Becoming a World Series star was far from the troubled mind of David Ross last summer.
He had just gotten a tiebreaking, seventh-inning double in Monday night's 3-1 win over St. Louis, giving Boston a 3-2 World Series lead, and the journeyman catcher thought back to May 11.
A dreary Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park had begun with a 51-minute rain delay, and Toronto's Adam Lind hit a tiebreaking home run leading off the ninth inning in what would be a 3-2 Red Sox loss. Two pitches later, Colby Rasmus fouled a 93 mph fastball off the upper part of the catcher's mark, near Ross' forehead.
Ross put a hand on his chest, took 30 seconds to compose himself and crouched down for another delivery. Nine pitches later, Emilio Bonifacio deflected a 94 mph heater smack at Ross' skull, so hard that the mask jarred back. Ross put his right hand on his head and about a minute later was ready for another delivery.
Turns out they were more than just another pair of foul tips.
Ross went on the 7-day concussion disabled list and didn't return until May 25. He fell into a 3-for-22 slide put kept on playing.
On June 14 at Baltimore, Manny Machado fouled Ryan Dempster's fourth pitch of the night, an 87 mph fastball, off the mask again. Ross grimaced, grabbed the front of his headgear, walked out to the mound and got back behind the plate. He finished out the 2-0 defeat. Four days later, he was back on the DL.
"I got home and my wife said, 'You're not right,'" he recalled. "And they did some tests and kind of concluded I wasn't right. Then I tried to come back fast, not giving enough credit to really what a concussion is. As athletes we feel like we can get through anything, and I couldn't. I stunk for a good two weeks, three weeks, and my wife finally was like, 'If you don't tell the doctors, I'm going to.'"
The Red Sox sent him to Pittsburgh to be examined on June 20 by Dr. Mickey Collins, a concussion specialist. Ross didn't play for Boston again until Aug. 20.
"We try to do mind over matter sometimes, and the hardest part when you're going through something like that is just you don't have a cast on or you didn't have surgery," Ross said. "I looked fine, but I wasn't right. It's hard to look your teammates in the eye when you're going through something like that and see if you're bowing out or not, with the questions that they have. Because I used to do the same thing. 'Concussion, just push through it. You're not tough enough' or something like that."
But now he knew.
"Headaches and dizziness and all the symptoms, couldn't ride in a car, couldn't be in crowded places," he said, "but did all the exercises Mickey put me through and slowly came back. And thank goodness my hitting has come around, because I stunk there for a while."
The very definition of a bench player — he's never gotten more than 311 at-bats in a year — Ross hit .270 over the final 5½ weeks of the regular season.
"There's a reason why I hit in the 8 hole and the 9 hole in the American League," he said. "I'm not very good at hitting."
He was 1 for 9 in the World Series before his fifth-inning single. And then Ross pulled a 79 mph hanging curveball from Adam Wainwright down the left-field line that landed just a few inches fair, allowing Xander Bogaerts to score from second. If the ball hadn't bounced into the stands, Stephen Drew would have scored from first. He came around on Jacoby Ellsbury's single as Ross was thrown out at the plate by center fielder Shane Robinson
"The trip I've taken this year, I never thought I'd be here, There were times I was questioning whether my career was over," Ross said with a smile that brightened the interview room. "I'm playing in the World Series, so just this whole skit is just — I'm up here talking to you guys. This is pretty cool, right?"
Now 36 and in his 12th big league season, Ross's sandy-colored beard makes him look more aging rocker than dashing athlete. A veteran of six major league organizations, he signed last November for his second tour with the Red Sox, his team for part of 2008.
Ross had never seen himself in the Series spotlight.
"I'm kind of more of a keep-my-head-down-and-work-hard kind of guy," he said, "I'm not the type of player who can plan out all these goals. That's probably why it hadn't sunk in yet of what all this is, because I'm worried about Game 6 already. There's a pit in my stomach already."
After it was over, already showered and dressed for the flight home, he was given a televised postgame news conference. He called it "the signature moment" of his career.
"I'm just in awe of being in the World Series, really," he said, turning around to look at the MLB logos on the backdrop behind him, as if he wasn't quite sure they were real.
"That's when you see people on TV," he said excitedly. "I'm stoked!"
Ross had answered questions for 14 minutes, yet he still didn't want to leave the room.
"Jon Lester is waiting to come in," announced Phyllis Merhige, an MLB senior vice president. "You can stay as long as you like."
"Can I sit up here while he's up here?" Ross asked.
And so he did, alongside Lester and David Ortiz, savoring the night of his career just a little bit longer.