<
>

Waiting on Rusney; playing the spoiler

PITTSBURGH -- The Red Sox have a dozen games left to play in 2014, six on the road, then six at home to drop the curtain on their second last-place finish in three years.

Here are a few reasons, beyond force of habit, to stick with the Sox to the bitter end:

On deck, Rusney: Has any Cuban player had a more unusual introduction to the life of a pro ballplayer on the other side of the Straits of Florida than Rusney Castillo? In the span of just the last three months, he has been personally welcomed to the U.S. by Jay Z and Beyonce, signed for more money than any Cuban player ever ($72 million) and celebrated championships in the last two weeks with two minor-league teams, the Gulf Coast League Red Sox and the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox, during a dress rehearsal for his big-league debut, which could come as soon as Wednesday in Pittsburgh. Oh, and he turned 27 on Sept. 7.

Castillo’s most memorable contribution came in Game 4 of the International League series against Durham, when, with the PawSox a strike away from elimination in the ninth inning, he delivered a game-tying single, the PawSox winning in extra innings. He will play in the Triple-A championship game Tuesday night, then is scheduled to join the Sox here on the next day.

It will be striking to have three center fielders -- Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts and Castillo -- on the team at the same time. Feel free to compare and contrast.

Spoiler, anyone?: The Sox were a major aggravation last weekend for the Royals, taking three out of four in Kansas City to drop them behind the Tigers in the AL Central. Now they have a chance to hurt the postseason prospects of another team -- the Pirates of all people. The Pirates are in the weird position of playing stretch-drive games against a team they have played in this century only 13 times, the last time in 2011, when they took two out of three from the Sox. The Pirates begin their series against the Sox trailing the Cardinals in the NL Central by 3 ½ games, while holding a 1 ½ game lead over the Brewers for the final wild-card spot.

Koji, redux: Red Sox closer Koji Uehara has pitched just three times since Aug. 25, only once since his epic meltdown Sept. 4 in New York City, when he gave up ninth-inning home runs to Mark Teixeira (tied the score) and Chase Headley (walk-off). Uehara pitched a scoreless eighth inning Friday night with the Sox ahead by two against the Royals, and manager John Farrell has pledged that he will restore Uehara to the closer’s role before it’s all over. Uehera’s bargaining power on the free-agent market this winter may depend on it.

Skipping a party: The Sox may get lucky on this one. After three games with the Pirates, they will be spending the weekend in Baltimore, where the Orioles are about to win their first division title since 1997. The Sox may avoid having to watch the Orioles party, however, as the Orioles reduced their magic number to one by beating the Blue Jays Monday night and play Toronto on each of the next two nights in Camden Yards.

Avoiding an embarrassment: The Sox helped their cause by beating up on the Royals, and now have to go just 4-8 to finish ahead of the 2012 Sox, who went 69-93. The Sox are currently 66-84.

Vazquez, unleashed: How often does a team introduce two players of such uncommon defensive gifts as Bradley in the outfield and Christian Vazquez behind the plate? Bradley should win the Gold Glove, despite his late-August demotion, and Vazquez has deserved accolades as a budding Yadier Molina, who is merely the best catcher in the game. Vazquez has cut down 11 of 25 would-be base stealers, a 44 percent success rate, and has picked off four runners. That’s the most pickoffs by a Sox catcher since Rich Gedman had four in 1985.

Another history lesson from Papi: With one more RBI, David Ortiz will have his eighth season of at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, which will be the most in Sox history. He’ll pass Ted Williams, who has seven. Ortiz left the club Sunday for what Farrell called a “family emergency” but is expected back in Pittsburgh.