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Ankle fracture sends Pesky home

Johnny Pesky received a surcial boot, some crutches, and advice to head home to Boston, after being struck in the leg with a line drive.
Johnny Pesky received a surcial boot, some crutches, and advice to head home to Boston, after being struck in the leg with a line drive. (AP Photo)

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- They didn't know who the old man was, these college kids from Denison University, a Division 3 school in Ohio that has sent its baseball team down here the last three springs to play some games because they have an inside connection to the Red Sox. David Lucchino, a Denison grad, is the nephew of Sox CEO Larry Lucchino.

''We thought it was just some crazy old guy sitting down the left-field line," said Justin Dedman, the Denison assistant coach.

But that all changed when Todd Pitt, a senior and Denison's star center fielder, hit a line drive that struck Johnny Pesky, who was sitting in a folding chair no more than 50 feet beyond the infield.

''The catcher said to me, 'Nice going,' " said Pitt, who yesterday recounted his conversation with Marc Exarhopoulos, who was behind the plate for Suffolk University in Saturday's game.

''I said, 'Why, who is it -- I had an idea it might be somebody important -- and he said, 'Johnny Pesky.' I thought, 'Oh, great, I hit a legend.' I felt terrible."

The morning after, Pesky was sitting in another folding chair, this one in the Red Sox clubhouse, crutches across one knee and a surgical boot on his left foot, telling reporters the line drive had left him with a hairline fracture of his fibula, just above the ankle. The injury was cutting his spring short. Pesky, on the advice of the Sox medical staff, was planning to return to Boston today.

''I've been in the game over 60 years," Pesky said, ''and this is the first time I've been hit by a line drive. I'm used to ducking and dodging."

Pesky, 86, said he'd gone out on the back field, behind City of Palms Park where the Sox play, because he'd wanted to impart some advice to the Suffolk shortstop, Jake Bruce. Of course, he acknowledged, he could have waited for the kid in the dugout. ''Stupid of me."

A half-hour before Pesky was hit, Sox manager Terry Francona had told reporters he feared something like that would happen, since Pesky often sat on the field during batting practice and didn't always keep an eye on the action. That, and the fact that at his age, Pesky wouldn't be able to get out of harm's way.

But Francona, who has Pesky deliver the lineup card before the Sox' games here, said he never would be the one to ask Pesky to turn in his uniform. Especially not after the team's greatest living ambassador lost his wife of more than 60 years, Ruthie, last year.

''You can't take the game away from him, it would kill him," Francona said yesterday. ''I don't want to be any part of that. I love the guy."

Pesky said when the ball first struck him, it stung, but he didn't think he was badly hurt. Neither did Pitt. ''He stood up and he waved everybody off," Pitt said. ''He sat right back down and told people, 'I'm fine.' "

But then Pesky looked down. ''My pants were all bloody and my shoes filled with blood," he said. ''I haven't bled like that since I was 19."

He was taken to the Sox training room, and given a couple of stitches to close the gash in his ankle. X-rays showed the fracture.

Afterward, Pitt went into the Sox clubhouse hoping to see Pesky, but was told he was resting. ''Oh, man, I'm very to sorry to hear that," he said yesterday after learning the extent of Pesky's injuries. ''Hopefully, he'll be OK. Any way I can write or send him a note to tell him how sorry I am?"

Pesky was impressed to hear that Pitt had hit for the cycle in Denison's 14-11 win. He also admitted that after all these years, just maybe he's lost a step.

''Could be," he said. ''I'm a senior citizen now."

Pesky said he was told he will need 4-6 weeks to recover, but he wants to beat that schedule. He plans to be back on the field at Fenway Park when the Sox play their home opener April 11.

''I sure as hell don't want to fall down," he said. ''But the 'Woodpecker' will be there. Don't worry about that."

González signs
In an odd signing first reported in a Puerto Rican newspaper and eventually confirmed by the Red Sox, Juan González, the two-time American League MVP whose career appeared over because of a series of injuries that has limited the 36-year-old outfielder/DH to a total of 186 games the last four years, has signed a minor league contract with the team and is expected to be in big league camp by tomorrow. González, who has been on the disabled list a dozen times in his 17-year career, played just 34 games in 2004 for Kansas City before a back injury ended his season. He played for exactly five pitches last season for the Indians, who gave him $600,000, put him on the DL in spring training with a strained hamstring, then put him back on after he aggravated the injury in his one and only at-bat for the Tribe. Despite his gaudy career numbers -- 434 home runs in 17 seasons -- González did not play for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. Sox GM Theo Epstein did not feel compelled to explain the move, electing not to respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Arroyo shines
Bronson Arroyo pitched five scoreless innings in the Sox' 3-1 win over the Orioles here yesterday, lowering his spring ERA from 17.55 to 10.03. Arroyo gave up four hits, struck out four, and did not walk a batter. ''I was feeling strong, I hit my spots a little better, and, obviously, having 'Tek [Jason Varitek] back there [helped]," he said . . . David Ortiz wasted no time returning here after the Dominican Republic was eliminated by Cuba in the WBC. Francona said Ortiz caught a red-eye in San Diego and was due back here yesterday. Ortiz plans to take some batting practice today.

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