleeping. So to say Ellsbury is soft, Murphy believes that's unfair criticism.

"I definitely do," he said. "That's a tough injury to play through. He's always been a gamer and I've seen him play through injuries before. I know in a market like Boston, it comes with a little more criticism because [fans] obviously want him on the field because he's such a big part of that team. He knows that, too. I'm sure he wants to be on the field, but that's an injury, unless you're 100 percent, it's hard to play your way through."

So now what? "We've kept ourselves in contention, and now we're looking to get past contention," said Hall. "We're looking to win this thing."

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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