Motivated Wagner grateful for chance

Motivated Wagner grateful for chance

BOSTON -- Last fall, Billy Wagner was told he'd never pitch again.

But a funny thing happened to the reliever upon hearing the dreary news. Instead of calling it a career, Wagner used the baseball death sentence to fuel a comeback, one that came full circle at Fenway Park on Thursday, when he officially joined the Red Sox.

Acquired by the Sox -- after waiving his no-trade clause -- from the Mets on Aug. 25 for two players to be named later, the 38-year-old left-hander expressed excitement and a willingness to fill any void necessary for his new team.

"Whatever role they want me to," Wagner said. "Water boy, towel guy, lefty specialist -- I don't care."

All kidding aside, the 15-year veteran's workload is expected to be monitored just 11 months after undergoing Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. He was scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Thursday afternoon and will likely be available for Friday's series opener against the Blue Jays, manager Terry Francona said.

As expected, the Red Sox released starter Brad Penny to make room for Wagner on the club's active roster. Penny went 7-8 with a 5.61 ERA in 24 starts this season, but Francona insisted that there are no hard feelings toward the 31-year-old hurler, who requested his release on Wednesday night.

"Because we ended up letting him go, our feelings don't change about him personally," Francona said. "We really appreciated the way Brad went about his business. He was a good teammate, and he worked hard. We're always pretty honest about the fact that we do what's in the best interest of the organization and the team, and we try to tell the players that."

A six-time National League All-Star who ranks sixth all-time with 385 career saves, Wagner tossed two scoreless innings with New York prior to Tuesday's deal.

"We'll try to recognize that he's had Tommy John surgery and that he doesn't have a lot of innings," Francona said. "He's actually way ahead of schedule, and when I say he's a freak of nature, I mean that in a complimentary way. He's probably out there doing some stuff most people wouldn't be doing.

"We want him to help us win games, but at the same time, we're not going to get him up and get him down and back up again. We'll communicate to make sure we know how he feels physically, and try to use him in situations where he can help us win without taxing him to the point where he's not getting stronger physically."

Accepting a trade to Boston didn't come without some contemplation from Wagner, who is intent on continuing to pitch at a high level.

"My biggest thing was, can I fulfill what they're asking for?" Wagner said. "Can I go out there and pitch? Can I be like I was after 11 months of recovering from a major surgery? The last thing you want to do is not be able to perform the way you did in the past and not help and not contribute. But talking to Tito and [general manager] Theo [Epstein] and these guys, they understood what they were looking for and what I could offer them.

"They think I can do it."

Nearly one year removed from an operation that could have marked the end of his playing days, Wagner is grateful for a second chance.

"I was told my career was over," he said. "That kind of motivates you. I feel like I'm in control of my career. If it's God's will, then I'll pitch. If not, so be it. But I stuck with [Mets rehab trainer] Chris Correnti. He was there day-in and day-out with me, motivating me and pushing me to keep working. He believed I had something left, and my family thought I had something left. They believed that I should pursue it and see how far this thing would take me.

"I'm here in 11 months, and it's normally 14 months. I don't know what to expect. I'm going out on a limb as much as everybody else."

Wagner will join a Red Sox bullpen that is arguably baseball's best, fronted by an All-Star closer in Jonathan Papelbon, who recently had some reservations about Wagner joining Boston's standout relief corps.

"I've talked to [Papelbon] quite a bit," Wagner said. "Everything was so blown out [of proportion], but we're fine. I understand what he meant. He's got a lot of close friends and they've been doing a real great job. They've got the best bullpen in the American League, and here they are taking a chance on a 38-year-old man coming off 11 months of Tommy John [surgery recovery]. He wants to win a ring and be a champion, and I admire that."

Wagner would also like to win a ring, a thrill he's never experienced. He hopes that will change in a Red Sox uniform.

"As a professional athlete, you play for that championship," Wagner said. "If you're able to obtain it, it puts it all in perspective as far as what you've accomplished and how hard you've had to work to get there. It'd be something to be happy about."

John Barone is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.