The reaction to tuning in to a NESN Red Sox telecast and realizing someone other than Jerry Remy is handling the color is practically second nature by now.
First: “Who’s this with Don Orsillo? Where’s Jerry?’’
Then: “I hope he’s OK.’’
The pattern has become all too familiar in recent seasons as Remy, the former second baseman who has developed a large and loyal following during his 25 years as an incisive and sometimes droll commentator on Red Sox broadcasts, has dealt with health matters that have caused him to miss portions of the schedule.
For the third April in the past four, Remy is absent because of illness. He will miss his sixth straight game Friday because of what NESN says is a sinus infection.
In a statement issued Thursday morning, the network said it has, along with Remy, “decided to have him take the next week off to give him the best chance to fully recover.’’
He will miss five more games, with the target date for a return set at next Thursday, when the Red Sox return from a road trip to begin a four-game series against the Indians.
But there is reason for skepticism. Two industry sources said they would be surprised if he returns then. And his absence fits the pattern of those recent Aprils, save for 2010 when he worked the full schedule: He becomes ill just before or in the early days of a road trip and misses a significant amount of time.
The complicated back story regarding Remy’s health is well-known, but it’s impossible to avoid any time he is ailing. In November 2008, Remy, a longtime smoker, underwent surgery for lung cancer. An infection and subsequent case of pneumonia led to him missing much of spring training in 2009. He returned for the start of the regular season, but he went on an indefinite leave of absence May 6, not returning until mid-August.
At the time, NESN cited the reason as exhaustion caused by trying to recover from the complications following surgery. But in the days before returning, Remy revealed that he was profoundly depressed after the surgery.
When asked a few days before his return whether he felt well physically and mentally, he replied, “Emotionally, no. I wish there was a pill you could take and the next day you’d be great. But it doesn’t work that way.’’
In a telephone interview with the Globe’s Stephen Smith a few days later, he elaborated with stunning candor:
“You didn’t want to get out of bed. The first thing you thought when you woke up was, ‘Another lousy day is ahead of me.’ I had no desire to do anything.’’
Almost a year ago, Remy went through a situation that appears similar to what is going on now. He missed a broadcast April 27 because of what was termed on his Twitter feed (run by his friend and business partner John O’Rourke) a “bad cold.’’ On April 30, it was a “bad flu,’’ then a “bit of pneumonia’’ on May 2.
He still had not returned May 7 when a Tweet attributed to Remy said, “FYI still have a viral coughing thing in my chest - Doc says some people had it for a month - thanks for all your concern.’’
Remy returned May 16, and when asked in an interview with Channel 5 a few days earlier, he said he understood fans’ concern that his absence was related to what he had to endure before.
“Well, I’m sure it is in the back of a lot of people’s minds,’’ he said. “But, I mean, I would be honest if something was seriously wrong with me. I would be honest with people. It’s not the case, it’s really not. It has just been a drawn-out two-week battle with pneumonia.’’
In the interim, Dennis Eckersley and Peter Gammons will fill in alongside play-by-play voice Orsillo. Eckersley will work Friday’s game against the Orioles and the three games in Kansas City starting Monday. Gammons will be in the booth for the Saturday and Sunday games against Baltimore.
The irascible Eckersley filled in for Remy for much of the 2009 season and was popular with viewers. According to an industry source, one person who has the ear of Red Sox ownership pushed for a three-man booth when Remy returned.
Watching other people do his job is not easy for Remy. He has acknowledged that being sick exacerbates the depression, and that he worries about not being able to do the job.
“You know athletes, or former athletes, you feel like you’re going to get better, everyone’s telling you you’re going to get better,’’ he said last May, “but the fact is, when you don’t feel right physically, it starts to affect you mentally, and when you can’t do your job, things start to collapse on you.’’
The hope, of course, is that NESN and Remy were as forthcoming as possible in Thursday’s statement, that his sinus infection will soon be gone and he’ll be back in less than a week.
But the concerns will remain, right up until the night the television clicks to NESN and that voice that has accompanied Red Sox fans for the past 25 years is heard again.