Ken Davidoff's baseball insider

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The Red Sox and reading a clubhouse

Spent yesterday in Fort Myers with the Red Sox. Wrote two stories, one on Bobby Valentine and the other on Josh Beckett and Jon Lester.

Lester expressed considerably more remorse than did Beckett for what went down in the team's clubhouse last season - vis-a-vis the historic collapse - and that's going to generate plenty of discussion in the Boston yakosphere (trademark Neil Best).

Whatever. Guys are wired differently. Beckett's refusal to fully give in on this can be linked to the way he battles opposing hitters. He's combative. He'll be completely acquitted if he can pitch in  2012 like he did for the bulk of 2011.

What interested me in particular was comments made by Jon Lester yesterday. Lester tried to spin the situation as positively as possible, saying that he and the rest of the club would have something to remember should there be another late-season swoon.

A reporter followed by asking why Lester and the rest of the club didn't respond better to the situation last year, and Lester responded thusly:

"None of us had been through it. That’s the biggest learning curve, going through situations. When you go through it the first time, youre naïve.

We were all saying, 'We’re going to be fine, we’re going to be fine. We're going to be in the playoffs. We'll get there, and when we get there, everybodys going to come back and be healthy and ready to go.

We stunk, I stunk, and Tampa Bay was better. That’s basically how it was."

I flashed back to a column I wrote last September 23. The Red Sox were in the midst of  their plummet, their lead over Tampa Bay down to two games, and they visited Yankee Stadium.

Here was my third through sixth paragraphs:

More to the point, the Yankees’ rivals assert this: If you’re out in the wild at the moment and return to civilization a week? You won’t know.

“All that matters is going to the playoffs,” Kevin Youkilis said, before officials postponed the Red Sox-Yankees game at Yankee Stadium due to rain. “It doesn’t matter what team you are going into the playoffs. How you won, how you lost. If you lost your last 10, even.

“In the playoffs, it’s all about winning the best of five, best of seven. …There’s no relevancy to the regular season.”

Or, as Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein put it in more succinct terms: “Everyone gets knocked on their __. It’s what happens afterward that matters.”
 

The column wasn't as awful as I feared. I didn't assert, "They're going to fine!" as my memory warned me. But still, I wondered: Is there a lesson for me to learn here, as a reporter? Should I have recognized the Red Sox, so relaxed that day, as a team in denial?

Maybe, yeah. Maybe there's something to be said for a team saying to itself, "Man, we're  in trouble." Remember the 2005 White Sox? After dominating the AL Central, leading by as many as 15 games in early August, they almost fell apart in September before recovering and winning the World Series. Who's more in touch with his true feelings than Ozzie Guillen, the manager of that team?

Then again, the tempestuous Don Zimmer led the 1978 Red Sox, and that didn't work out very well, although Boston did rally at the end of the season to force the one-game playoff with the Yankees which the Red Sox lost with the tying run on third base.

Sure, you could correlate the Red Sox's late-season naivite, as Lester called it, with their supposed apathy, a charge to which Lester pleaded largely guilty and Beckett slightly so.

But then I keep flashing back to that September 28 game, the last contest of the season, against Baltimore. Closer Jonathan Papelbon, whom no one has accused of any wrongdoing, struck out the first two batters of the ninth inning. He was one out away from extending the season another day before surrendering three straight hits, leading to a walkoff loss that ended the campaign when the Rays outlasted the Yankees a few minutes later.

One more out, and the narrative changes altogether. One more out, and the Sawx were right to keep things in perspective.

Well, one more out, and they would've faced the Rays in a one-game playoff the next day, at Tropicana Field. And if you recall, the Red Sox were so desperate for a starting pitcher that day, they considered trading for Bruce Chen. Sure, anything can happen in one game, but Tampa Bay would've been favored.

As Beckett said yesterday, "I'm not saying we didn’t make mistakes, because we did make mistakes in the clubhouse. The biggest mistake I made was not pitching well against Baltimore."

It's fun to try to "take the temperature" of a team's clubhouse, and there probably is some value to it. Not too much value, though. Not when you're determining final narratives using such thin margins.

--I don't have time for a second post this morning, but I promised to address the Brian Cashman situation when he spoke, and Cashman spoke yesterday

He addressed his personal situation only briefly, and he has helped his argument - that he will function professionally as he always has - by completing the A.J. Burnett trade, and Raul Ibanez figures to enter the fold as soon as today. 

Sure, there could be a trial, and messy details could emerge. At the moment, however, it's apparent that Cashman is doing everything possible to keep things normal. And that his bosses very much want things to return to normal, because they want Cashman to stay on the job.

--I'll check in later today.

Tags: A.J. Burnett , Brian Cashman , Jon Lester , Josh Beckett , Bobby Valentine , Ozzie Guillen , Don Zimmer

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