Ellis Burks hits a second-inning single in the first game of Saturday's doubleheader. (Chris Gardner/AP)
BALTIMORE -- For all the injuries he's endured in his career, Ellis Burks was able to join a distinguished club for longevity on Saturday. The classy right-handed hitter batted fifth in Red Sox manager Terry Francona's lineup, making what was likely his final start in the Major Leagues.
It was game No. 2,000 for Burks, as the 40-year-old designated hitter became the 200th player in Major League history to reach that plateau.
He got a loud ovation from the crowd at Camden Yards (many of whom were Red Sox fans) when he dug in for his first at-bat. Burks elicited more roars from the crowd by finishing the at-bat with a single to left. With his creaky legs, he made it to third on Orlando Cabrera's double and scored on a single by Gabe Kapler.
Burks nearly got another hit later in the inning, only to have his drive robbed by diving center fielder Larry Bigbie. That out was likely the final at-bat of his career, as Burks was pinch-hit for by Kevin Youkilis in the fourth.
Francona indicated that Burks isn't likely to play Sunday, when the Sox wrap up their regular season. Burks -- thanks to his season-long knee woes -- won't be on the roster during the postseason.
"He's pretty sore," said Francona.
Burks was just glad to be able to bring some closure to his career on his own terms.
"You know, what's very meaningful is that it's my 2,000th career game, and I'm the 200th player to do that," said Burks before Saturday's win. "For a tough year, a long year, no matter what the outcome is today, I'm just going to have fun."
There hasn't been all that much fun for Burks in what he expects will be his final season. He re-signed with the Red Sox in February with high hopes, getting the opportunity to close out his career with the same team he was drafted by in the first round in 1983. Burks was the starting center fielder for the Sox from 1987-92.
The plan for Burks this season was to DH against left-handed pitchers and be an invaluable pinch-hitter. But his left knee betrayed him quickly, and he had surgery on April 28.
One ill-fated rehab assignment later, there was more surgery on July 8.
Ellis Burks / DH
Weight: 205 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
"This offseason, to have an opportunity to re-sign with the Red Sox was a blessing to me," said Burks. "It was just unfortunate the way it played out, because I was so fired up to come back and be healthy. Then, all of a sudden, I have two knee surgeries that put me out for the year."
Finally, Burks made it back to the active roster on Sept. 23. That night, he marked his return with a pinch-hit single. Three days later, in his last regular-season game at Fenway Park, the fans gave him a standing ovation, even though the pain in his knee didn't allow him to play that day.
Francona told him after Friday's game that he would get this start.
"I worked hard to get back, and now I'm back. I'm not 100 percent, but I'm back," said Burks.
What has been remarkable about Burks this season is that, despite playing in just his 11th game of the year on Saturday, he has been a widely respected presence in the clubhouse.
"He's so much a part of this team," said Francona. "He's a pretty special person to be the leader he has been on the DL all year. It's amazing."
Burks has a .291 career average with 352 homers and 1,206 RBIs.
Mixing it up: With 18 innings on the docket, Francona gave many of his regulars time off. Manny Ramirez didn't start either game because he had a sore throat. Kevin Millar and Mark Bellhorn out of the lineup for Game 1. Johnny Damon, Jason Varitek and Bill Mueller got the second game off.
Trot Nixon, whose wife, Kathryn, delivered a baby boy on Friday, returned in time to start the second game.
David Ortiz started the second game at first base, marking the first time he's played defense since July 22, when he also started one of the games of a doubleheader against Baltimore.
Close eye on race: Francona wasn't stressed out over not knowing who the Red Sox will play in the Division Series. Instead, he hopes that the A's will have worn out the division champ Angels over the weekend. The Twins, after having their game suspended during extra innings because of a scheduling conflict at the Metrodome, also remained a possibile opponent for the Sox.
Francona also had an interest in that Oakland-Anaheim series because two of his best friends in the game were involved. Last year, Francona served as the bench coach in Oakland under Ken Macha. And he's also close with Angels pitching coach Bud Black.
The Red Sox are scheduled to fly somewhere at 6:30 p.m. following Sunday's game. There's a chance that when they board the plan, they won't know if they're landing in Minneapolis or Anaheim.
"If we leave at 6:30, we can at least head in that direction, and they can at least change the flight plan," said Francona. "If we leave at 5, we're not allowed to change our flight plan. So we're going to stay until 6:30 and then go where we're supposed to. We can veer if we leave at 6:30. There's some rules and regulations with the FAA that we had to file."
Derek Lowe / P
Weight: 215 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
Lowe's role: Francona admitted he isn't sure exactly what type of bullpen role Derek Lowe will be in for the Division Series.
"He also has experience in big games getting some big outs," said Francona. "We'll play it by ear. See where we're at in games. I guess my point is, we don't need to hide him."
Lowe hasn't yet spoken to reporters since the decision was made to put him in the bullpen. But Francona was fully understanding that Lowe wasn't thrilled with the decision.
"I think he's disappointed," Francona said. "I suppose I'm glad he was. I know he wants to pitch. Guys want to play. That's certainly understandable."
ALCS tickets available: Fans who did not register or were not selected in the random drawing for the chance to purchase tickets to potential American League Championship Series games at Fenway Park will get a chance to buy a limited number of tickets by phone, starting at 3 p.m. on Monday.
Fans may call touch-tone ticketing at (617) 482-4SOX beginning at 3 p.m. Monday, October 4. Fans with disabilities may call (877) RED-SOX9 beginning at noon Monday to purchase accessible seating (while supplies last). The Red Sox's TTY number is (617) 226-6644. There will be no tickets sold at the Fenway Park ticket office.
There will be a one-game, two-ticket purchase limit per customer. Ticket prices for the ALCS, as established by Major League Baseball, are $125 for Box seats, $90 for Grandstand seats, $50 for Bleacher seats and $35 for standing room. All orders will include a $6 per ticket and $14 per transaction fee.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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