NEW YORK – Dark clouds settled over Yankee Stadium and cried out plump droplets of rain. A general manager sat in a dugout talking about how he doesn't hate his manager, and a manager sat in his office talking about how he doesn't hate his general manager. Just as it seemed all of the chaos in the universe was training itself on the Boston Red Sox, that this franchise with 86 years of damnation had forgotten its ritual sacrifice to the baseball gods, Dustin Pedroia(notes) said something about eating soup off someone's head.
Pure chaos, all right.
It is OK, Boston.
One more time: It is OK.
This is a flawed team. There is no question about that. The starting pitching is a mess and the lineup posted before the rain postponed Friday night's game against the New York Yankees had Mike Aviles(notes) hitting fifth and a 14-losses-in-18-games stretch is no one's idea of a picnic.
And with all that said, what has come of this mini-collapse is … probably nothing. Tampa Bay lost again Friday night, stymied by Brandon Morrow(notes), and the Los Angeles Angels probably have played themselves out of the postseason, too. This leaves us a moment to step away from all of this insular henpecking and address the lunacy that accompanies every bit of divergence from the norm in the Northeast Corridor.
One of the beauties of the game here is how truly all-consuming it is. Baseball is to this part of the country what the NFL is to the rest of it on Sundays. Good is great. Bad is awful. Awful is miserable. Miserable is painful. Painful is the Red Sox over the last three weeks.
What grew from that pain is utter madness, capped Friday by the implication that Red Sox GM Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona had grown tired of one another. Now, this came from the insider of Red Sox insiders, Peter Gammons, which lent it far more credibility than it otherwise might've held. Still, it goes against one of the tenets by which the Red Sox run themselves: never to get too excited about winning nor too down about losing.
For eight years they have been. Epstein operates like a logician. He is one of the canniest GMs in the game. He understands Francona is a perfect fit for Boston, and that goes beyond the two championship seasons he managed. Francona deals remarkably well with a media contingency that can turn a losing skid into an excuse to ask Bud Selig to remove the Red Sox from the playoffs even if they qualify, as Dan Shaughnessy did Friday. He commands enormous respect from the most important players in the Red Sox's clubhouse, chief among them Pedroia and Ortiz. He is to Boston what Joe Torre was to the championship Yankees.
And a chasm is forming because of … two bad stretches? The Red Sox started the season 2-10. They're 4-14 as the year winds down. With a hindered roster, too, one that will cause even more agita for Francona on Sunday when he figures out how to squeeze at least 18 innings from his pitching staff in a doubleheader started by Uh (Tim Wakefield(notes)) and Oh (John Lackey(notes)).
"There is no disconnect between me and Tito," Epstein said.
"I don't really feel any different than I ever have," Francona said.
The danger of these situations, especially if they're blown out of proportion, is the queasy feelings they generate. Even if the Red Sox want to renew their vows with Francona, it takes a hugely secure person to hear such rumors – from a Hall of Fame reporter no less – and dismiss them outright. There may be a seed of truth whose germination is contingent on Francona's performance over the coming five days and into next year. He's under contract for next season and the Red Sox hold an option on him for 2013, and whether they exercise it once the offseason hits ultimately will prove if a real blaze accompanies these plumes.
Surely, however, Epstein would know better than to blame Francona for failing on account of the GM's inability to put together a viable rotation once injuries hit and Wakefield and Lackey turned into Uh-Oh. Nobody would dare castigate a guy who takes over a chessboard with three pawns and a rook for losing to an opponent with a queen.
Certainly a $170 million roster should provide more than that, but it hasn't, and so the Red Sox must grind out a few wins to salt away what should be theirs and then head into a postseason format that plays much better to their thin staff.
"This ain't us," Ortiz said. "I don't know what happened. That's a good question. I lay down in my bed at night and try to figure it out. Everybody is throwing ideas left and right, trying to find out what can we do, man.
"That's what make this ballclub so interesting. You got to deal with so much [expletive]. This isn't new. But you know what's good? We done this before."
Between the two losing skids, the Red Sox played superlative baseball, even better than the Yankees or Phillies, and that's still in them if they can only exorcise this succubus draining them. First comes Jon Lester trying Saturday to do what he couldn't in his last two starts, then Uh-Oh, against their rivals, all at Yankee Stadium, in hostile territory, with the cacophony of choking sure to emanate from the bleachers.
And so we'll focus on the GM and his manager and the pitching staff and everyone in a Red Sox uniform to see how they respond and if they can barge their way into the postseason instead of backing in.
It's not real chaos yet. Not even close.
But there's still plenty of time.
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