BALTIMORE — Cody Ross walked into the clubhouse at Camden Yards on Sunday morning and glanced at the lineup card tacked to the bulletin board in the hallway.
Ross was playing right field and batting third. He had considered asking manager Bobby Valentine to let him serve as the designated hitter for a day to rest his legs, but he decided against it.
“We’re pretty banged up in the outfield,” Ross said. “They need me to play out there and I’m happy to do it. The best thing I can do for this team right now is to keep playing and finish strong.”
Ross hit a home run in the fourth inning, a brief respite in what was a 6-3 loss against the Orioles.
The Sox, now 69-90, have lost five straight and nine of their last 10.
It’s discouraging, but Ross hasn’t sought refuge on the bench. He has played in 29 consecutive games, all but two of them in the outfield. As the Red Sox run what amounts to a tryout camp for rookies and Triple A players, Ross and second baseman Dustin Pedroia play every day.
On some days, their presence is all that keeps the Sox looking somewhat like a major league team.
“That’s very commendable,” Valentine said. “Cody’s been a warrior. He’s never asked out; he’s been clutch; he’s fun to have on the team [and] he’s a very good teammate. Cody knows the difference between right and wrong. It’s a good leadership quality to have. I think a lot of guys have followed Cody’s lead.”
Ross is hitting .269 with 22 homers and 79 RBIs. Outside of 2009, when Ross hit .270 with 24 homers and 90 RBIs for the Marlins, this has been his best season. His .818 OPS is second on the team to David Ortiz, who played only 90 games.
The Red Sox are at the beginning stages of negotiating a contract extension with Ross. He signed for one year and $3 million in late January. It proved to be one of the best bargains in baseball and the team wants to extend that relationship.
Ross is interested in staying, too. For all the problems this season, the Sox have been a good fit for him.
At 31, Ross is still in the prime of his career. He hits for power and has become adept at playing at Fenway Park’s spacious right field. As the Sox rebuild, he is a player who can be part of the solution.
“Obviously I want to show them what I can do and that is why I want to be out there every day,” Ross said. “But it’s more than that. I want to finish it out strong. These games matter to these teams we’re playing and I want to go out and try to beat these guys.
“This is so much better than finishing out against a non-contending team. If we’re not in it, I’d rather play against a team that is. It’s more fun. Even if you lose, the crowd is into it.”
Shortstop Mike Aviles, who has lost playing time to rookie Jose Iglesias, admires how Ross has approached the end of a trying season.
“It’s not a secret that we’re in a rebuilding phase. It speaks volumes about Cody’s character and what he brings to the table that he’s out there every day,” Aviles said. “As a player, his bat is important to us. But as a person, he’s a really good person. You have to respect somebody who can grind out the entire season like he has.”
Since being traded to the Red Sox in 2011, Aviles has learned why some players handle Boston well and others don’t. Ross, he said, is the kind of player the Red Sox need more of.
“I knew of him but I didn’t know him personally. But he’s an awesome guy. When I first met him in spring training, I thought he had a really good personality,” Aviles said. “For a big-market team, that is important because the quickest way out of a big market is to have a [bad] personality and being a bad person. But he has been a great person and a great teammate.
“In a big market, everybody lives and dies with each pitch. You need somebody with the personality to handle that and he does. He has handled everything well all year and Boston is not the easiest place to play, as everybody knows. For him to perform like he has all year, it says a lot.”
For Valentine, who has dealt with insurgency and indifference at various points this season, being able to rely on Ross is something he appreciates. When the Sox take the field against the Yankees Monday night, count on Ross being in there again.
“He’s never even shied away from it,” the manager said. “You need more like him. You need people who understand that his way is the best way.”