Happy, Healthy Foulke Glad To Be Back

Your eyes weren't playing tricks on you if you rolled out of bed the last two mornings and thought you were watching a Red Sox intrasquad scrimmage from 2004.

Alas, Keith Foulke and Alan Embree are wearing the green and yellow of the Athletics. The former Sox bullpen stalwarts each threw a scoreless inning in each game against the Sox in Japan.

The sight of Embree in another uniform wasn't that odd considering he's was released by the Sox in July 2005 and played for the Yankees and Padres before he joined the Athletics last year. But Foulke, who struggled in 2005 and 2006 and lost his closer's job to Jonathan Papelbon during the latter campaign, made his big league return against the club with whom he'll forever be connected.

Foulke signed a one-year deal with the Indians prior to the 2007 season and was expected to be their closer, but he retired before spring training due to chronic pain in his elbow and knees. Joe Borowski replaced him and racked up an American League-best 45 saves for the Indians, who led the Sox three games to one in the AL Championship Series before falling in seven games.

"I just didn't want to be that guy to show up in spring training fat, his elbow hurting, and sit on the DL and take up a roster spot, take up money," Foulke told The Boston Globe after Wednesday's game. "It was the best decision for me and I'm glad it worked out for [the Indians] as well."

The year off refreshed and healed Foulke, though, and he pitched in front of 18 clubs—including the Sox—at a workout this winter before signing with the Athletics, for whom he led the AL in saves in 2003 before he signed his big-money deal with the Sox.

"My knees took a lot longer than I thought they would to heal and that whole process ended up hurting my elbow," Foulke told the Globe. "It was kind of a nasty situation for a couple of years. Taking last year off, I got healthy, I got my elbow fixed and then we went back to the basics. And so far, we're well on the right path. Things are going the way we want them to go."

Athletics manager Bob Geren didn't wait to throw Foulke right into high-octane situations. He pitched the eighth inning of each game and faced the heart of the Sox order—and 2004 teammates—both times in Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. He didn't allow a hit and recorded two strikeouts. The only runner to reach base against him, Youkilis, did so on Wednesday an error by Bobby Crosby.

"Once I get on the mound it doesn't matter to me who's in the box," Foulke told the Globe. "But what was weird was walking around the hotel, seeing everybody. Sometimes you have to check yourself and say ‘I'm wearing green and gold and not red and blue.' But it was great to see the old guys and talk to them."

Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752.

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