ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Trade deadline, three days away.
|A foot injury has reduced Boston captain Jason Varitek to a boot and crutches. (AP)|
Here the Red Sox are in Southern California, and first place is two hours south.
It is Gonzalez who is pushing his teammates toward the best record in the National League.
It is the Red Sox who are threatening to fade.
Sparkplug Dustin Pedroia got depressing news from the doctor this week and will have another bone scan on his fractured left foot when the Sox get home Friday. Captain Jason Varitek gimps around in a boot and on crutches. Slugger Mike Lowell is rehabbing with Triple-A Pawtucket in Toledo, outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury is rehabbing in Florida with the Gulf Coast League Sox and J.D. Drew was scratched from the latest Boston lineup with hamstring tightness.
That the Red Sox have been able to hang this close for this long through a tidal wave of injuries in 2010 has been more impressive than the autumn trees lining the Charles River in the fall.
They cannot make Pedroia's foot whole again with one phone call. They cannot heal Ellsbury's ribs with a player to be named later. There is no deal to be had that will remove Lowell's hip problems.
"The season is not even close to being over," Pedroia says.
True. But what a 162-game schedule does is, it exposes weaknesses and rewards depth.
"Still a long way to go," Pedroia protests. "We've still got 60-some games left, right?"
Right. But the Red Sox's outlook for playing catch-up over those 60-some games would not be nearly as dire if they were not in the same situation now as they were in late June ... and late May ... and seemingly every day since the season started: Stuck in neutral waiting for guys to get healthy.
The dog days of August are around the corner, and they're threatening to take the Red Sox with them.
It isn't just that the Sox trail the Yankees by eight games in the AL East.
It's that they've fallen five games behind Tampa Bay in the AL wild-card chase.
They've lost seven of 13 since the All-Star break, 12 of their past 20 and 6 ½ games in the standings since June 21.
"Other than past week or 10 days. ... We lost to a good team in Texas that was really hot. We didn't win like we should have against Oakland," first baseman Kevin Youkilis says.
"Victor [Martinez] is back now, and if get a couple of other guys back we'll be in good shape because we have enough starting pitching to go a good way. We get a couple of guys back here and there I think it will give us a good stretch run and, hopefully, put us in the playoffs some how, some way."
All credit in the world to the Darnell McDonalds and Daniel Navas for not only acting as human Band-Aids, but for doing far more than expected in keeping Boston in contention for so long.
But the hope was to get Pedroia back in late July or the first of August, and unless Friday's CT scan reveals a miracle at work, the 2008 AL MVP almost certainly will not see the field until mid-August at the earliest.
Pedroia returned dejected from a visit to the Angels' well-known orthopedist, Dr. Lewis Yocum, late Tuesday afternoon. Essentially, Pedroia, who was hurt on June 25, was hoping to return in six weeks -- which would have been around Aug. 1. But Yocum's news was jarring.
"I thought I could play," Pedroia says. "That if I feel hurt, you can just play through it. You really can't do that with this injury. That's hard to deal with. That bone will break off, then they would have to put pins in it. It would be a disaster. It could go into the offseason and then maybe next year."
Josh Beckett returned from the disabled list a week ago, made just his 10th start of the season in Wednesday's series finale in Anaheim and has won just one game this summer.
The hope is that Ellsbury can return in about two weeks.
"They really miss Ellsbury," one American League scout says. "His speed, and what he does in the outfield. They've been playing too much with fourth outfielders."
Though general manager Theo Epstein at recent July deadlines has pulled out of his hat impact players Victor Martinez, Billy Wagner, Jason Bay, Orlando Cabrera and Dave Roberts, the agenda this July is different.
"We've had our fair share of injuries and those teams haven't," Pedroia says of the two teams the Sox are chasing in the AL East, the Yankees and Rays. "That's really a credit to them, but we've had some freak accidents, man. All year.
"We haven't had our opening day lineup out there since game nine or whenever the heck it was. We've dealt with it and hopefully we can hang on and get in [the playoffs]."
Pedroia cites a 35-game stretch from late May through early July in which Red Sox made up eight games in the standings. Point is, he says, it can be done.
But how many holes can an injury-racked team be expected to climb out of before the fuel gauge registers "E"?
Here we are, the trade deadline ticking closer, and the Red Sox and Adrian Gonzalez this week were separated by just two hours of Interstate 5 asphalt.
But who would have believed the direction each is traveling?