Thumb's down: Reese, Red Sox fall
Fenway loss to Twins is overshadowed
Last May, when Pokey Reese tore the ulnar collateral ligament of his left thumb while playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he missed the rest of the season.
Last night, after rolling on his glove hand while diving for a ground ball during Boston's 4-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins, Reese sustained what Red Sox team doctor Bill Morgan termed a "partial tear" of the same ligament, but Morgan listed Reese as day to day ("Correct. Exactly.") and described a best-case scenario in which Reese would return by the weekend.
Morgan is a hand specialist, so Reese's injury falls within his specific area of expertise. But considering the extended layoffs of Nomar Garciaparra (Achilles' tendon) and Trot Nixon (back, quadriceps) after injuries that also weren't expected to sideline them so long, some skepticism regarding Reese's imminent return may be warranted.
Morgan said surgery will not be necessary.
"We can treat it nonsurgically," he said. "We can give him a few days, let the acute swelling come down, make sure his motion is good, and then we'll just work on protective mechanisms like taping, maybe partial splinting in his glove, and taping while he hits so that we can protect it for the next 4-6 weeks so that he doesn't reinjure it."
Morgan, saying he would be "surprised if he missed a week," gave that upbeat prognosis while acknowledging that the injury was in the same place in which Reese tore the ligament last season, while stealing second base. On that occasion, he did have surgery.
"It's the same area that was already fixed surgically," Morgan said, "but the fixation is still intact. The ligament is still where it's supposed to be. This kind of ligament, if it ruptures, will tend to migrate, and that's why it becomes a surgical problem. With Pokey, it's in a good position right now."
Reese, who was injured in the top of the second inning while smothering Luis Rivas's infield hit up the middle, fielded the last out of the second inning before retreating to the dugout runway in pain. He underwent X-rays at the ballpark that were negative, then was taken to St. Elizabeth's Medical Center in Brighton, where an MRI showed the partial tear of the ligament on the inside of his thumb. He was back in the clubhouse after the game, and said he tore the ligament in his right thumb on the same play six years ago.
"This time it's not as sore," said Reese, who tore up his left thumb last season when he hooked second base with his hand after a stolen base. "Last time, I felt a burning sensation. I'm not that concerned because the doctor looked at it and it's probably just a sprain."
Equally understandable, of course, is that no one on the Sox wants to think about what a prolonged absence by the two-time Gold Glover and instant fan favorite would mean for a team that has had one debilitating injury after another this season, with Reese hoping to avoid becoming the fifth position regular to go on the disabled list.
"He's a huge part of this team," catcher Jason Varitek said. "I love him."
Reese's injury overshadowed Sox efforts to recover from a four-run deficit in the middle game of a three-game set against the leaders of the American League Central. The Sox, shut out on four singles through the first five innings by righthander Carlos Silva, led off each of the next two innings with home runs. Mark Bellhorn cranked his eighth of the season to open the sixth, and Nixon, who had a home run taken away the night before by Twins right fielder Jacque Jones, deposited a ball out of Jones's reach in the Sox pen, his third home run since his return from the injuries that had sidelined him all spring.
But that was all the offense the Sox, who did not cash in on subsequent doubles by Varitek (in the seventh) and Garciaparra (leading off the ninth), could muster. That was not enough to overcome the little ball-big fly combination that did in Derek Lowe, who in seven innings recorded 21 outs on either ground balls (14) or strikeouts (7), easily the most whiffs he has had this season (previous high: four).
But Lowe, coming off an 11-0 combined shutout of Colorado in his last start, was done in by Lew Ford's surprise bunt in the first inning, and Torii Hunter's blast off the Volvo advertising sign in left field after Johnny Damon was unable to make a backhanded shoestring catch of Corey Koskie's leadoff double in the sixth.
A bunt with two on and nobody out in the first inning? By Sox standards, that's heresy.
"A guy who is having a phenomenal year hitting in the three hole, the last thing you expect him to do is bunt," Lowe said of Ford, the former Sox farmhand. "And he did. He put down a really good bunt."
Two ground balls hit not quite hard enough to be double plays brought home Cristian Guzman and Doug Mientkiewicz, who had opened the game with base hits. The Sox, meanwhile, couldn't avoid the double-play ball against Silva, Manny Ramirez rolling into a double play with runners on the corners and one out in the first, and Damon hitting into another with runners on first and second in the fifth, shortstop Guzman converting a tough feed from Rivas with the help of a terrific stretch by first baseman Mientkiewicz.
"The chances of this offense scoring just two runs isn't very good," Lowe said.
Much less, it seems, than the odds of another Sox player succumbing to injury.
"That's something from a team standpoint that is so frustrating," Lowe said. "Billy Mueller is on the fast track to get back. Ellis [Burks] is getting ready to come back. And now another situation where we haven't had the whole team together.
"Hopefully, [Reese] won't be out long. But if he is, we've had guys step up all year, step up and play well. I think we've done extremely well to be where we are."