There’s no way a team can ever reach the playoffs by finishing third in their division and in 2006 the Red Sox finished third with an 86-76 record, one game behind the Blue Jays (87-75). Though they spent more days in first place than in any other slot, the year ended with the Red Sox 11 games behind the Yankees. They allowed five more runs than they scored, but it was injuries and ailments that took the biggest toll. Jason Varitek was starting catcher for the Red Sox for the seventh consecutive season opener; Tek had the season's first hit and the first RBI. A home run and three RBIs from David Ortiz helped Schilling get his first win of the year. Winning the home opener on April 11 brought Josh Beckett to 2-0, and saw Jonathan Papelbon earn his fourth save of a young season. Mike Lowell was 4-for-4, with three doubles – the first Red Sox player to hit three extra-base hits in a Fenway opener. For the first time since television broadcasting began in 1948, not one game was available via free television broadcast – every game was on TV, but only if you had cable. The nation as a whole was moving to digital signal. Before April was over, Tim Wakefield already had four losses and only one win. Catcher Josh Bard, paired with Wakefield, had only started in those five games but already had 10 passed balls. He just couldn’t catch the knuckler. The Red Sox made an emergency trade and sent pitcher Cla Meredith to the Padres, reacquiring Wake’s personal catcher, Doug Mirabelli – who flew coast-to-coast on May 1 by chartered jet, and was whisked to Fenway in a Massachusetts State Police car – changing into his uniform in the back seat as the car sped to the ballpark, arriving nine minutes before the start of the night’s game (Red Sox 7, New York 3 – though it was Mike Timlin, who got the win in relief.) David Ortiz already had 11 home runs. On June 9, after starting his career as a closer with a perfect 20-for-20 start in save situations, Jonathan Papelbon finally blew a save, allowing an inherited runner to score in the top of the eighth – but the Red Sox rallied and took the lead in the bottom of the inning, and Papelbon got his first win. One major mishap seemed to tear apart the season. On July 31, the very day that was the trading deadline, Jason Varitek tore cartilage in his knee and couldn’t come back from surgery until September. August 2 was their last day atop the standings, as they went 6-18 over the next 24 games – including losing every single game of a rare five-game homestand against the Yankees at Fenway Park which became known as Boston Massacre II. They emerged bloodied and 6 ½ games out of first place. Even though Curt Schilling recorded the 3000th strikeout of his career on August 30 and Ortiz had kept hitting homers, the Sox lost 21 games in the month of August – one of the worst months in franchise history. Six Red Sox starters were on the disabled list, and both David Ortiz (atrial fibrillation) and Jon Lester were hospitalized (back problems from being rear-ended in a car led to cancer concerns when enlarged lymph nodes were diagnosed). Players on the DL as August ended were: pitchers Matt Clement, Tim Wakefield, and Jon Lester, and position players Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek, Alex Gonzalez, Wily Mo Pena, Manny Ramirez, Adam Stern, and David Ortiz. In the day’s game against Oakland, only one starter was able to play in his usual position – third baseman Mike Lowell. The Sox kept sinking and had little in the way of playoff hopes. Manny Ramirez seemed to just give up – but Ortiz keep hitting and set a new franchise record with 54 home runs and drove in 137 runs. He added four more walk-off hits to his Red Sox resume. The Red Sox played error-free ball in their last six games and concluded the season with a major league record best-ever fielding percentage (.98909). Mike Lowell and second baseman Mark Loretta were both spectacular, setting team records. On the very last game of the year, October 1, Devern Hansack, the first native of Nicaragua to play for the Red Sox, who’d been working as a lobsterman not long before, made his first start in Boston, the second game of his big-league career. There was nothing at the stake, but he still threw a 9-0 no-hitter. Because the game was rained out after five innings, he’s not credited with an “official” no-hitter – but he was credited with a complete game, and a shutout, and he didn’t give up any hits. After the season, the Red Sox added a new pitcher. A $51.1 million “posting” offer to the Seibu Lions gave them the right to negotiate with Japanese star pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. The negotiations went down to the wire, and just as John Henry’s private jet was getting ready to leave Southern California, Dice-K’s agent Scott Boras agreed to terms on a deal that would give the Red Sox the rights to spend a total of $103 million to get their man.By Bill Nowlin
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- Adam Stern, Alex Gonzalez, Cla Meredith, Curt Schilling, Daisuke Matsuzaka, David Ortiz, Devern Hansack, Doug Mirabelli, Jason Varitek, John Henry, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Bard, Josh Beckett, Manny Ramirez, Matt Clement, Mike Lowell, Mike Timlin, Tim Wakefield, Trot Nixon, Wily Mo Pena