The Red Sox had to put third baseman Mike Lowell on the disabled list on Thursday with a sprained left thumb. Less than two weeks into the 2008 season, already the Sox have encountered the type of injury issues they generally avoided in 2007, when the only Boston position player to land on the DL was backup catcher Doug Mirabelli.
Lowell is a bit more central to the cause. He had the best overall offensive season of his career last year, he was the World Series MVP, and he also is a genuinely positive presence, a leader in the clubhouse, a respected teammate, one of the good guys.
What happens next? Actually, the very next thing that happened on Thursday night was a 12-6 victory over the Detroit Tigers. This did not have the look of a crisis.
The Red Sox, in fact, looked amazingly like a team that was prepared for even such an unfortunate occurrence. The Red Sox didn't need to do much tinkering with their 2007 championship roster, but one player they did add was first baseman Sean Casey, who had last been employed by the Tigers.
In addition to being one of baseball's most upbeat personalities, Casey is a very capable defender and a lifetime .301 hitter. It appears that he is right out of central casting for this particular role, which he would be stepping into immediately whenever his services are required.
So Casey comes in at first and Kevin Youkilis, who, before making himself into a Gold Glove first baseman, came up as a third baseman, moves across the diamond.
Both Youkilis and Casey chipped in on Thursday night. In particular, Casey had a two-run single in a four-run Boston seventh and finished with three RBIs. Youkilis followed with a two-run double in a four-run Boston eighth and finished with two runs scored.
Beyond that, Youkilis handled seven chances flawlessly in the field, some of them anything but routine, no small feat for somebody who has not played third base with any regularity since 2005.
"You send him over to third and he looks like he's a Major League third baseman," manager Terry Francona said. "To do it without having the repetitions over there makes him even more special. We're very fortunate."
"When I was in the game, I think he had six assists," starting pitcher Tim Wakefield said. "The ball hit the bag, and he barehanded it. Unbelievable. There were three in the first, he made all three outs over there."
Casey, meanwhile, had appeared in only two games prior to Lowell's injury on Wednesday night. But he produced four hits in these last two games.
"Casey comes in, plays first base and swings the bat like he had been in there every day," Francona said. "I think that's kind of what we envisioned. We talked about it all spring, how it's hard to find a guy that can sit, is willing to handle that, and then goes in and gives you some really good production. That was huge for us tonight."
Exactly. The victory left the Red Sox at 5-5, not that bad when you consider the global trek that served as the beginning of their season. And rather than settling in, the circus atmosphere sets in this weekend with a three-game visit by the Yankees.
Francona said Thursday night that Lowell's injured thumb will be immobilized for a week. The Red Sox expectation at this point is that he will be able to resume play when his stay on the 15-day disabled list ends.
While it may be true that a player of Lowell's caliber cannot literally be replaced, the Red Sox have put themselves in an enviable position in which the temporary loss of his services does not have to be a crushing development.
The presence of Casey on the roster is a reflection of an organization that continues to be savvy enough to cover itself against the possibility of something other than best-case scenarios. The versatility of Youkilis is another obvious plus.
In this sport, it isn't always the team with the gaudiest starting lineup that prevails over the long haul. It is often the team that can compensate when it loses quality. It is entirely too early to make any lasting judgments on this season, but you can see how the Red Sox look like a club fully capable of making those sorts of adjustments.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less