It has been a challenging first week of the season for the Boston Red Sox. They’ve had to battle sickness, family tragedy, injuries and bad weather, not to mention major league competition.
The net result has been a team that was having a tough time scoring runs and a bullpen that was having a tough time closing out games. Both tasks are difficult enough when a manager fields his best roster. So far, though, Manager John Farrell has been challenged to find enough players to fill out a lineup card.
The flu set up shop in the Red Sox clubhouse back in Fort Myers, Florida. It still hasn’t left. No fewer than six players and two coaches have battled flu-like symptoms and a bronchial virus that have passed from player to player. That doesn’t include outfielder Andrew Benintendi, who was vomiting (according to Farrell) during Saturday’s game in Detroit but didn’t miss any time.
All of this was happening while shortstop Xander Bogaerts and relief pitcher Matt Barnes were placed on the bereavement list following deaths in their families. And first-base coach Ruben Amaro lost his father just before the season began.
And all of that was before Jackie Bradley Jr. hurt his knee rounding first base Saturday afternoon.
Trying to get off to a good start in a big-league season is tough enough. This weekend, the Red Sox predicament got ridiculous.
“It’s not like we can go home and quit,” second baseman Dustin Pedroia told reporters. “We’ve got games to play. We’ve got a job to do.”
All this talk of flu-like symptoms and multiple strains of illness wiped away the good vibes built up in two wins over Pittsburgh to start the season. In those two games, the starting pitching was solid, the bullpen was stout and the offense just good enough.
Then came a rainout on Thursday, and trainers wearing surgical masks by Saturday’s first pitch. And a team missing several key players was doing its best to take on the Tigers.
“You do the best you can with what you have,” Farrell said.
What the Red Sox have is a strong starting rotation. Rick Porcello hasn’t been overpowering, but the Red Sox have won both of his starts. Chris Sale, still looking for his first win after a 2-1 loss at Detroit on Monday, has a 1.23 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 142/3 innings. With starters like that, the Sox don’t expect to get stuck in too many lengthy losing streaks.
Of course, they didn’t expect to start the season with workhorse David Price and reliever Tyler Thornburg on the disabled list. They didn’t expect Farrell to be giving out daily briefings on the “amount of vomiting” (again, his words) that his players were experiencing.
They say the beauty of baseball is that on an given day you might see something you’ve never seen before, even if you’ve been watching the game for decades. It’s safe to say we haven’t seen anything like this.
While the healthy (or relatively healthy) players were taking on the Tigers, the team’s staff was busy disinfecting the team’s clubhouse, airplane and other work areas. Nearly everyone who has come in contact with the team has been exposed. NESN play-by-play man Dave O’Brien left the booth during Saturday’s game feeling under the weather, meaning I had to close out the game from the NESN bullpen.
By the time the team packed up to head home Monday night, it seemed to be turning the corner on the Battle of the Bugs.
The Sox begin play against American League East opponents this week, with games against Baltimore and Tampa Bay. The Red Sox were predicted by most to be the best team in the division, but they have to be healthy to be at their best.
It has been a sickening start to the 2017 season, but it hasn’t been nauseating, at least not figuratively. Sunday’s come-from-behind win was a reminder that this is a good team – and will be even better when it’s healthy.
Tom Caron is a studio host for the Red Sox broadcast on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.