DETROIT — Once the concussion symptoms stopped, David Ross could see clearly again.
The Red Sox catcher had been a mess at the plate. He couldn’t focus. He was concussed twice, missing about 78 days of playing time, and it was looking as though his season — and maybe his career — would be lost. But things started to improve with the exercises he performed to improve his clarity.
Now the Sox have the catcher they thought they were getting when they signed Ross in the offseason. He was one of seven tremendous pickups by general manager Ben Cherington. On the field, he’s as tough as nails.
After the Sox locked up their free agents, one National League talent evaluator thought Ross would have the biggest impact because of the great work he does with a pitching staff.
That’s why John Farrell said from the outset that Ross, who played for the Braves and four other teams previously, would play a lot more than the normal backup. That didn’t work out because of the concussions and because Jarrod Saltalamacchia made some strides defensively while Ross was on the shelf.
Ross was always known as a defensive specialist, but as former Braves lefthander Tom Glavine said, “Every time he played he did something offensively to help win a game.”
That Ross has returned.
“Since the concussion symptoms went away, I’ve hit a lot better,’’ he said. “I feel I’m getting good swings at the plate. I’m not a great hitter, so I really have to work at it. If I can help the team with a base hit here and there, I’m grateful to be able to do it. I know my strength is calling a game and throwing, but when I can help offensively, that’s big for us.”
Ross doubled in Boston’s second run in the three-run second and singled in the fourth. Despite his concussion history, Ross still barreled into Tigers catcher Alex Avila in the second inning on Shane Victorino’s grounder to second base.
Avila later left the game with a knee injury after being hit with a foul ball.
Ross also had an earlier collision with Miguel Cabrera, who ran through a stop sign and right at Ross. Cabrera was out on a perfect throw from left by Jonny Gomes, but Cabrera gave Ross a little shove in an unsuccessful attempt to dislodge the ball.
“I’m going to be sore tomorrow,” Ross said. “But that’s baseball. I’m not going out there thinking I’m going to get hurt or thinking I’m going to get a another concussion. You just play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. You can’t control what happens after that.”
Ross said that the Sox had the contact play on when Victorino grounded to second base with a three-run lead in the second inning.
“I saw Omar [Infante] field the ball and I ran as hard I could,” Ross said. “[Cabrera] hit me pretty good. Same thing with Alex. Trying to make something happen. Hey man, I’m just going hard. [Avila and I] have both been through concussions I know what he’s been through. He knows what I’ve been through. You don’t really think about that stuff. I was bearing down on him. He had me dead to rights.
“Once I step on field, I’m not worried about getting hurt. I know I fouled one back at Alex’s mask and I know that’s how I got my concussion. You don’t realize the severity until you have a concussion. He’s a great player and a great personality in that locker room.’’
In the ninth, Ross laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt on which pinch runner Will Middlebrooks made a heads-up play when he saw that nobody was covering third base. Catcher Brayan Pena got there too late and Middlebrooks beat the throw, taking two bases on a bunt.
Ross also helped Jon Lester get through 5⅓ laborious innings before John Farrell went to the bullpen.
“We have a lot work left to do,” Ross said. “Happy to be going back to Boston. We smell a victory right now. We’ll get back to Boston and start working at Game 6.”
The Sox will have to beat Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander to advance to the World Series. But Ross said there’s no way he was thinking that way in Game 5.
“We don’t ever think, ‘If we lose tonight’ . . . We do a good job at the task at hand. [Anibal] Sanchez [Detroit’s starter Thursday night] is the AL ERA leader, so we know he’s really good. That’s what we’re doing. This series isn’t over. They have two good pitchers in their back pocket.”
It’s unknown whether Ross will catch again.
“I’m just feeling better than I have all year,” Ross said. “I think I can help this team win, whether it’s in the game or outside the game in the dugout or behind the scenes.
“I do what I can and I’ll continue to do that. We have a great team here. Everybody is committed to one thing — winning.”
And you have to his words seriously.
It was after the Red Sox took two of three against the Dodgers in Los Angeles in late August and held a one-game lead in the American League East over the Rays that Ross turned to this reporter and said, “And we still haven’t played our best baseball. Once we do, we’re going to run away with this thing.”
And the Red Sox did.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.