Twenty days ago, 21-year-old rookie Mookie Betts stood before reporters and told them he is not the Red Sox’ savior.
On Saturday, before the Sox’ 2-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park, 33-year-old veteran Shane Victorino sat before reporters and told them he is not the Red Sox’ savior.
Victorino — who landed on the disabled list May 24 with a strained hamstring after playing only 21 games this season — is back, yes, going 1 for 3 from the sixth spot in the order and starting in right field after being activated Saturday. Like Betts did with his hyped debut, though, Victorino is tempering expectations about his return.
“I’m not the guy; I’m not the answer,” said Victorino, who last played May 23. “I’m not the guy that’s going to carry the load, but I’m going to try to be as good as I can be, and help this team win.
“I don’t want to try to be the savior,” he added later. “I don’t want to try to put all the load on my back.”
Victorino started the season on the DL with the strain, returned to the field April 24, and one month later fell back to where he began. Then, on June 23, during his rehab assignment with Triple A Pawtucket, he suffered a slipped disk in his back.
“This is what it’s all about,” said Victorino, who has hit .245 with one home run and 10 RBIs in the majors this season.
“You work hard; you try to do what you got to do to get back as quick as you can. Unfortunately there were some setbacks, but I’m here. I’m at this point where I worked hard to get back where I’m at. I’m just going to continue to work hard and try to be the best player I can be. Go out there and do what I can to help make this team better.”
Against the Royals, Victorino helped manufacture the Sox’ first run, though he wasn’t credited with an RBI. In the fourth inning, with runners on first and second, he shot a 1-2 fastball from Royals starter Danny Duffy past shortstop Alcides Escobar. Mike Napoli scored from second, and Escobar was charged with an error.
Manager John Farrell said Victorino’s presence — which last year helped guide the Sox to the World Series championship, batting .294 with an .801 OPS — extends beyond offense.
“Any time we get Vic back in our lineup, it’s going to give us a boost,” Farrell said, adding that he hopes to soon have Victorino playing five nights a week. “That’s not to shortchange anyone else that’s here or has been here, but Vic’s defense in right field has been well-documented on how well he plays it, the energy he brings, the intelligence on the basepaths.”
Farrell joked earlier this season that he had yet to give pom-poms to Victorino, whose dugout celebrations during his stint on the DL were some of the most inspired on the team.
“I’m just going to be myself,” Victorino said. “I don’t know what they’ve missed, what I have added to the team. All I can say is I’m going to go out there and be the best player I can be. [And] have fun doing it. You know I’ve been watching from afar, with pom-poms in my hand, trying to be the best cheerleader I can and keep these guys as positive as they can. They’ve done a great job.”
In a way, Victorino’s season has been a microcosm of the Sox’: Searching for resilience and optimism when they’re seemingly short on supply.
“The thing I love about this team is that we never give up,” Victorino said. “And that’s the one thing that coming back to this team — I just want to be a piece of that, and be a part of that.”
His return, of course, shifted around other players.
Betts, who hit .235 in 10 games, playing right and center field, was optioned to Pawtucket. And Brock Holt, whom Farrell said will continue to bat leadoff at least six days a week, will continue his tour of the diamond, starting at center, right field, third base, and shortstop, where he was Saturday night.
“Mookie’s timeline sped up when Vic had a setback,” Farrell said. “So Mookie needs every-day at-bats, and with Vic coming back, this was the move to be made. It was clear.”
Farrell said the return of his gregarious right fielder can only benefit the Sox.
“It’s hard to say what his production would’ve been over those two months,” the manager said. “But you take a Gold Glove right fielder, who played probably to the peak of his career last year, and it’s been a loss.
“We’ve got a very good player coming back to us.”Rob Harms can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @harms__way.