Old gray-beard: Ross lifts Red Sox to verge

ST. LOUIS (AP) - David Ross never expected to be on a World Series podium. That seat is for stars, not for gray-bearded baseball journeyman, not for backup catchers knocked onto the disabled list for much of the summer by foul tips.

“The trip I’ve taken this year, I never thought I’d be here, There were times I was questioning whether my career was over,” he said Monday night with a smile that brightened the interview room. “I’m playing in the World Series, so just this whole skit is just _ I’m up here talking to you guys. This is pretty cool, right?”

The very definition of a bench player _ he’s never gotten more than 311 at-bats in a season _ Ross got the biggest hit of the year thus far for the Boston Red Sox, nearly completing his long-and-winding trek to a World Series title.

Ross pulled a hanging curveball down the left-field line that landed just a few inches fair in the seventh inning, driving in the go-ahead run and boosting the Red Sox over the St. Louis Cardinals 3-1 for a 3-2 World Series lead.

Now 36, Ross’s sandy-colored beard makes him look more aging rocker than dashing athlete. A veteran of six major league organizations, he signed last November for his second tour with the Red Sox, his team for part of 2008.

His season began to come apart on May 11, when he took a pair of foul tips off his mask against Toronto. He went on the DL for two weeks and fell into a 3-for-22 slide when he returned.

Then he got whacked in the mask by another foul at Baltimore on June 14.

“I got home and my wife said, `You’re not right,’” he recalled. “And they did some tests and kind of concluded I wasn’t right. Then I tried to come back fast, not giving enough credit to really what a concussion is. As athletes we feel like we can get through anything, and I couldn’t. I stunk for a good two weeks, three weeks, and my wife finally was like, `If you don’t tell the doctors, I’m going to.’”

The Red Sox sent him to Pittsburgh to be examined on June 20 by Dr. Mickey Collins, a concussion specialist. Ross didn’t play for Boston again until Aug. 20.

“We try to do mind over matter sometimes, and the hardest part when you’re going through something like that is just you don’t have a cast on or you didn’t have surgery,” Ross said. “I looked fine, but I wasn’t right. It’s hard to look your teammates in the eye when you’re going through something like that and see if you’re bowing out or not, with the questions that they have. Because I used to do the same thing. `Concussion, just push through it. You’re not tough enough’ or something like that.”

But now he knew.

“Headaches and dizziness and all the symptoms, couldn’t ride in a car, couldn’t be in crowded places,” he said, “but did all the exercises Mickey put me through and slowly came back. And thank goodness my hitting has come around, because I stunk there for a while.”

With Jarrod Saltalamacchia in a 6-for-32 (.188) postseason slump, Ross got the opportunity of his 12-year major league career. He’s caught Jon Lester’s last four postseason starts, impressing Red Sox manager John Farrell with their rapport.

“We’re all excited for him, and we’re glad he’s doing it and hope he keeps on doing it,” first baseman Mike Napoli said.

Lester credited Ross for his dazzling performance.

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