ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - David Ortiz was talking about how he felt obligated to play because Manny Ramírez and Kevin Youkilis were still missing from the lineup when he glanced at Youkilis, who was dressing a few cubicles away.
"Dude, how you doin', bro?" Ortiz asked before last night's 8-1 win over the Devil Rays in which the DH slugged a three-run homer, his 32d, in the ninth.
"I got good news from my MRI," said Youkilis, revealing that he had undergone further testing on his swollen right wrist, which has kept him sidelined since being struck by a pitch from the Yankees' Chien-Ming Wang last Saturday. "No fracture, just inflammation in the joint."
"No fracture?" Ortiz repeated. "Good. I thought it was broken when I saw you that day in the shower. When do they say you'll be ready to go?"
"As soon as I can smoke a ball in BP," Youkilis said.
That may be a few days yet. Youkilis did not take batting practice yesterday. And manager Terry Francona said Ramírez, who last night missed his 22d game since straining his left oblique Aug. 28, is "unlikely" to play this weekend. That would be consistent with the message on the back of the T-shirt he was wearing while trolling a Tampa mall Thursday: "Game Off."
Ortiz said he understood Ramírez's continued absence. "That's the worst injury ever," Ortiz said. "You sneeze, it hurts.
"[Julio ] Lugo pulled that muscle. I did it in the instructional league, when I was a baby. I couldn't do anything. There's nothing you can do but rest to get it better."
Ortiz said Ramírez told him even before he strained the muscle hitting a single in the sixth inning in Yankee Stadium that he felt a twinge in the oblique area. "He said it was bothering him a little, then 'boom,' " Ortiz said.
Francona said he'd like Ramírez to have some at-bats before the postseason. "But him sitting in the 4-hole, I don't care if it's Christmas Day or the middle of the year, pitchers aren't going to be running up there to face him."
Coco Crisp, who had missed the previous two games with tightness in his lower back, was back in the lineup last night, batting seventh and playing center field. He was flanked by rookie Jacoby Ellsbury in left and Bobby Kielty (.421, 2 HRs vs. Rays starter Scott Kazmir) playing right in place of J.D. Drew.
Celebration on ice?As of an hour before the game, the Sox had no champagne on hand in the event they clinched a playoff spot this weekend. Francona said he wasn't sure whether the club would celebrate, with the division title unresolved. The players reportedly voted on the matter during a clubhouse meeting just before batting practice.
"Our goal playing this year was to win the division and then go further and see how far you can go and hopefully win a World Series," Francona said. "Now that we've put together the last four days, things haven't gone very well. I don't want to start changing my answers.
"Winning the division is huge. It's important. Does it mean you're going to win the World Series? No. Does it mean you're not? No. Shoot, the competitiveness in all of us wants to win everything we ever do.
"At the same time, I'm not going to sacrifice our chances of playing further on," Francona said. "Sometimes you have to scuffle through a little while. We kind of limped through Toronto. I'd rather never do that, but I'd rather limp then [and not] a couple of weeks from now. That was what was going to happen if we don't start getting these guys healthy."
Straightening out tiesMajor League Baseball sent a release explaining the potential playoff ramifications in the event of ties based on where things stood entering play yesterday.
The Angels and Indians were tied for the best record in the AL. If the Angels and the Indians finish in a tie for the best record, the first tiebreaker is the season series, which is tied at 5-5. The next tiebreaker is division record. The Indians are 46-23 (.667) vs. the AL Central and the Angels are 29-19 (.604) vs. the AL West, meaning the Indians would have the top seed.
If the Angels, Indians, and the AL East champion all finished tied, the top seed will go to the team that has the best record against both of the other division champions.
The Red Sox went 5-2 vs. the Indians and 6-4 vs. the Angels.
The Yankees went 6-0 vs. the Indians and 3-6 vs. the Angels.
The Indians went 2-5 vs. the Red Sox, 0-6 vs. the Yankees, and 5-5 vs. the Angels.
The Angels went 4-6 vs. the Red Sox, 6-3 vs. the Yankees, and 5-5 vs. the Indians.
Thus, if the Sox won the AL East and tied the other division leaders for best record, they would have the top seed.
If the Red Sox and Yankees tie for the AL East title and both make the postseason, the Yankees will be the division champion because of their 10-8 advantage in the season series and the Red Sox will be the wild card.
Buchholz to bullpen?Francona said the team has decided what the next step will be for rookie Clay Buchholz, but didn't disclose it. All steps, however, point to Buchholz going to the bullpen, and exposure to the eighth-inning setup role does not appear out of the question. Francona said the rotation will remain intact the rest of the way. Starting today it reads: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield, Curt Schilling (Tuesday), Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Matsuzaka, Wakefield, and Schilling. Yesterday, Hideki Okajima looked strong in a long-toss session, but Francona said he probably wouldn't use him until Thursday, after a side session Tuesday. "Then he'll pitch over the weekend," he said . . . Francona wasn't taken completely by surprise by Gabe Kapler's intention to return to playing next season after spending this year managing the Greenville Drive in the Single A South Atlantic League. He said he'd known for the last couple of weeks after exchanging e-mails with Kapler. "Regardless of how anybody feels, he has to follow his heart," said Francona. "He is. Obviously, we wish him well." Joked Alex Cora: "He might show up this weekend to play right field."
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.