Commentary

Red Sox go on without Johnny Damon

Updated: August 25, 2010, 9:21 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- There was a legitimate buzz among players in the Red Sox clubhouse Tuesday afternoon with the possibility of Johnny Damon rejoining his former club.

Shortly before 5 p.m. ET, the former center fielder, who starred for the Red Sox from 2002 to 2005, including postseason heroics that led to a World Series championship in 2004, announced he was staying with the Detroit Tigers and would not accept a trade after Boston claimed him on waivers.

The hype in the clubhouse quickly turned to disappointment.

[+] EnlargeJason Varitek
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezJason Varitek, whose role with the Red Sox has been diminished, says his injury-plagued team still can make a run at the playoffs.

David Ortiz and Jason Varitek both reached out to their friend and former teammate in an attempt to convince Damon to return to Boston, because both know the Red Sox could use his production and influence on and off the field.

"I said it before and I'll say it again: Playing with Johnny and the way he plays the game and the way he goes about his business would have been a welcome visit to have him back here," Varitek said. "I reached out to him as a friend, as a teammate, and ultimately he's had some decisions to make, and I can't fathom what had to go into it. He would have been a big addition to our team with what he can do."

Did the Red Sox really need him? Would the original "idiot" have made the difference in a serious run at a postseason berth?

"He would fit in well with this team because we're a bunch of grinders and a bunch of people -- one through nine and players on the bench -- who have faced some adversity this year," Varitek said. "Johnny's a baseball player and he gets after it, so he would have no problem fitting in. I think it would add to what we have, and it's a pretty darn good clubhouse."

As bummed out as the veteran Red Sox players seemed about Damon's decision to remain with the Tigers, there still is a sentiment that the current roster has what it takes to make a legitimate push down the stretch.

The cliché of "what doesn't kill you will only make you stronger" should be the motto of the 2010 Red Sox. All season, when you thought it couldn't get any worse for Boston, it has.

The number and degree of injuries to key players sustained by the Red Sox would have crippled most teams, but the Sox have received major contributions from many unlikely sources as they remain in the hunt in the American League East.

"I think the chemistry's great," Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon said. "You look at what our team has gone through this year, and I don't think there is any other team out there in the big leagues that could go through what our team has gone through this year and be where we're at. No other team could do what we're doing.

"Once we get to the point where the playoff race becomes more prevalent, it's do-or-die, and when you put our backs against the wall is when we seem to do our best."

There was a time in professional sports when players would spend the majority of their careers in one city, playing for one team. Nowadays, that's not the case.

There's constant turnover, but the Red Sox have done a solid job signing their homegrown talent to long-term contracts in order to keep a strong nucleus in place. But this season, particularly with the loss of second baseman Dustin Pedroia, first baseman Kevin Youkilis and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury for extended periods, Boston has needed help from bench players to fill the void.

Because players like Darnell McDonald, Bill Hall, Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava and Jed Lowrie have contributed, the environment behind closed doors and on the field is a relaxed one for the Red Sox.

"We have great chemistry," Youkilis said. "We're getting along and having fun. We're not where we want to be exactly, but we're still playing great. We're not in first place, and we're not in second place, but the two teams that are, are playing really well. We've just had a lot of adversity this year, and to have that much adversity and to be where we're at is unbelievable."

Varitek, the team's captain, also has been on the DL since fracturing his left foot July 1, and he continues to rehab in an attempt to be activated before the end of the season. Even before he suffered his injury, Varitek had been relegated to backup duty behind starting catcher Victor Martinez.

He didn't complain about his role, and he wasn't about to, given his leadership skills. Even though Damon is not walking through the Red Sox clubhouse door, Varitek believes his current teammates have what it takes.

"This has been who we are and it's been who we are all year," he said. "We're in the right place, and it comes down to we throw the ball well and we present ourselves with the opportunities to win. We have to continue to do that, and it's even more important over this next month."

The Red Sox ultimately will be judged on their final record. After all, the chemistry in the clubhouse can go only so far because it comes down to performance on the field. General manager Theo Epstein said recently he believes this club can get on a hot streak, and that's the real buzz in the clubhouse right now.

"It shows a lot of heart and dedication out of these guys," Youkilis said. "No matter what happens, guys are going to go on the field, play hard and play the right way."

It would have been a lot of fun to see Damon back in a Red Sox uniform. Too bad it's not going to happen, but you have to give Epstein credit, knowing Damon's presence would have given this club a major boost.

And, just in case you were wondering, we're told Daisuke Matsuzaka would not have given up No. 18.

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

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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