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Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Top 10 Red Sox stories of 2010

By Gordon Edes

The postmortems on the 2010 season, one in which the Red Sox finished third for the first time since 2006, have been all but forgotten in the wake of one of the most spectacular winter hauls in club history. It remains to be seen whether Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford can deliver a World Series the way 2003 acquisitions Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke did in their first season in Boston. But Crawford and Gonzalez have a chance to shape the team's future for years to come.

Here are 2010's 10 most significant moments:

10. April 20 -- Darnell McDonald homers in his first Sox AB, then adds a walk-off hit.

The Red Sox summoned McDonald from Pawtucket, then stashed him in a nearby hotel because they weren't sure if they would need him to play. But with both Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron hurt and unable to go, McDonald was told to show up in the Sox clubhouse.

Darnell McDonald
Darnell McDonald's pinch homer to tie the game in the eighth inning against Texas on April 20 was a highlight of his career as well as the team's season.

The former No. 1 draft pick had toiled for 13 seasons but had played just 68 games in the big leagues. None would be sweeter than this one. The 31-year-old hit a pinch-hit home run to tie the game in the eighth inning in his first Sox at-bat, then singled off the Monster in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Texas Rangers.

"I couldn't write a script any better than this,'' McDonald said. "A lot happened real quick tonight. A dream come true.''

9. Aug. 9 -- Daniel Bard: Bases loaded, six pitches, two whiffs in Yankee Stadium.

The Red Sox were hanging by a thread in the AL East. Having lost the previous two games, the Sox had fallen seven games behind the Bombers, and now the Yankees had loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh inning against left-hander Jon Lester. Lester struck out Curtis Granderson for the inning's first out, then manager Terry Francona called for Bard.

Bard threw six pitches, none slower than 98 miles an hour, to strike out Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher.

"I can't imagine it getting any more intense," Bard said. "The season's on the line for us a little bit."

8. June 12 -- Daniel Nava hits a grand slam on the first pitch he sees in the big leagues

"I guess it's pretty ridiculous,'' Nava said, perfectly summing up the improbability of this delicious moment at Fenway Park. A kid who was cut from his college team and washed uniforms as the team manager, an undrafted signee from an independent league team, a guy who didn't make anybody's top prospect list, became just the third player in modern major league history to hit a grand slam in his first big league plate appearance. On national TV, no less.

"I'm about to start crying,'' Francona said afterward. "I guess I'm getting old.''

7. May 26 -- Adrian Beltre hits two home runs, a triple, drives in six runs and scores three in Tropicana Field.

Daniel Nava
Daniel Nava's grand slam on the first pitch he saw in the big leagues June 12 was one of the top feel-good moments for Terry Francona and Red Sox Nation.

No one was quite sure what the Sox were getting when Theo Epstein signed Adrian Beltre to a one-year deal after the free agent third baseman failed to attract the kind of multiyear offers he expected. The glove was a given, but Beltre was coming off an injury-filled season in which he'd hit just eight home runs and knocked in 44 runs for the Mariners.

Beltre predicted a change of venue from pitcher-favored Safeco Field to Fenway would pay dividends, but no one imagined he would morph into one of the league's best right-handed hitters in 2010. This was his best game of the season, but he was remarkably consistent, batting .300 or better in four of the season's six months, leading the majors in doubles with 49 and tying David Ortiz for the team lead in RBIs (102).

The only better single-game performance all year was Dustin Pedroia's three-homer, 5-for-5 night in Colorado. The next night, in San Francisco, Pedroia fouled a ball off his foot, fracturing it, and missed the rest of the season (save two games).

6. April 27 -- David Ortiz is lifted for pinch hitter Mike Lowell in Toronto.

Ortriz's terrible start in April was emblematic of the way the team played in the season's first month. The Sox opened 4-9, their worst start since 1996 and the first time since 1997 they were five games under .500. And Big Papi was enduring withering criticism, as he batted just .143 with one home run and four RBIs in the first month, while striking out 21 times in 56 at-bats. Ortiz sat against some lefties, and he was humiliated when Francona sent Lowell to hit for him in Rogers Centre -- the second time he'd been lifted for a pinch hitter.

He made no secret of his unhappiness, especially when questions were raised about whether the Sox should exercise his $12.5 million option for 2011. But when things looked darkest, he rediscovered his swing, and Ortiz wound up leading the club in home runs and RBIs (tied with Beltre). And the Sox exercised his option.

