Kevin Youkilis eyes October return

BOSTON -- On the last night he played before going on the disabled list, Boston Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis said he was wearing a thumb guard to protect his right thumb because it already was bruised and swollen for more than a week.

Youkilis, who spoke with reporters Tuesday with his thumb in a cast, said doctors are not certain when he sustained the injury, a torn adductor muscle in the palm of his right hand that connects to the thumb and draws it into the hand and gives power to a grasp.

The thumb began to bother him, he said, while the club was on the West Coast. "I forget what day," he said. "It just felt like a bruise. Hitting-wise, you get jammed a lot, you do all that stuff. You see guys shake their hand because it hurts a little bit. It was like that. It didn't go away. Sometimes you get it for a day or two, and a lot of times it goes away."

On Aug. 2, five days after the Sox returned home from the West Coast, Youkilis reacted in pain after lining out to short in the first inning against Cleveland's Fausto Carmona. He remained in the game for another inning before being removed. He was placed on the disabled list the next day and underwent surgery Aug. 6 in Cleveland.

"It just happened," he said. "No rhyme or reason to it, other than it's baseball."

Youkilis said none of the doctors who examined him, including the Cleveland Clinic specialist who did the surgery, Dr. Thomas Graham, were able to pinpoint the precise moment in which the muscle was torn.

"It might have been torn before [the Carmona at-bat]," he said. "They don't when it happened. It basically tore off the bone."

Youkilis said doctors also were unable to tell him of another athlete who has had the same injury, although they've noted that there have been athletes -- Shaquille O'Neal, for one -- who have torn the adductor muscle in concert with a torn tendon in the thumb.

An excuse to get in touch with Shaq?

"Yeah, I'll call Shaq and hang out," he said. "I'd love to sit down and talk with Shaq, maybe play Scrabble, use all the Q's. It's going to be fun to have Shaq here."

The injury was described as season-ending, but Youkilis didn't rule out playing in October if the Sox make the playoffs. He is due to have stitches removed this week and eventually, he said, will have his hand placed in a softer cast that will allow him to undergo physical therapy on the hand.

Youkilis acknowledged a potential October return was his own prognosis, not that of the doctors.

"That's me. I hope I come back and play. A lot has to happen. We've got to win to get in the playoffs. I'm hoping to do that. I may not be able to play at all, but I'll try to give myself the best chance."

The Red Sox began Tuesday night 5 1/2 games behind the Yankees and Rays in the AL East, and are 7-6 in the 13 games that Youkilis has missed. The fact that the Red Sox are still within striking distance despite their season-long siege of injuries is "remarkable," Youkilis said, testimony to the makeup of this team. He said he remains "very confident" that the club can make the playoffs even without him.

"That's one thing," he said. "People are coming up to me and saying, 'You don't have a chance anymore.' I say, 'Wrong.' These guys have a great chance because we have great players here, who want to win and have fun."

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.