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At 88, Pesky still takes cake

Juggler Julio Lugo can't find the handle on a would-be double-play relay from pitcher Jon Lester in the third inning. Lugo failed to get the runner. Juggler Julio Lugo can't find the handle on a would-be double-play relay from pitcher Jon Lester in the third inning. Lugo failed to get the runner. (JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF)

Johnny Pesky turns 88 today. Yes, he plans to be at the ballpark tonight. Did you expect anything different?

"I don't know how much longer I can go on," said the Red Sox' greatest living ambassador, who is completing his 55th season with the club, the last 37 in a row.

"But I had my physical six weeks ago, and everything's fine."

Pesky was sidelined for a short time this summer because of dental implants, but otherwise has been a regular at Fenway Park.

Pesky is not the oldest living Sox player. Bill Werber, who is 99, played with the Red Sox from 1933-36. But Pesky, who broke in with the Sox as a player in 1942 and set a club record with three straight 200-hit seasons, is the most visible, still occupying a locker just inside the door of the clubhouse.

"I enjoy the atmosphere," Pesky said, "but I miss the dugout. I miss that the most."

An edict from Major League Baseball this season limiting the people who could be in the dugout during a game led to Pesky's banishment.

"I've been there my whole life," Pesky said. "When it happens to you, it hurts. But I realize I've got to go by the rules.

"The ball club has been very good to me. [Larry ] Lucchino has been great, [Charles] Steinberg wonderful, Mr. [John ] Henry. Really, I've got no complaints."

Pesky said when he looks at rookie Jacoby Ellsbury, he's reminded of a young Fred Lynn. "It doesn't hurt that he's from Oregon, either," said Pesky, a native of that state. "My brother saw him play in college; he told me he would play in the big leagues.

"I told him, 'Oh, don't give me that,' but he was right.

"I like how down-to-earth he is, not cocky at all. He's got that Bobby Doerr outlook on life, sweet as an apple."

Ask him if he's lost a step and Pesky shoots back, "Maybe 20. I've slowed down a little bit. When I rush, I've got to step back a little. I feel old, but I've been blessed."

Minor honors

The Red Sox honored their top minor league players in a pregame ceremony last night. The award winners: pitcher of the year, Clay Buchholz; offensive player of the year, Jed Lowrie; defensive player of the year/best base runner, Ellsbury; minor league Latin program pitcher of the year, Stolmy Pimentel; and minor league Latin program player of the year, Ronald Bermudez . . . Sox catchers began the night with 170 strikeouts (Jason Varitek 120, Doug Mirabelli 38, Kevin Cash 12). That's the most whiffs by any position in the American League other than Athletics right fielders. Seven Oakland players, led by Jack Cust and Travis Buck with 57 apiece, have combined to strike out 175 times, while Tigers third basemen were third with 166 whiffs. In the National League, Ryan Howard of the Phillies single-handedly tops all those numbers with 195 whiffs . . . Tim Russert, fresh off last night's debate of Democratic candidates for president, will moderate "Red Sox Nation: The Presidential Debate," this morning on the campus of Boston University. It will be aired on NESN at 10:30 p.m. tomorrow or immediately after the Sox-Twins game.

Waiting to hear

Coco Crisp sat out his second straight game as the Sox await word on why he has an infected inner ear. "Any time your inner ear is infected, whether it's a virus [or something else] . . . we just want to get some answers," said manager Terry Francona . . . Francona said it "would be very important" to get reliever Hideki Okajima into tonight's game against the Twins. However, Francona indicated, it was not imperative to get Okajima into back-to-back games before Sunday's regular-season finale. "We'd like to pitch him again," Francona said. "But this is not a situation where he's coming back from arm surgery. We elected to take a safe route where we thought we could get him back and have him pitch a lot in the postseason." . . . Brandon Moss's RBI in the seventh inning was the first of his big league career . . . David Ortiz's two doubles gave him 50 for the season, the seventh time a Sox player has accomplished that feat. Nomar Garciaparra was the last Sox player to do it, hitting 56 in 2002. Garciaparra also is the only Sox player to do it twice; he hit 51 in 2000. The other Sox players to accomplish the feat are Wade Boggs, Joe Cronin, Tris Speaker, and Earl Webb, who holds the major league record with 67 in 1931 . . . Last night was the sixth time this season Manny Ramírez has had three or more hits in a game, the first since July 26 . . . Gene Orza, the chief operating officer for the players' union, offered an update earlier this week on the possibility of the Sox opening next season in Japan: "We do not have an agreement with the sponsor of the event. Absent such an agreement, there is nothing to consider, much less announce. The Sox don't know if they're going to Japan. No one does, because there is no deal in place to open the season in Japan with any teams from MLB."

Michael Vega of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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