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Foolish to count out Red Sox after Ellsbury injury

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Cody Ross will most like play center field in place of Jacoby Ellsbury. (US Presswire)  
Cody Ross will most like play center field in place of Jacoby Ellsbury. (US Presswire)  

BOSTON -- The first day in the WE (Without Ellsbury) Era went better than could ever be imagined.

Mike Aviles, Ellsbury's leadoff replacement, went yard. So did Cody Ross, Ellsbury's center field replacement. Big Papi, still the man, produced hits all over the yard.

The multi-talented center fielder Ellsbury will no doubt be missed, and estimates range from three (optimistic) weeks to eight (perhaps more realistic).

But the Red Sox wiped away their shock and their tears over losing one of their best, and they went quickly back to business, turning around an early four-run deficit to beat the rival Rays 13-5. If ever there was a team equipped to survive the loss of an everyday superstar, this might be it. They have talent and toughness aplenty among their everyday charges.

We've got to weather the storm," said Dustin Pedroia, who also homered. "Our team's not built around one guy. He's a big piece, sure. But we've got to find ways to make up for it, offensively and defensively.

"We've got to deal without Ells for awhile. We've got to step up."

The Red Sox came back home this weekend with baseball's worst record at 1-5, but don't let that fool you. This team has questions, sure, but it has plenty of answers, as well.

Ellsbury, who suffered a subluxed shoulder on a freak play at second base when Rays shortstop Reid Brignac landed on him after a force out Friday, was on the bench to support the new lineup, which still featured plenty of thunder.

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Beyond the ability, the Red Sox seem to have a chip the size of the Monster itself on their shoulder at the moment. They haven't accepted what one Red Sox star called the "negativity" in the local media about this team, which finished the first week in last place, then started the next week by suffering the loss of their 2011 MVP four innings into their home opener.

Some Red Sox stars chatted on the bench before the game about how one local talking head suggested he believed Kevin Youkilis might be "done" after his 4-for-24 start. The Red Sox spoke about how crazy that is to judge so soon. Pedroia was one of those going to bat for Youkilis, saying 150 at-bats is a "start," not 24. Afterwards, they all batted for each other.

This team still has some issues in its rotation and bullpen, and with its health as well. But no one should question its moxie or heart or its batting approach. They forced Rays star starter David Price to throw 83 pitches in his three innings on Friday and they forced out 2011 Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson after five innings Saturday in the first game WE. The Red Sox may be down, but underestimate them at your own peril.

"We're definitely going to welcome [Ellsbury] back with open arms when he comes back," said Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who also homered. "But in the meantime, we've got to fight."

If the fight was ever going to come out of this Red Sox team, it was going to be early, when Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz was trying to get by without a cutter. Buchholz, missing badly to the right with most of his pitches early, got down 4-0, thanks to a three-run home run off the bat of Fenway's most hated man of the moment -- the Rays' ever-opinionated Luke Scott -- who was showered with boos after calling the 100-year-old landmark stadium a "dump." Well, Scott silenced the crowd -- momentarily, anyway -- with that shot into the lower grandstand in right field, then posted another RBI with a double high off the Green Monster, the most notable feature of the supposed "dump."

Turns out, Buchholz has a giant heart in that thermometer-thin body of his, and he wound up sticking around for seven innings after needing 43 pitches just to get through the second.

"It was just determination," Saltalamacchia said. "I think that pumped us all up."

Red Sox hitters soon began pumping balls all over baseball's beautiful yard. Saltalamacchia's long home run to dead center cut the deficit to 4-2. Pedroia's home run onto Lansdowne Street cut it back to 5-3. Ortiz's home into the 'pen in right field tied it at 5-5. And now the Red Sox were rolling.

Aviles homered into the expensive seats above the Monster to make it 6-5. Ross doubled off the Monster to make it 8-5. Ortiz doubled into the left-field corner, clearing the bases to make it 11-5. And Ross, the Ellsbury replacement in center, hit one more over the Monster, making it 13-5.

"That was fun," Ross said. "We never gave up."

But now comes the hard part, the next several weeks without Ells, maybe their most talented player. Ross looks like the logical replacement in center field, and judging by a past with more games there than anywhere else and a lot of unexpected clutch hits, he should get the gig.

But new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine likes to mix and match.

Rookie Che-Hsuan Lin came up and played an inning in center field at the end, but it appears he's headed out (their version of Linsanity isn't long lasting, it turns out). Carl Crawford said he hopes to be back "earlier" than early May, but not yet, though. And Ryan Kalish is hurt, too, depleting their outfield ranks to where Ryan Sweeney and Darnell McDonald are everyday players.

It's going to be a puzzle, but that's where Valentine comes in. He took the 2000 Mets to the World Series when their best outfielder might have been Benny Agbayani. At least Ellsbury and Crawford will be back eventually.

Reality has come early for the Red Sox, whose concerns now go well beyond the rotation and bullpen and extend to the outfield, which seems for the moment to be a complicated morass of unproven names and choices beyond Ross. Reinforcements are believed on the way; unfortunately none of them could be compared to Ellsbury, a terrific player on both sides of the ball.

He's a terrific player who's also been beset by quite a bit of bad luck. Again. The Red Sox don't give timetables for returns, but estimates ranged up to two months. A sublexed shoulder is a temporary dislocation, which often means the person popped the shoulder back into place after it popped out. While that is better than a complete dislocation or certainly a separation (which often requires surgery), it is still very painful.

That it is his right, or non-throwing shoulder, is the only real break here. Ellsbury only needs to regain comfort as a hitter, which will take weeks, even if the Red Sox, who did place him on the 15-day disabled list, aren't saying how many weeks.

New leadoff man Aviles didn't remind anyone of the fallen hero early when he was picked off first base in the first inning after his hand got stuck in the dirt (not kidding). But Aviles eventually embraced the leadoff spot, where he batted 20-something times last season for the Royals before they relegated him to the bench. Now the spotlight is suddenly on him.

"Honestly, it's s privilege to bat anywhere in this lineup," Aviles said.

Indeed, their batting order remains formidable. Let's not forget they were second in their league in runs in 2010 when Ellsbury was struck down. This team can certainly still score. And don't discount that it feels it has something to prove.

"We've got a good hitting team. We've never shied away from that," Saltalamacchia said. "With our offense, you can never count us out."

To do so now would be a mistake.

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