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Mohr expects more

Derailed in '05, he has healthy outlook in camp

Dustan Mohr waits his turn in the batting cage; if he makes the Red Sox as a fourth outfielder he’s hoping for a productive, and healthy, season.
Dustan Mohr waits his turn in the batting cage; if he makes the Red Sox as a fourth outfielder he’s hoping for a productive, and healthy, season. (Globe Staff Photo / Barry Chin)

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Baseball always has had its share of weird injuries, and so have the Red Sox. Or have you already forgotten Hall of Famer Wade Boggs hurting his back when he lost his balance trying to put on his cowboy boots and fell on his couch?

David Wells, in the summer before he joined the Sox, took stitches in his nonpitching hand when he tripped over a barstool at home while carrying a wine glass. Dustin Hermanson, in his only season with the Sox, slipped on a wet floor while doing the dishes and banged his elbow, which became infected. The Steamer, Bob Stanley, fell down the stairs while taking out the trash, severing tendons in his pitching hand. Vaughn Eshelman sustained second-degree burns on his hands while trying to put out a fire started when his wife tried to heat up a baby bottle with a candle in their hotel room.

And Thomas Boswell, the splendid Washington Post columnist, delights in the tale of a 30-year-old Sox rookie, Clarence Blethen, who put his false teeth in his hip pocket while pitching and on Sept. 21, 1923, after forgetting to put them back in his mouth, bit himself in the backside while sliding into second base to break up a double play.

This is not a list to which you want your name attached, but Dustan Mohr, the most likely player to platoon with Trot Nixon in right field for the Sox this season, sheepishly qualifies for the way he got hurt on Opening Day last season. Mohr, who has a dirt-dog intensity that mirrors Nixon's, put himself on the disabled list while celebrating a walkoff home run by Rockies teammate Clint Barmes. He strained a calf muscle vaulting the low fence in front of the Rockies' dugout.

''I was pumped up," he said. ''It's not a very high fence. It's something I've done a thousand times. I just took the wrong step and the calf just pops. It felt like someone had shot me in the back of the leg with a paintball gun. I turned around to see who it was. I thought somebody was trying to give me five. Nobody was even close. I took one step and went down."

So much for what was supposed to be the best season of Mohr's career, one in which he finally got the chance to play every day, an opportunity he was never able to seize in previous tours with the Twins and Giants. Instead, it became the worst. Mohr missed the first month of the season, played miserably thereafter, lost his regular gig, failed to hit his weight (.214 average, 215 pounds), and struck out more than once every three at-bats.

(In a strange twist, Barmes's terrific rookie season was short-circuited by another freak injury. He fractured his left collarbone, he said, when he fell while carrying some deer meat he'd been given by teammate Todd Helton.)

''Last year," said Mohr, ''was just a nightmare. I was so happy last season was over when it was over. After the last out of the last game in New York, I'm thinking, 'I know I'm coming off the worst year of my career, I struck out way too much, I know that's not me,' but that's just the way it went down last year."

The Rockies, evidently feeling the same way, were not interested in exercising the mutual option on Mohr's contract, and he wasn't about to accept a demotion to Triple A, so they parted ways. A free agent, Mohr signed a minor league contract with an invitation to big league camp with the Red Sox, a team he'd hoped to play for in 2005 before they opted for Jay Payton instead.

''All that said," Mohr said, ''I felt, 'There's got to be somebody who thinks this guy can play,' and the Red Sox were available."

A native of Hattiesburg, Miss., who's on a ''what's up" basis with that city's most famous athlete, Packers quarterback Brett Favre, Mohr is at a point in his career -- and an age (30 on June 19) -- where he realizes he may never be an everyday player in the big leagues.

A fourth outfielder on a team that needs a righthanded bat to platoon with Nixon, with better-than-average defensive skills? Mohr is convinced the Sox have their man.

''If this was my first year, there'd be some uncertainty, but I've played long enough in that role and had success in that role -- what I think is success in that role, because you don't see people hitting .350 off the bench," said Mohr, who might have played linebacker at Auburn but chose instead to play baseball at Alabama, leading the Crimson Tide to two appearances in the College World Series.

Like Nixon, Mohr tends to play baseball with a linebacker's abandon. In 2004 with the Giants, he crashed into a wall shoulder-first, a prelude to ripping the bicipital tendon from its moorings two weeks later. And on the final weekend of the season, he strained his patellar tendon stumbling over a bullpen mound while catching a fly ball. While Mohr writhed in agony, the winning run scored from third, but the injury proved not as severe as it looked.

So far this spring, Mohr has managed to stay out of harm's way, with one notable exception: He is wearing No. 18, which last season belonged to you-know-who.

''I've heard a lot the last few days, heard some rumblings -- 'Hey, they already gave Johnny Damon's number away,' " Mohr said. ''It's just a number. I didn't know until I got down here I was 18. At first, I didn't know. Then somebody said, 'That's Johnny's old number,' and I said, 'Johnny Damon?' "

Not to worry. The daughter he and his wife Denise are expecting in May will have no trouble telling Mohr apart from his predecessor. Mohr has a beard, but it's more in the Jason Varitek mold. And his head is clean-shaven.

''I've got some experience in that area, too," said Mohr. ''In San Francisco, I wore 22, which belonged to both Jack and Will Clark. Everybody said, 'Hey, you can't wear Will Clark's number,' but when I saw him [Clark also is from Mississippi], he said, 'Hey, keep the legacy alive.' "

Just don't vault over any dugout railings while doing so.

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