Wednesday was the day the Red Sox learned that Mike Cameron will have season-ending surgery and that Jacoby Ellsbury is likely gone for the year as well with another broken rib. It was also a day to reinforce the fact that it might not matter.
In keeping with a theme first established when Cameron and Ellsbury hit the disabled list on the same day back in April, Boston got plenty of contributions from a collection of fill-in outfielders who now know for a fact they will be regular contributors.
“We know we’re not going to have these guys in the lineup and so for the guys that are going to be playing they have to step up and play the way they’ve been playing all year long to help this team win on a daily basis,” said Bill Hall, one of five outfielders used by manager Terry Francona in a hard-fought 7-5 win over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Hall, making his 24th start in left field, hit his fourth home run in nine games to tie the game 2-2 in the fourth. Darnell McDonald had two hits to improve to 8-for-16 in his last six games. Daniel Nava, batting for McDonald in the seventh, forced in the winning run by being hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and then preserved the lead with a highlight-reel snag in left to end the top of the eighth.
Ryan Kalish went 0-for-4 in his third start in center field, but in less than three weeks on the squad he has already given us enough to suggest he’ll be fine. Playing the position some felt was Ellsbury’s and others felt was Cameron’s before the season began, Kalish again made it look like his own.
The collection of outfielders will continue to see daily lineup changes as Francona searches for the best fit depending on matchups. Knowing this, and knowing that two of the injured players are not going to be coming back, they’ve forged an all-for-one mentality.
Nava’s night may offer up the best example.
The 27-year-old, who had just two at-bats this month in an earlier call-up, was sent up to hit for McDonald in a 5-5 game in the seventh, bases loaded and one out.
After falling behind 0-2 Nava took a 95-mph fastball from Kevin Jepsen square in the back. It was a take-one-for-the-team RBI that proved to be the difference, but only after he saved a run or two in the top of the eighth.
With runners on first and second and two outs, Maicer Izturis hit a looping liner to left. Nava, playing his first defensive inning for the Red Sox since Aug. 2, stepped back and then sprinted in to snag the ball just before it found grass.
“That was a heckuva play, stating the obvious,” Francona said. “With the timing of it, guys on base, that’s probably the play of the game.”
Hall, Adrian Beltre and Dustin Pedroia echoed Francona’s sentiments, using words such as “awesome” and “huge” to describe the diving grab. Nava, echoing the sentiments of his fellow ragtag outfielders, said it was part of the job.
“I was just trying to put a glove on the ball,” he said. “Based on the situation of the game you gotta at least dive, do something because the game’s on the line.”
Due to the constant injuries and roster moves the outfield has, as a whole, been somewhat average for the Red Sox this season. Lately, however, it has begun to produce and knowing the Cameron and Ellsbury will not be fighting through ailments to try to offer something for the stretch run may be a positive for the few that are left standing.
“Just as much as you think you are helping your team sometimes it can be detrimental to your team and to you,” he said of guys trying to play through injuries.
With some good fortune, Boston won’t need to deal with that going forward and a group that includes names nobody had on their radar in March will assume an even bigger role. Based on recent history, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.