Red Sox not worried about repeat


BALTIMORE -- If you're asking whether the Boston Red Sox can repeat as World Series champions, Jonny Gomes says you're posing the wrong question.

"We don't have to defend our title," he said. "Our title is 2013. That stuff is already in the archives. We're playing 2014 now. It's not like the Tour de France, where we're going to start with a 10-minute lead because we were in first last year."

No head starts on Monday for the Red Sox, who open the 2014 season in Baltimore against the Orioles, the first of 20 games the Sox are scheduled to play against division rivals by May 1. And the fact that the Red Sox will be the ones lining up Friday in Boston to receive their World Series rings won't make navigating the American League East any easier this season.

"Whoever finishes last in this division is really going to be ticked off," Gomes said, "because they're going to have a great team. Whether it's us, whatever.

"Everyone got better. Everyone added, through the whole division. If they didn't add players, they added health."

The New York Yankees got Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter back and spent a half-billion on Jacoby Ellsbury, catcher Brian McCann and Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka, who did one better than Sox closer Koji Uehara last season; Tanaka didn't lose a game all year. The Baltimore Orioles added starter Ubaldo Jimenez and slugger Nelson Cruz, and should have star third baseman Manny Machado back by May. The Tampa Bay Rays brought back closer Grant Balfour and hung onto David Price. The Toronto Blue Jays have a healthy Jose Reyes.

But no one added a more surprising component than the Red Sox. This was to have been the season the vaunted youth movement was expected to take hold, with two rookies, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr., penciled in to take over in the middle of the diamond, Bogaerts at shortstop and Bradley in center field.

But while the 21-year-old Bogaerts will become Boston's youngest Opening Day shortstop in 100 years (Everett Scott, 1914), Bradley was beaten out for the center field job by Grady Sizemore, who was in danger of becoming an artifact from another era before staging one last comeback bid that offers some hope of sticking.

At 31, Sizemore has responded exceptionally well to the program implemented by Dr. Dan Dyrek, the man who kept Larry Bird in one piece for as long as possible, and executed by the Red Sox medical staff.

"I think within five minutes of meeting Dan," Sizemore said on the day he'd made the club, "he had a better understanding of what I'd gone through than anybody else I'd ever talked to. I felt really confident early on."

After a half decade of nothing but physical setbacks (seven surgeries) and enforced idleness (he played a total of 104 games since 2010, none in the past two years), Sizemore can dare to dream again. The Sox are still rationing his workload -- five games a week, no more than three in a row to start -- but the thought that Sizemore could regain the form that made him one of the game's most exciting players, a three-time All-Star before age 25, cannot be so easily dismissed.

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