Embree signs with Red Sox

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Alan Embree emerged from the dugout wearing a Red Sox jersey with a familiar No. 43 on the back, looked around, and smiled.

"Fantasy camp,'' Embree said.

Indeed. The 40-year-old left-handed reliever, whose highlight reel moment with the Red Sox came when he leaped in the air after retiring Ruben Sierra on a tapper to Pokey Reese for the final out in Game 7 of the miraculous 2004 ALCS comeback against the Yankees, is back.

The Sox, who worked out Embree earlier this week at his home in Washington state, have signed Embree to a minor league deal, with an invitation to big-league camp. Embree, a free agent after the Rockies declined to exercise his $3 million option for 2010, almost certainly has the inside track on the second left-hander's spot in the Sox bullpen, behind Hideki Okajima.

The question, with just over two weeks before the April 4 opener, is how long it will take him to get ready. It may not be long.

"Today we'll go out and see where he is,'' manager Terry Francona said. "He says he's almost game-ready. He says he's been throwing a lot of bullpens.''

Is there enough time? "We really don't know,'' Francona said. "According to him, yes. But we have to try and use good judgment.

"This is not a big transition for him. Some things have changed, of course, but he walks through the clubhouse and it's old home week.''

The Red Sox had let it be known to other clubs this week that they were looking to upgrade their left-handed relief options beyond Okajima, an indication that another 40-year-old left-hander trying to return to the Sox, Brian Shouse, was not cutting it.

There are also two right-handers in camp, Joe Nelson and Scott Atchison, who have had some success in getting out left-handed hitters, Nelson with his "Vulcan" changeup. But the Sox appear bent on expanding the field of candidates and decided to at least give Embree a shot.

Embree's season ended violently last July in Colorado, as a line drive by Atlanta's Martin Prado shattered his right tibia, causing a compression fracture that required the insertion of screws.

At the time, there was speculation his career might be over, and obviously factored in Colorado's decision not to pick up the option. But Embree has made a full recovery, and looks to tack onto his 882 career appearances, which rank sixth among active pitchers.

"Maybe because of an unfortunate accident, we will be the recipient of good luck,'' Francona said.

Embree's first acquisition by the Red Sox, in 2002, was primarily engineered by Theo Epstein, who was then the Sox assistant GM and knew Embree well from his days with the Padres. He became a valued member of the Sox pen -- he made 136 appearances over the 2003-04 seasons, and pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings in the 2003 postseason, which is why it will be eternally debated that Grady Little should have lifted Pedro Martinez in Game 7 of the '03 ALCS.

But in July 2005, Embree was released by the Red Sox after he posted a 7.65 ERA in 43 appearances. It turned out Embree pitched the entire year with a bad elbow, and after the season he had surgery to remove two bone spurs and five bone chips from the elbow.

Francona said Saturday the Sox were aware Embree was having elbow issues.

Embree went 2-2 with a 5.84 ERA in 36 relief appearances for the Rockies last season before the injury. He owns a career record of 39-45 with 25 saves and a 4.59 ERA in 882 games with the Indians (1992, 1995-96), Braves (1997-98), Diamondbacks (1998), Giants (1999-2001), White Sox (2001), Padres (2002, 2006), Red Sox (2002-05), Yankees (2005), Athletics (2007-08) and Rockies (2009).

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.