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BOB RYAN

Times are tough -- is team, too?

Josh Beckett will miss tomorrow's start, plus who knows how many more. J.D. Drew would have been out of the lineup last night after losing a Tuesday night duel with the fence in right-center. No longer is it a perfect little Red Sox world.

Well, golly, gee, isn't that just too bad? A little rain has fallen into the life of the Boston Red Sox. Good. Time to find out what they're made of.

It's not supposed to be easy. Negotiating your way through the 162-game schedule is hard work. When the season starts, you can't expect everyone in your rotation to make every one of his scheduled 30-plus starts. You can't expect everyone in your starting lineup to get 550 at-bats. Things happen. Ask the Yankees.

The Red Sox went through the first seven turns in the rotation in a too-good-to-be-true fashion. At the same time, the Yankees were going through an early-season-record 10 starters. Anyone remember Chase Wright? (Hint: back to back to back to back). If you were armed with this information, and this information alone, do you think you'd have a hard time figuring out which team had won 14 more games than it had lost? Let's hope not.

Any general manager and manager with half a brain knows that, sooner or later, they'll have to go to Plan B. The trick is to have a suitable Plan B.

In the Red Sox' case, tomorrow night's starter in the first game of the Atlanta series will be Mr. X.

"Friday night's starter will come from Pawtucket," announced Terry Francona prior to last night's rainout.

Kason Gabbard is a good possibility, for those of you guessing along at home.

To some, it might seem that the Red Sox already had a reasonable candidate on the roster in the person of Kyle Snyder, the 6-foot-8-inch righthander who is off to a nice start (1-0, 1.98 ERA, opponents' .204 batting average in 13 2/3 innings). And that is probably what would have happened 30 or 40 years ago.

But we live in a bullpen world, and managers are loath to mess with their guys in the pen.

"We like him in his role," Francona explained. "Snydes can get guys out, but we like him where he is."

As Tigers skipper Jim Leyland, who has his own injury issues, was saying the other night, "I don't like to tinker with my bullpen."

So rather than ask Snyder to expand from a two-inning pitcher to a five- or six-inning pitcher, the Red Sox would prefer to bring up someone from Triple A to give them those innings. And unless he's pitching a perfect game or otherwise imitating Johan Santana, going a solid five is about all Francona will ask of Gabbard, or whomever. That's just the way the game is played these days.

Right now, Francona isn't thinking any farther ahead than tomorrow night. The subject of Beckett's next scheduled start, which would be next Friday in Arlington, Texas, can be addressed, well, tomorrow.

"He's going to throw a little side [session] Friday," said Francona. "There'll be no roster move. Friday. That's as far as I'm going."

While the Red Sox were rolling along, singing a song, bashing baseballs far into the night while holding opponents to zero or one run, you had to know it couldn't last. It never lasts. It's baseball. Remember when A-Rod was Player of the Month en route to Player of the Millennium? Your Aunt Ethel could get him out now, and that's even if she doesn't have her real good stuff. But A-Rod will be back. It's baseball.

And sooner or later, you knew someone was going to get hurt. It probably came as no surprise that the first three players to go down for the Red Sox were the 41-year-old setup man, the pitcher with a storied history of "skin" problems, and the outfielder who has managed to stay healthy enough to play 140 games just twice in an eight-year career. The game found Drew -- again. Some guys are like that, and there is no viable explanation.

Mike Timlin has tendinitis in his right shoulder. He's averaged 74 appearances in his four years with this ball club and he had already appeared in nine more when he went down. You wouldn't exactly call this a shocking development.

Beckett got through last year without encountering the kind of blister problems that had plagued him in Florida. Off to the best start of his career, he had to leave Sunday's game against the Orioles with what we were told was an "avulsion" to, on, or whatever, his right middle finger. We subsequently learned it was a skin tear. The last time he had a skin tear (2004), he missed 24 days. So, we'll see.

As for Drew, no one can fault the effort that resulted in him injuring his back while attempting to catch a ball off the bat of Brandon Inge.

"He hit the wall pretty hard [Tuesday] night," said Francona, "in kind of a weird way only that wall can do."

Drew is not expected to be out very long, but if he is, well, isn't it time Wily Mo Peña paid some real dividends? You would have thought after Theo Epstein traded Bronson Arroyo even up to obtain the slugging (but whiff-prone) outfielder that when a vacancy arose in right field, Peña would be put there. He would get his 550 at-bats, and we would all see what would happen. But, no, the team chose to invest $14 million a year in Drew, a player who, in addition to having a difficult time staying in the lineup, has been accused of lacking a pilot light when he does play.

Given a choice between Wily Mo and Eric Hinske, the manager chose Wily Mo, and we can assume it was because the scheduled starter was lefthander Mike Maroth.

Francona says that while everything was just hunky-dory (not to mention okeydoke), he didn't spend any time worry ing about something bad happening. Now that it has, he says things are under control.

"You don't go into every game thinking about that," he explained, "but we [i.e., he and Epstein] talk and communicate so well. We're going to try to do things in a timely fashion. We know what we want to do."

Compared with the things that have happened to such teams as the Yankees, A's, and even the Tigers (no Kenny Rogers, flame-dispensing setup man Joel Zumaya being lost for three months), the piddling level of Red Sox misfortune is hardly worth mentioning. In a best-case scenario, Timlin is back within a week or so, Beckett misses one start, and Drew is back for Atlanta tomorrow night.

In the course of the Big 162, this would all be a teeny-tiny footnote. But I wouldn't get cocky. It's baseball. Before it's over, the Red Sox will have to utilize Plans B, C, and D. Only then will we know how good they really are.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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