The one thing the Red Sox did better than just about anybody last season was stay healthy, a not insignificant reason they were the last team standing.
The Sox did not place a starting position player on the disabled list the entire season; backup catcher Doug Mirabelli was the only position player to spend time on the DL.
Nine games into the 2008 season, David Ortiz is struggling on his surgically repaired right knee, while the Sox are holding their breath on third baseman Mike Lowell, who left Fenway Park wearing a removable splint on his left thumb after last night's 7-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers.
X-rays were negative, and the club is calling it a sprain. But Lowell, who strained ligaments in the same thumb last June, said the injury he sustained diving for Ivan Rodriguez's ground ball on the first play of the game flared up on him much more quickly than last year's.
"This feels like it got swollen immediately," said Lowell, who lasted one more inning before giving way to pinch hitter Sean Casey in the second, Casey remaining in the game to play first while Kevin Youkilis moved across the diamond to third.
"I don't know if that's good or bad," Lowell added. "I definitely would not like to go on the disabled list. Tomorrow is a day that's going to let me know a lot more. I'm hoping for the best."
Casey, making his Fenway debut as a member of the Sox, singled as Boston scored twice to take a 2-0 lead in the second inning, abetted by the second error in two days by Tigers second baseman Placido Polanco after he'd gone 186 games without a bobble, a big league record at his position.
But the Tigers, who came into last night's game having produced fewer runs than any team in the majors, finally broke through against lefthander Jon Lester, with former Sox shortstop Edgar Renteria hitting a two-run double and Marcus Thames following with a two-run home run in the fourth, then added three late runs against the bullpen to become the last team in the majors to win this season.
"They're going to hit," Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski had predicted of a team that scored just 15 runs in its first seven games and was batting .140 (7 for 50) with runners in scoring position. "If they don't, I haven't been more wrong about anything in my entire life."
Brandon Inge hit a two-run single in the eighth off Bryan Corey, who was knocked around for four runs in a third of an inning in his last outing in Toronto and once again is teetering on losing a roster spot with Mike Timlin expected to come off the DL tomorrow night against the Yankees.
"I think it's probably decided," said a disconsolate Corey, who has a history of losing out on jobs at the end of spring training but was given extra time to prove his value when Timlin was unavailable at the start. "The bottom line here is zeros. Results. No matter how great you may be throwing the ball, you've got to get people out. Bad time to get in a rut."
The Sox, meanwhile, were shut out over the last four innings by the Tigers' bullpen, lefthander Bobby Seay generating the night's biggest outs when he set down Casey, J.D. Drew, and Jason Varitek after Manny Ramírez's leadoff single in the sixth ended the night for starter Jeremy Bonderman.
Ortiz went hitless again in four at-bats, his average dropping to .091 (3 for 33). He waved off reporters after the game.
"Cream always rises to the top," said second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "I'm not worried about David. He'll be fine."
Lowell said he wasn't sure how he got hurt.
"I didn't really know what I did," he said, "but when I saw the replay, I took a little bit of a half dive. I just rolled over and felt my hand separate. It hurt right away."
Lowell tried to take some practice swings off a tee in the bottom of the first, but when the thumb hurt while he was fielding a routine ground ball by Renteria in the second, he decided not to continue.
"You know when Mike Lowell comes out of a game, he's hurting," manager Terry Francona said.
Lowell went into a 2-for-20 slump after injuring his thumb last season, but missed just three games. The Sox can only hope for a similar outcome this time.
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.