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Francona manages a healthy outlook

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 3, 2010

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Shortly before game time, Red Sox media relations person Leah Tobin announced, “Mike Cameron has been scratched from tonight’s game with abdominal soreness.’’

At this point you begin to think, OK, is Leah pulling our leg? Is this just a bad joke? Is this for real? How can there be a new injury or two almost every other day? And is Cameron’s injury part of the injury he already has (torn lower abdominal muscle) that acts up every now and then?

While I know you can not anoint the manager of the year on July 3, but, if you could, Terry Francona would be it. The fact the Sox started the weekend within striking distance of the first-place Yankees and with the third-best record in baseball stems from the fact the players called up from the farm system and the depth players that professional scouting director Allard Baird found at baseball yard sales have worked out extremely well.

But there’s more to it than that. Amid the daily chaos and injury calamity, Francona has maintained tremendous composure, created a feeling that nothing is too big to overcome, and taken a one-game-at-a-time approach that everyone has bought into. There’s no crying in baseball, they say, and Francona hasn’t cried one minute.

The confusing state of the Sox roster has created this crazy kind of bond that seems to penetrate to what others see as a hopeless situation. Who knows? Maybe at some point it will become hopeless, but nobody is thinking that now. To see Jason Varitek in a boot and crutches and facing six weeks of down time wasn’t what the Sox had in mind.

Although the Sox don’t appear to be planning a big trade — and would not have considered Bengie Molina, who was traded from the Giants to the Rangers, because they know Victor Martinez will be back after the All-Star break — they did go through a few hoops to obtain Kevin Cash from the Astros.

The Sox had been trying to obtain Cash since Martinez went down, but the Astros wanted to keep him in Triple A for their own security. The Sox wanted Cash because he was really the only guy out there who had knowledge of Boston’s pitchers from his first tour of duty (73 games in 2007-08), especially Tim Wakefield, last night’s starter.

So Varitek went to his Celebrity Putt-Putt charity event Thursday night and didn’t bring crutches or the boot for his broken right foot. If anyone saw Varitek in that get-up they’d immediately know the Sox were in big trouble, especially with their two top minor league backstops, Mark Wagner and Dusty Brown, also on the DL. So the Sox and Varitek kept things quiet until they made the Cash deal.

When I spoke to Cash early Thursday afternoon, I told him an Astros source had told me the 32-year-old catcher might be coming to Boston. But Cash hadn’t heard.

Later in the day, Cash got the call from the Astros that he was heading back to Boston.

“To come back to play in a place like this is always welcome,’’ said Cash, who is friends with Dustin Pedroia. “I didn’t know what the circumstances were. I assumed I was wanted back because of Victor getting hurt, but I had no idea about Tek.’’

Varitek has probably had more injuries than any player in recent memory. What makes this ironic is all of the bad things he’s played through, including a herniated disk in his neck (try playing catcher when you have that, it’s not easy), knee problems, elbow issues, shoulder, you name it. Most nights his body has been mummified with ice bags everywhere. To have a foul ball hit his foot in exactly the right place and send him to the DL with a broken foot . . . the luck just doesn’t get much worse.

He was limping when he left the ballpark Wednesday night, although an X-ray showed no damage. He awoke Thursday to soreness and discomfort. The Sox medical staff had him go to Mass. General for evaluation, and an MRI revealed the nondisplaced fracture in his foot.

Prior to that he said, “I was thinking I was going to be OK by Saturday.’’ But it will be about six Saturdays from now that Varitek may be able to take the field.

So now the DL has contained the names of Boof Bonser, Jed Lowrie, Daisuke Matsuzaka (twice), Junichi Tazawa, Jacoby Ellsbury (twice), Cameron, Josh Beckett, Jeremy Hermida, Mike Lowell, Dustin Pedroia, Martinez, Varitek, and Delcarmen. The Sox have had 13 players lose a total of 426 games.

Teams must stay healthy to remain competitive, at least that’s the proven and prevailing thought. But when injuries happen to this extent, the manager can easily be at his wits’ end while filling one hole and seeing another open. Francona has probably lost some sleep, but if he has, he hasn’t showed it to his players, the media, or to anyone for that matter.

He’s often asked if this is the worst stretch of injuries he’s ever been through. He normally just shrugs off the question. He knows there’s nothing he can do about it and he knows a positive outlook, and having hungry replacement players who are getting chances they normally would not, can sometimes be the best medicine. It has created great moments for guys such as Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava, and Scott Atchison. And now for Eric Patterson, Niuman Romero, Dustin Richardson, Robert Manuel, Gustavo Molina, and Cash.

And nobody knows or appreciates the opportunity more than those players, who get fueled daily by Francona’s faith in them.

That’s what Francona has seized on as well, if not better, than any manager in the game here leading up to July 3.

If the Sox survive this and win in October, it was because the manager of the year was managing like nobody else before the All-Star break.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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