Notes: No coasting for Francona
Skipper makes history; Mirabelli back behind the plate
ST. PETERSBURG -- Just because the postseason is now secure does not mean that manager Terry Francona is going to handle the final seven games of the regular season as though they were glorified exhibition games.
There is more business to take care of. The Red Sox, entering Sunday, held a 2 1/2-game lead on the Yankees in the American League East, and a magic number of six for clinching their first division title since 1995.
"We'd really like to win the division," said Francona. "But [the balancing act], it's really not that tough. Just do what's right for the team."
What that means is resting some -- such as Dustin Pedroia on Sunday -- while waiting for others to return to the lineup.
"[Kevin] Youkilis was not supposed to play. He's not going to play," said Francona of the first baseman, who has been out of the lineup the last seven games with a right wrist contusion. "Hopefully, he will [soon]."
Lefty reliever Hideki Okajima hasn't pitched since Sept. 14, but he is expected to return from his rest period on Thursday night.
"We're trying to get him up so he can throw meaningful innings and pitch like he did," said Francona. "It's really not that hard. The timing of some of these guys going down isn't good, but it's not tragic, because it's not the playoffs. That's basically the best way I can look at it. It's hard to go into the last week of the season not having people available. But it's better than going into the playoffs not having people available."
Then there is Manny Ramirez. The star slugger has missed the last 24 games with a strained left oblique.
Obviously, the hope is that Ramirez can get back in the lineup during the six-game homestand that concludes the regular season.
"He said he had a better day yesterday, which is good," said Francona. "I'd rather hear him say that than it's getting worse. He seemed real upbeat. He's not ready to play. All-around, he said he felt better swinging and everything, but he's still not ready to play. Just keep plugging away."
Francona in class of his own: Francona is now the only manager in the storied history of the Red Sox to take the club to the postseason three times.
Bill Carrigan, Joe Morgan and Jimy Williams all guided Boston to the postseason twice.
This is the 18th time the Red Sox have been a participant in postseason play, ranking them third behind the Yankees (44) and A's (23) for the most in AL history.
Ortiz on the bases: Fans and media members weren't the only ones perplexed when David Ortiz tried to steal third base in the first inning of Saturday night's game, only to be thrown out.
"I think he thought he was invisible," said Francona. "I don't know. I actually haven't gotten around to asking him yet. I was hoping we'd get a lead where I could ask him. I just think that's a case of trying to do too much and trying to do something that's not there. I think he took enough grief from the rest of the guys that he probably didn't need to hear it from me. I take it as a good sign that his knee feels good. We don't need Maury Wills, we need David Ortiz. We'll stay with David."
Francona then got a chuckle wondering what opposing scouts must have thought.
"I hope somebody is advancing us, though," he said. "That will certainly put a wrench into what they think we're doing."
Mirabelli returns: For the first time since straining his left hamstring on Sept. 6 at Baltimore, Doug Mirabelli was back in the lineup on Sunday to catch longtime batterymate Tim Wakefield.
Coming up: The Red Sox open their final homestand of the season on Tuesday when Curt Schilling (8-8, 3.97 ERA) opposes A's left-hander Dan Meyer (0-2, 8.62). First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.