With the expectations of New England hanging over every game the Red Sox play and a roster filled with star power, the urge is always for the team to go full bore, to try to win at all costs, to eschew logic and sanity in an effort to achieve glory.
Although it may rub some the wrong way, that’s not how the organization, or any other for that matter, operates. Through a 162-game schedule there are several moments at which the club has to take its foot off the gas and use common sense. Winning the World Series each and every year would be nice, but reality suggests that taking a step back is necessary to take two steps forward.
That’s the approach the Sox were forced to take throughout 2010. Battered by injuries they withheld the compulsion to make any major moves at the trade deadline at the risk of losing big-name prospects for an uncertain fix. They attempted to repair iffy areas such as the bullpen with unproven youngsters from the minors. And when it came time to treat those injured players, particularly the true standouts, they exercised patience and kept an eye on the big picture.
Such was the case with Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, undoubtedly the two most damaging season-ending casualties, and that mindset has ensured that both will return fully intact and ready to put 2010 behind them.
With just a handful of games separating banged up Boston from a playoff spot in August, the club pulled back on the reins the moment Pedroia and Youkilis saw their respective injuries trend toward a worse-case scenario. The same approach was taken with Mike Cameron and, eventually, Jacoby Ellsbury. The players themselves knew when to be prudent and call it quits, despite the fact that each of those decisions hammered another nail in the team’s coffin.
“I’ve got to make sure I’m OK,” Pedroia said when the decision was made to end his season and allow his broken left foot to fully heal. “If I hurt myself bad it could not only mess myself up for next year it could mess me up for my career. Hopefully [by shutting it down] I don’t do that.”
Youkilis, who was playing through a torn muscle in his thumb, also knew the advantages of playing it safe.
“It won’t affect me down the road. The team is also looking for the future of myself and the team down the road,” Youkilis said before season-ending surgery. “For me, personally, I’ve been very fortunate with my health. I can’t get too upset because I’ve been fortunate. I just gotta take a step back.
“I’ll be able to play, just not now.”
Come late-February, when it comes time to report to Fort Myers, Youkilis will be able to play. So, too, will Pedroia. That’s the silver lining in the difficulty that was 2010.
Both Pedroia and Youkilis are on track to begin their offseason baseball activity on time, usually on or around Dec. 1. Had either stared at that small playoff deficit in August and been unable to ignore the call to competition that drives both in an inordinate way, they might’ve thought of pressing through the pain “for the good of the team.”
But knowing that their respective ailments could be fixed without the risk of long-term issues, the decision to turn their attention to 2011 has left the Red Sox in great shape. Their two most important players, who were blowing up at the time of their injuries (Pedroia had his first career three-homer game the day before he was initially hurt and Youkilis batted .391 (25-for-64) in his final 17 games), will be as good as ever once spring training begins.
The injuries were damaging at the time, but due to prudence, patience and a commitment to the future, the club and its two best players will be no worse for wear.
Each day of November, we will explore a different issue facing the Red Sox this offseason.
Nov. 6: Will Red Sox fans embrace J.D. Drew in what could be his final year in Boston?