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Toll is painfully obvious

Their many health woes have deeply affected Sox

Approach any Red Sox personnel -- management, coach, or player -- and there is a shake of the head, disbelief, and bewilderment over a season of injuries and health issues.

The busiest man in the organization has been Dr. Thomas Gill. The medical director would be hard pressed to recall the last day he's had little to do at the ballpark.

It's been a virtual epidemic.

We remember other Red Sox tragedies: Tony Conigliaro being hit in the eye with a Jack Hamilton fastball in 1967, essentially ruining his career; Jeff Gray suffering a stroke in the clubhouse in July 1991; Harry Agganis's life ending prematurely at age 26 on June 27, 1955, because of a pulmonary embolism; Bryce Florie taking a line drive in the face Sept. 8, 2000; Bill Lee's left shoulder dangling following a fight with Graig Nettles in 1976; Jimmy Piersall's breakdown in 1952.

But this latest run of misfortune? The one that most recently was injury upon injury upon injury, and then got even worse with David Ortiz, an MVP candidate and face of the organization, having heart palpitations, and 22-year-old starter Jon Lester diagnosed with cancer?

It actually began last fall.

Manager Terry Francona went through knee replacement surgery around Thanksgiving and was hospitalized for 10 days as doctors tried to ward off infection, which Francona had been prone to.

In February, when pitching coach Dave Wallace was driving to spring training, with a scheduled stop at his home in Vero Beach, Fla., he began to feel awful in South Carolina. He pulled over and phoned Gill to tell him something horrible was happening.

Gill called a medical facility in Spartanburg, S.C., which immediately began treating Wallace with antibiotics. But Wallace became so sick from what turned out to be an infection in his hip (which was replaced a dozen years earlier), he nearly died. He was hospitalized for weeks, and after being transferred to Massachusetts General Hospital, he suffered a setback.

There was more infection, which has cost Wallace most of the season because he had to have surgery to replace the hip July 1. He's only recently returned to the field.

Spring training was pretty much a wash for Keith Foulke after offseason surgery on his right knee. He tried to get used to lubricating injections but had a devil of a time trying to tolerate the pain that remained. Foulke also had back problems and finally swelling in his elbow, basically ruining his season.

Fellow reliever Mike Timlin had to be shut down at the World Baseball Classic for Team USA because of a sore right arm. Timlin began a stint on the disabled list May 28 with a shoulder strain, and when he returned, he was never as effective as he had been in previous years.

The recently traded David Wells landed on the disabled list after offseason knee surgery, but had a setback May 31 when he was hit with a line drive off the same knee, which meant most of his season was shot.

On the first road trip of the season in Baltimore, Coco Crisp suffered a non-displaced fracture of his left index finger and didn't return until May 28.

There was Lenny DiNardo's neck strain, Wily Mo Peña's hamate bone surgery, and Matt Clement's shoulder strain. Clement has not returned since going on the DL June 16. Another big blow came when Tim Wakefield suffered a stress fracture to his rib (he went on the DL July 22), and right fielder Trot Nixon strained his right biceps on a swing and went on the list July 31.

Maybe the biggest injury of all, in terms of how it affected what was left of the pitching staff, was that of catcher Jason Varitek, who underwent surgery on his left knee at the beginning of August when the Sox were battling the Yankees for first place.

With the heart and soul of the team gone, the Sox went on a free fall in August: 9-21.

More recently have come the Ortiz ailment and the devastating Lester diagnosis. Manny Ramírez has a balky knee. Peña sprained his left wrist. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez strained his oblique, and Curt Schilling will miss a start because of a strain of his right lat. Jonathan Papelbon hurt his shoulder Friday night.

``I don't think I'll see anything like this again," said third baseman Mike Lowell. ``This started out so promising. We had such high hopes here for so long."

Until everything that could go wrong did go wrong, in what will go down as one of the most injury-ravaged seasons in Sox history.

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