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Shane Victorino injures back again while delivering game-changing defense

05.17.13 at 12:11 am ET

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — At the time, it seemed like an inconsequential play that proved unnecessarily costly. With the Red Sox trailing, 3-1, in the bottom of the eighth, Shane Victorino chased down a blast from Rays catcher Jose Lobaton, hauling the ball in as he crashed squarely into the fence in right-center. Later in the inning, he ran roughly a million miles in futile pursuit of a foul ball (for which he attempted a sliding catch, an effort that created enough discomfort that manager John Farrell and a Red Sox trainer started out of the dugout only to be sent back by Victorino). Then, to close out the frame, Victorino made a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch on the warning track on a flyball by Desmond Jennings.

He proved a considerable defensive difference maker in the eighth, but Victorino was out of the game one inning later. In the ninth, the Sox moved Daniel Nava from left to right and had Jonny Gomes enter in left, with Victorino suffering his second back injury of the month.

“When he caught the ball and banged off the wall, he started to tighten up — more broad across the low back. It’s not similar to the reason he missed the four or five games earlier,” Farrell said, referencing the fact that the outfielder missed eight games due to lower back spasms. “We’ll check him tomorrow. He’s a little banged up.”

Victorino is hopeful that he will be able to play on Friday. He suggested that the discomfort in his back was less severe than the spasms he experienced in late-April.

“I don’t think it’s going to be as bad. It doesn’t feel that way. At least I’m hoping that,” said the outfielder. “[The injury occurred] from the ball on the wall the first out. The impact jolted me a little bit. Felt a little bit in that area. But continued, it got a little tighter. Also didn’t help that I went and slid on that next ball. … Hopefully it doesn’t get any worse than what I feel right now. But we’re going to take a nice plane ride to Minnesota, big win, and we’re going to go from there.”

While it seems that the availability of Victorino — who required considerable ice on his back after the game — is in some question for Friday night against the Twins, his defensive impact has been eye-opening. The plays he made in the eighth may well have stopped the Rays from scoring at least one run — on a night when the Sox claimed a 4-3 victory by precisely such a margin.

“I don’t think we can underestimate what it does for us. He’s cut some runners down, he’s kept some people to singles where it could be sure-doubles in other situations. He’s done an outstanding job,” said Farrell. “Even on the ball he caught over his head, his instincts are so good — that’s a right-hander who it’s going to tail a little bit towards the line and he makes the absolute right turn and he’s in the right spot. His routes and reads are spot on.”

That’s what the Sox signed up for when they inked Victorino to a three-year, $39 million pact this offseason. They wanted a right-fielder capable of tremendous defense. They got it, with a player whose abandon at the position is unlike anything that Farrell could recall seeing.

“Typically you see that type of guy, that type of guy is in center field all the time. You see more prototypical power bat in right field, and you don’t see that kind of range or those type of routes that we’ve seen pretty consistently from him,” said Farrell. “I would say it’s been better than I’d personally anticipated.”

Victorino suggested that he will not back down from further confrontations with walls or any other physical impediment while in the outfield.

“There’s only one way to play,” said the outfielder. “Try to play the game hard, make as many outs as you can.”

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