"I know David felt we weren't staying with him,'' Francona would say after the season. "And I know a lot of other people thought we were staying with him too much. It's all how you look at it."

5. April 4 -- Yankees knock out Josh Beckett in the fifth inning on Opening Night.

It didn't register at the time because the Red Sox came from behind to beat the Bombers 9-7. And the next day, the Sox rewarded Beckett with a four-year, $68 million extension, signaling their belief he would continue to reign at the top of the Sox staff.

But Beckett was mostly awful in his first seven starts, posting an ungodly 7.46 ERA while opposing hitters knocked him around for a .311 average and .509 slugging percentage. Then he slipped on a wet mound in Yankee Stadium in May, strained his back and missed the next two months.

Beckett would win just six games, matching a career low he set as a rookie with Florida in 2002. There were too many fastballs left in the zone, and his confidence clearly took a beating as he tried in vain to catch up from so much missed time. A normal season from Beckett and the Sox might have been playing in October.

4. May 17 -- Yankees shock Jonathan Papelbon with four-run ninth.

Six weeks into the season, and Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon appeared on his way to another terrific season. He had converted all nine of his save opportunities, was sporting a 1.47 ERA, and opposing batters were hitting a mere .159 against him. But with the Red Sox poised to celebrate coming from five runs behind to beat the Yankees in the Bronx, Papelbon gave up a tying two-run home run to Alex Rodriguez, then a winning two-run homer to Marcus Thames.

The aura of invincibility was shattered. Papelbon bounced back with a save the next night but was up and down the rest of the season. He had back-to-back blown saves the next month in Colorado and had two other games in which he gave up four earned runs. He finished with eight blown saves, most in the American League, and was a big reason the Red Sox had 13 walk-off losses, their most since 1978.

Carl Crawford
The Sox couldn't have ended 2010 on a better note, signing "game changer" Carl Crawford on Dec. 8. to a seven-year, $142 million contract.

3. April 11 -- Left fielder Jacoby Ellsbury fractures ribs in a collision with third baseman Adrian Beltre while in pursuit of a foul ball in Kansas City.

Ellsbury, who had been Boston's everyday center fielder in 2009, was making just his fifth start of the season in left when he caught the full force of Beltre's right knee in his rib cage, with the Red Sox two outs away from closing out the Royals. He screamed so loud, center fielder Mike Cameron said, that it scared him. "It's sore, but I'll be fine,'' Ellsbury bravely said afterward.

Well, he wasn't. The ribs were fractured, and Ellsbury would go on the disabled list three times, playing in just 18 games.

It was the first in a series of crippling injuries for the Red Sox, who lost 1,019 games to the DL in 24 separate stints by 19 players, six of whom were in the Opening Night lineup.

Ellsbury led the majors in stolen bases with 70 in 2009. That's two more stolen bases than the entire team managed in 2010.

2. Dec. 5 -- Red Sox trade for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

No slugger since Manny Ramirez has arrived with the same fanfare as Gonzalez, the left-handed, middle-of-the-order presence the Red Sox project as the eventual successor to David Ortiz. A two-time Gold Glove winner at first, Gonzalez's arrival shifts Kevin Youkilis back to third base, but it is Gonzalez's power, especially to the opposite field, that is creating so much excitement.

Gonzalez is coming off shoulder surgery, one reason the Sox have not yet signed him to an extension, but a full recovery is expected. The days of the Sox lamenting missing out on Mark Teixeira are over.

1. Dec. 8 -- Red Sox sign free agent left fielder Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million contract.

Baseball history was made: The first transaction at the winter meetings that required a middle-of-the-night, trans-Atlantic phone call before it could be consummated. Epstein awakened owner John W. Henry, who was in Liverpool, England, to watch his soccer team, with his call, seeking permission to add a couple of million dollars per year to the team's offer to Crawford. Henry gave his OK, and the members of the Sox war room exploded with joy when Epstein made the stunning announcement that Crawford was coming to Boston. "A game-changer,'' Francona called Crawford, who wasn't going to the Angels or the Yankees, as many had predicted, but to the Sox.

Epstein wasn't done making moves, recasting the Sox bullpen with the additions of Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler and Matt Albers. But the one-two punch of Crawford and Gonzalez could have a transformative effect on a decade, not a season.

Gordon Edes is's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.