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With heavy hearts, Sox react to tragedy

Players, coaches don black armbands, profess their love of Boston

CLEVELAND -- The Red Sox were still riding the wave of a walk-off victory on Monday afternoon when they started filing on to the team bus and received the somber news that has been at the forefront of their minds ever since.

Will Middlebrooks was the player who broke the news to most of the team. His father Tom had been watching the news and saw the unthinkable incident that developed while the Red Sox were showering and packing up for a road trip to Cleveland.

Two bombs went off within seconds of each other at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, which is roughly a mile from Fenway Park. Three people were killed, and close to 200 were injured.

"I was in shock, along with everyone else," said Middlebrooks. "We were on the bus waiting to go to the airport waiting to come here. I got a call from my dad. He saw it on Twitter. He wanted to see if I was all right. I hadn't heard anything about it."

The Red Sox were literally digesting all of this not only on the bus ride to Logan Airport, but once they were in the air, thanks to televisions on the aircraft.

"Sometimes you have TVs, sometimes you don't [on the plane]," said outfielder Jonny Gomes. "We had them. It's kind of funny. You usually kind of peak your head up, and some guys are watching SportsCenter, some guys are watching a movie. This time, it was CNN all the way throughout, with people showing concern and just trying to stay up on the whole deal."

The Red Sox took the field on Tuesday night with black armbands on their left sleeves that will stay present at least for the rest of this road trip. In the visitors' dugout, Red Sox players hung a visiting Boston jersey that had the following on the back: "Boston 617 Strong." The 617 was in reference to Boston's area code.

Indians and Red Sox players both lined the baselines before the game for a moment of silence. In a classy gesture, the Indians played the song "Sweet Caroline," a Fenway Park fixture, moments before the first pitch. The Yankees announced that they would play that same song in the third inning as a way of paying tribute to their rival city. The Mariners were also planning to play the song during the seventh-inning stretch of their game against the Tigers.

"I think it's important that we recognize that we're all behind the people in Boston and everyone that was involved," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You think about that being a song that's a tradition there, it's special to Fenway Park and the people of Boston. We're behind them. Put the baseball teams aside, we want to be there for them."

Former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein reacted with sadness about the tragic events.

"All my thoughts are with my hometown and the people of Boston," said Epstein, who is now with the Cubs. "It's a horrific thing that happened. It's surreal that it happened in the middle of the city. The city is really shaken, but it's an extremely resilient city with lots of tough people. They'll definitely get through it.

Most home teams from around the Majors held a moment of silence either Monday or Tuesday and had the flag at half staff in recognition for what Boston is dealing with.

There will be more to come on Friday, when the Sox return for what is sure to be an emotional evening at Fenway Park.

"Yeah, I mean, this is a game. This is baseball, but it means a lot to the city of Boston," Middlebrooks said. "It means a lot to the people that live there. Like I said, if we can just get something on the TV aside from replays of the events from yesterday, I think it'll help a lot. Hopefully we can go out and play well.

"It's the strongest city I've ever been in. I'm very new to this city. It's my second year in this city, but like I said, it's a very strong city. They're very supportive of us. We want to return the favor."

For the Red Sox, the hardest part was the timing of it all -- leaving town just as tragedy struck.

"We were just in shock and I kind of spread the word throughout the bus and everyone got on the phone and tried to get in touch with families," Middlebrooks said. "By that time, they had shut down cellphone service, so it was a tough time on the bus for some guys on the bus who had families around town."

Charles Steinberg, an executive vice president for the Red Sox, spent much of Monday night confirming the safety of every staff member who works for the team. To his knowledge, no Red Sox employees were directly injured, though some had friends or family members impacted.

"Everybody feels the same way, from the writers to the folks who work here to the ballplayers to folks walking down the street with the 'B' on their hats today," Steinberg said. "You can feel it. It's the mixture of profound sorrow and steely resolve."

For anyone who frequents Boston's clubhouse on a daily basis, Tuesday's atmosphere was entirely different than the norm.

Dustin Pedroia, Boston's emotional leader, was clearly still shaken by the events of Monday.

"When we got on the plane, they had those TVs, and we were watching FOX News and CNN and, I'm sure like all of the info you guys got, that's what we were getting," said Pedroia. "It was just the whole night. Now, everything, it's the worst thing. It's awful."

The location of the tragedy was tough to take for the Red Sox, as nearly all of their players have spent considerable time in Copley Square. Many have apartments in that vicinity.

"That's the thing. I was there the day before," Pedroia said. "You can't even describe how you feel. All of us, that bus ride, it was silent. It's still hard to put together."

The players know that they can't do anything to change what occurred, but if they can create a comforting diversion -- be it for minutes or hours -- they take honor in that.

"Yeah, absolutely," Pedroia said. "You take pride in the city you play in. This is all some of us know. I've only played for the Red Sox. This city, what they demand of their team, the way everybody [bands together] -- it's the toughest city out there. We put our uniform on, and it'll be that much more special every day."

"Boston's my home, just like everybody else in this clubhouse," said ace Jon Lester. "It's obviously not a good situation, but you know, just like 9/11, hopefully we come together not only as a city again but as a nation."

It was a bit surreal that Indians manager Terry Francona had his first reunion game against the Red Sox on Tuesday, the day after his former home city was rocked with such a bitter development.

Francona was informed of the news by one of his daughters.

"It's personal for just about everybody," Francona said. "Some of those views, you can see the church my daughter got married in. It's very unsettling, for everybody."

For what seems like forever, Patriots' Day has always been a festive event in which the Red Sox play at 11 a.m. ET, and the marathon makes its way through the city.

"Just from being there the time I was, that day is so special to people in Boston. They're so proud of that day," Francona said. "You have the marathon, the game, it's a big deal. It's kind of a personal day for the city of Boston, and New England. I don't know how you quantify what happens. It's unfair. I just hope maybe this game does help some people."

Red Sox manager John Farrell also hoped the game could be helpful for some.

"I think it can," Farrell said. "There have been occurrences in society where sports maybe provides a little bit of a vehicle for that normalcy to get back in order. Tonight when that first pitch is thrown, I think our guys will be able to focus solely on the task at hand and that is to play this game. I would hope that those in Boston that watch this team and watch our players will gain some sense of maybe a little diversion of what has taken place and get back to that normalcy."

Rangers right-hander Derek Lowe hasn't played for the Red Sox since 2004, but the events of Monday immediately took him back to his time in Boston.

"You can physically put yourself there … I know exactly where that was," Lowe said. "I know how important that day is to the city. You play at 11 o'clock, and people go out and watch the end of the marathon and either the Bruins or the Celtics play that night. It's normally a joyful time. A lot of my friends go watch the marathon. It's always a sad situation when things like this happen."

The Red Sox will try to use this situation to connect on a more personal level with their fans.

"This is a time that we can use our platform for the right reason and really be sure that we're there for the city and show how much we love our city," Middlebrooks said.

Ian Browne is a reporter for Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne.
Read More: Boston Red Sox, Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Will Middlebrooks