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Saturday, May 19, 2012
Updated: May 20, 9:34 AM ET
Wait ... Who's in LF? CF? RF?

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

PHILADELPHIA -- This is not the way Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington drew it up this winter.

The left fielder not only wasn't on the roster in February, he didn't even get an invitation to big league camp. The center fielder, a newcomer to Boston, was supposed to be a platoon right fielder. And the right fielder was a first baseman who regards himself as one of the slowest players in the game.

But with Cody Ross barely able to walk after fouling a ball off his foot Friday night and five -- count 'em, five -- outfielders already on the disabled list, Daniel Nava went from afterthought to necessity in left field. Bobby Valentine didn't want to move Ryan Sweeney out of right field, but decided he had no choice eight days ago, having already tried four other center fielders in the team's first 40 games. And Adrian Gonzalez raised his hand to play right in a National League park so David Ortiz's bat could remain in the Sox's lineup.

Ryan Sweeney
Ryan Sweeney "saved the game" with this catch, according to Jon Lester.

The makeshift alignment worked wonders for the Red Sox in Saturday night's 7-5 win over the Phillies. Sweeney made a diving catch worthy of MVP runner-up Jacoby Ellsbury; Gonzalez made a couple of tough catches in foul territory in right field, including a sliding effort reminiscent of accomplished glove man J.D. Drew; and Nava, though he wasn't given the chance to flash his leather, made a small but notable contribution to a two-run second inning in his reunion with Phillies pitcher Joe Blanton, the man who almost two years ago surrendered a grand slam to Nava on the first pitch he saw in the big leagues.

Nava didn't take Blanton deep, instead reaching first base on a ball muffed by the pitcher at first base as a run scored, but four other Sox players left the premises. Mike Aviles opened the game with a home run, his second in two nights, seventh of the season and first ever to lead off a game. Will Middlebrooks and Jarrod Saltalamacchia went back-to-back in the fourth, the kid showing terrific opposite-field power with a line drive over the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center, while Saltalamacchia made good on his texted advisory to manager Bobby Valentine the night before that, despite taking a dozen stitches in his left ear, he was "good for a bomb."

And Ortiz, brought to his knees the day before by what Terry Francona liked to call "intestinal turmoil," played first base and hit a team-leading ninth home run into the shrubbery in dead center field for the runs that ultimately accounted for the difference.

But for all the power on display Saturday night -- the Sox have now hit seven home runs in two games here -- this was a game that turned on defense, including two double plays turned by Aviles and Dustin Pedroia that cut short Phillies rallies in the fifth and sixth, and another double play turned by Aviles in the ninth, when he caught Carlos Ruiz's liner and doubled off Hunter Pence at first.

The play of the game -- and one of the best yet this season -- was made by Sweeney, who was shaded toward left-center when Ruiz launched a 59 mph eephus pitch from Vicente Padilla into the opposite gap with two on and two out in the seventh. Just before the ball found a safe landing spot on the warning track, Sweeney left his feet and made a diving catch, surviving the whiplash that resulted when he crash-landed.

"I had to run a long way for that ball," Sweeney said, "and to dive on the warning track is never fun.

"Probably up there with one of my top five [plays], I would say, as far as diving for it and how I feel afterwards. I got a little bit of a headache right now.

"I hit the warning track. You're running so fast, then your momentum comes to a stop, so my neck is a little jolted right now."

The play electrified his teammates, who gave him a hero's welcome in the Sox dugout.

"Sweeney saved the game," said Sox pitcher Jon Lester, who survived a labor-intensive six innings for his second straight win.

"I thought it saved the game," Valentine said, echoing his pitcher. "A highlight-reel catch, a Top Tenner. I don't think he had anything left. He gave everything he had, full extension."

Gonzalez, meanwhile, was challenged early by balls hit down the line and came through both times, his catch on Pence to end the third impressing all by the aplomb with which he went into a dive to avoid sliding into the fence.

"Adrian's a very good athlete," Valentine said. "He plays the game. If he had foot speed, he'd be a five-tool player. He understands time and space and has very good athletic ability."

Five-tool player?

"How about hitting? I can't hit," Gonzalez said, taking a tongue-in-cheek poke at those fretting over his recent struggles at the plate. "You need to be able to hit to have that tool, don't you? I'm missing hitting and power right now. Speed, too. I may be a one-tool player. I got an arm."

It helped, he said, that he'd played some right field in winter ball, even if that might have been in another lifetime.

"I've done it before," he said. "I tell people a fly ball isn't as bad as bad hops.

"You have one chance to peek at the [wall], because you don't want to lose sight of the ball. I knew where I was when I took my last peek at the wall. I knew once I stepped on the dirt I'd have to go into a slide. I stepped on dirt and went into a slide to stop my momentum."

Both Sweeney and Ross, who have seen regular employment there, were impressed.

"He runs after it a little slow but he knows what he's doing as far as timing ball against the wall," Sweeney said. "He did a great job out there."

Ross was inside receiving treatment on his foot but saw Gonzalez's plays on the clubhouse TV. "Amazing," he said.

Had he offered Gonzalez any advice?

"I told him, 'Don't show me up too much. It's not that easy.'"