Ross thankful to be on big stage after concussion
Red Sox catcher worried career was over, now key contributor in World Series
ST. LOUIS -- There was a point this year when Red Sox catcher David Ross wondered whether he ever would be able to play again, let alone contribute the winning hit in a World Series game or combine with Jon Lester in all four of his postseason wins.
The fear of his career ending was the result of a severe concussion and post-concussion syndrome, its even uglier twin.
"The best thing they did was give me a plan of attack, almost a rehab program for my brain. I saw progress, and that's when I realized, 'I can come out of this.'"
Ross took a pair of foul tips off his hockey-style mask at Toronto in early May that stunned him into submission. Yet he continued to play with the effects -- the dizziness, instability and loss of memory -- for a month until his wife finally threatened, "If you don't tell them, I will."
Ross went on the disabled list June 18, and when he returned Aug. 9, he had missed 41 games. Ross is a journeyman player, to say the least, having played with six teams in 12 years, and his confidence was shattered.
Ross wears an old-style mask now and the haze has obviously lifted.
After it all, Ross has become a big contributor to Boston's run at winning its third Fall Classic in the past 10 years. The Red Sox have a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series and can wrap up the title Wednesday night at Fenway Park (7:30 p.m. ET air time, 8:07 first pitch on FOX). Ross has been the catcher of record in all three victories, two of them by Lester in Games 1 and 5. The left-hander has allowed one run on nine hits in 15 1/3 World Series innings with Ross behind the plate.
The double that scored Xander Bogaerts with the go-ahead run was just the icing, so to speak, after what Ross has gone through.
"He missed two full months or more," Red Sox manager John Farrell said during a media interview session. "It took him probably 25 at-bats once he was activated to finally get his timing back. And once he's gotten it, he's swung the bat through the month of September and in the postseason better than any time all the year. He came up big tonight, hitting the key double in that seventh inning for the go-ahead run.
"He does such a great job of running the game. We've talked a lot about how he and Jon have worked well in the last six or seven times they've paired up. He was big for us [in that area] again tonight."
Ross said the key to their current success is having Lester use his four-seam fastball to set up the cutter.
"That way hitters just can't sit on the cutter, which kept the Cardinals off balance all night," Ross said. "He impresses me a lot. His attitude and his passion and the fire he brings on a daily basis when he's out there is second to none. He's locked in. Yeah, I mean I knew he had a good chance of doing something special today."
For a time, though, Ross said he wondered whether he'd ever be catching anyone. Cards manager Mike Matheny, a high-level backstop in his own right, had his playing career end with the Giants in 2006 when a series of foul tips off his mask resulted in a final concussion of many. It took Matheny a good year to clear his head after the last incident.
Doctors warn that once anyone suffers a concussion, it is much easier to have another and the aftereffects become increasingly more severe. Major League Baseball now has a mental baseline for each player and a special seven-day concussion disabled list, which Ross far exceeded.
Ross said he reached out to Matheny, who went to the same specialist in Pittsburgh, once the severity of the problem was diagnosed.
"Mike and I texted back and forth a little bit," Ross said. "That's the person who came to mind when I started having all my problems. I knew it had ended Mike's career, so that was a scary point for me. I got a lot of firsthand knowledge from the doctor about how different Mike's concussion was from mine. He's one of the guys I came up admiring and how passionate he was about catching."
It's no small irony, then, that Ross is helping the Red Sox defeat Matheny's team. Ross was so thrilled to be such a big part of the action Monday night that no one could budge him from the interview room, where he held court for nearly 20 minutes as Lester and David Ortiz ultimately joined the front table.
Even the stoic Phyllis Merhige, who has long conducted the American League interview sessions during the World Series, exclaimed, "Wow, somebody who really wants to be here!"
Not only did Ross want to be there, but he was ecstatic.
"Yeah, the trip I've taken this year, I never thought I'd be here," Ross told the group. "There were times I was questioning whether my career was over. But thanks to a lot of positive people, good doctors, I'm here, and I've got to thank the manager for having faith in me and putting me in that position. I'm playing in the World Series, so this whole skit is just ...
"I'm up here talking to you guys. This is pretty cool, right?"
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.