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Red Sox Notes: An infamous anniversary; Jacoby Ellsbury nears return; Will Middlebrooks hits off a tee

09.28.12 at 6:47 pm ET

BALTIMORE — Exactly one year after their hopes for 2011 crumbled in startling fashion, the Red Sox find themselves back in Baltimore. The Red Sox lineup on Friday night bears almost no resemblance to its predecessor of a year ago. Exactly two players (Dustin Pedroia and Ryan Lavarnway) from the Sox’ lineup last Sept. 28 are in the lineup on this odd anniversary.

Gone are Adrian Gonzalez and J.D. Drew and Marco Scutaro and Carl Crawford. Mike Aviles, the starting third baseman in last year’s season finale (on a day when Kevin Youkilis landed on the 60-day DL), resides on the bench as the Sox continue to give Jose Iglesias an opportunity to play. David Ortiz is injured.

The result is a team unrecognizable (and, judging from the lineup as posted in Camden Yards on Friday night, unspellable) from the one that saw its season end suddenly, startlingly, in a 4-3 walkoff loss to the Orioles.

The Sox have spiraled to their worst record in decades. At 69-87, they are within three losses of the team’s first 90-loss year since 1966. The Orioles, meanwhile, have gone from plucky last-place doormat last year — when they went 69-93 — to a neck-and-neck race with the Yankees for the AL East title. The O’s are 89-67, one game behind New York but with a three-game margin for error in the wild card race.

“There aren’€™t many guys who are going to be in that starting nine tonight who were playing on this team last year,” noted Sox manager Bobby Valentine. “It’€™s not like a revenge factor [is in play this weekend against the O’s.”

Still, those who were with the Red Sox are still haunted by that season-ending series in Baltimore and its consequences.

“It’s tough to believe that happened,” said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.”September last year, it was just one of those things — we were grinding it out, played as hard as we could but just didn’t finish it.”

That said, Saltalamacchia insisted that the end of last season was not nearly as mind-blowing as what has transpired with the Sox in 2012.

“This year was probably more shocking than what happened last year, to me. You go from every spot filled with All-Stars, Gold Gloves, to trading them all away. You never believe that’s going to happen,” said Saltalamacchia. “You think this is your team for a long time when guys sign six-, seven-year contracts. Obviously, it is what it is. It wasn’t working out. We weren’t winning. Something had to be done.”

A few additional notes from Baltimore:

  • Jacoby Ellsbury, out since Sept. 20, is expected to return to the Red Sox lineup on Saturday, according to manager Bobby Valentine. “He’€™s going to do everything today in practice. He’€™s going to actually test everything, they said, today. then if all goes well, tomorrow will be the day,” said Valentine.
  • Will Middlebrooks hit off a tee on Friday for the first time since suffering two broken bones in his wrist. The 24-year-old described swinging as “awkward,” but useful. “I’m just kind of gauging where I’m at, keep doing that, feel some progress. At this point in my rehab, I can’t feel [physical] progress. I feel like I’m fine. But swinging a bat or throwing, I can really feel day-by-day if I’m getting better. I’m not doing a lot, just enough to know where I’m at.” Middlebrooks said that he’ll probably start taking full batting practice in December.
  • Rich Sauveur, the pitching coach with Triple-A Pawtucket who is currently with the big league coaching staff, will serve as pitching coach in the Dominican Winter League for the Aguilas Cibaenas in Santiago. Sauveur said that right-hander Josh Fields — who threw 13 2/3 shutout innings for the PawSox at the end of this year, and who had a 2.01 ERA with 12.0 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.8 walks per nine in a breakthrough season — will pitch for him. Indeed, Sauveur said that he expects Fields to close for him.
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