He took his lumps
NEW YORK - For a few minutes, this felt like the 2008 Patriots season opener, with Melky Cabrera starring in the role of Bernard Pollard.
Remember Tom Brady taking that hit to his knee, crumpling to the ground, then limping off the field, taking the season with him?
That’s was the notion across the Nation when Cabrera scalded a line drive off the right leg of ace Jon Lester in the third inning of the Red Sox’ 9-5 loss at new Yankee Stadium last night.
Fortunately, Lester is in much better shape than Brady last year. Less than an hour after Lester was struck, the club announced (quite Patriot-like) he has a “contusion of his right quad and is day to day.’’
X-rays were negative.
“It hit me in a good spot where it didn’t do any damage,’’ Lester said, standing in front of his locker after the game. “Everything came back fine. We’ll see where we’re at [today].’’
Lester is scheduled to start Thursday at Fenway against the Indians and said he still wants to pitch again before the playoffs. He walked fairly freely in the clubhouse after the game. A few hours earlier, it looked as if he might have a broken leg. The video is dramatic.
The Yankees were knocking him around the yard (8 hits, 5 runs, 3 walks in 2 1/3 innings) when Cabrera struck. It was one of those line shots that make you glad there are no aluminum bats in professional baseball. Lester had no chance. He was in the middle of his follow-through when the ball crashed into his right leg (“the right side of my knee,’’ according to the pitcher).
He dropped like a sack of hammers. Slow to move, slow to get up, he eventually limped to the third base dugout, with help from trainer Paul Lessard. It was painful watching Lester hop down the dugout steps. And it was impossible not to contemplate the impact on the Sox’ playoff run.
“He was laying there moaning when I got out there,’’ said Sox manager Terry Francona. “But he’s going to be OK. When it first happened, it sounded and looked terrible.’’
“A ball gets hit off your body, it hurts,’’ said Lester. “I don’t know what you want me to say. It hurts.’’
Red Sox physician Dr. Larry Ronan was at Yankee Stadium and examined Lester.
“We didn’t want him to put any weight on it at first,’’ said Francona. “Once we got the medical report it was pretty positive. Especially after what we saw.’’
What we saw put fear into the heart of every Red Sox fan.
The 1946 Red Sox did not win the World Series in large part because Ted Williams hit only .200. Splinter-bashers liked to say Ted choked, but those who were there remember him getting hit in the elbow during a pre-Series tuneup game against some American League All-Stars.
The 1967 Red Sox lost the World Series in seven games and played without the services of young home run champ Tony Conigliaro, who was felled by a beanball Aug. 18.
The 1975 Red Sox lost the World Series in seven games and played without Hall of Fame-bound rookie Jim Rice, who broke a bone in his hand late in the season when he was hit by a pitch thrown by Vern Ruhle.
The 1986 Red Sox lost the World Series in seven games and played without Tom Seaver, who limped off the field after a late-season injury in Toronto.
When Lester went down, it looked like another bad break for Boston. By the midnight hour, most fears were eased. Maybe Lester will pitch Game 1 and dominate the Angels in the American League Division Series and we’ll wonder why we made a big deal out of Melky’s mash. Still, we won’t know about the lingering impact of the line drive until October plays out.
Lastly, we wonder about Lester’s outing before the knockout punch. He hadn’t lost since July and had lost only once since June 18. But he was routed by the Bronx Bombers. Alex Rodriguez hit a monstrous homer and the rest of the Yankees were squaring up fastball after fastball. The Yankees can make any pitcher look bad, but it was stunning to see 11 men on the bases in less than three innings against Lester.
“It seemed that for every mistake he made they really made him pay for it,’’ said Francona.
“I felt like I had good stuff,’’ said Lester. “But this was one of those nights when they made it seem like I didn’t.’’
No one was too worried about losing the game. The Sox dodged a bullet last night. And with Jon Lester walking around the clubhouse after the game, a ghastly loss (the Yankees had 14 hits and stole seven bases) almost felt like a win.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.