BOSTON – Terry Francona’s crew of bridge builders already had lost a couple ballgames to the rival New York Yankees by Sunday evening when a question was put to him about the newcomers coming together with the old guard and past performances becoming future predictors, “coagulating” if you will, and making something of his club before the season got away from them all.
It’ll be about starting pitching for the Boston Red Sox, of course, and then defense and then getting their outfielders back on the field and then the whole designated-hitter thing, all well before chumminess and batting orders.
There is, however, no denying the Red Sox’s new course, as Jason Varitek(notes), Mike Lowell(notes) and David Ortiz(notes) recede, and Dustin Pedroia(notes) and Kevin Youkilis(notes) grow up, and John Lackey(notes) and Adrian Beltre(notes) are trucked in. The GM, Theo Epstein, had given Red Sox loyalists facial tics when he revealed the coming “bridge period,” which maybe should have been taken with the perspective of the bygone “bridge century,” but instead chased the intoxication of six postseason appearances in seven seasons.
Anyway, here are the Red Sox in their Golden Age – Sunday was the 570th consecutive sellout at Fenway Park, fresh World Series banners flutter somewhere, the payroll rates somewhere between massive and Steinbrenner-ian – and the immediate emphasis is on stopping the bleeding, which is foremost on Francona’s mind. Actually, it’s always on his mind.
“Coagulation’s a bad word for me,” he said. “I don’t coagulate very well. That’s why I’m on Coumadin.”
Well, at least the plot thickens by itself.
At the end of three early-May, well-attended, blowout games at Fenway (two wins for the visitors, one – on Sunday night by a 9-3 score – for the home team), the Yankees and Red Sox went on their ways, the Yankees’ a bit merrier than the home team. The rivals play a couple in the Bronx early next week, then won’t see each other for nearly three months, by which time there’ll be a lot less guessing about how far to the other side of the bridge.
Already, there is chatter about whom the Red Sox would make available in the case they must sacrifice the season for the greater good. Victor Martinez(notes) comes to everyone’s mind, Clay Buchholz(notes) to others. And already the locals are making plans for next season, and how they might spend prospects or money left behind by Ortiz and Lowell. Prince Fielder(notes), perhaps? Adrian Gonzalez(notes)?
Meantime, there is the matter of 80 percent of the season still to play.
“Our job,” Francona said, “is to sometimes not react,” adding that with the alternative, “You can get in trouble.”
So, they try to believe in a defense that not only hasn’t carried them to wins, but has contributed to losses. Adrian Beltre alone has committed seven errors, playing third base like he wouldn’t dare trust Fenway’s rugged infield. And they try to believe in a rotation that not only hasn’t covered for a developing offense, but for the first five weeks was one of the worst in the game. And now the schedule deepens, too. There are few easy ones ahead. In fact, if there is a patsy in two coming weeks against the Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers, Yankees, Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays, it could be, um, them.
Their answer, the only one they can have, is to stay the course.
“When you have guys that are established players, you run them in day in and day out,” Francona said. “Our roster’s a little different this year. That’s probably why we’ve done things a little different.”
As if to remind the locals of all that is ahead, the air chilled overnight, and the breeze stiffened, and the amphibious Duck Tour mobiles loosed their plastic passenger screens. It is not yet June, not yet summer. The day before, Mark Teixeira(notes) had the first three-homer game for a Yankee against the Red Sox since Lou Gehrig, and Francisco Cervelli(notes) was the first Yankees catcher to drive in five runs against the Red Sox since Yogi Berra. At the same time, outfielder Jonathan Van Every(notes) became the first Red Sox pitcher to allow a home run to Teixeira since the guy who pitched a couple innings before. Yet, the cost was a day in May. Not great, but not fatal, either.
Still, while Epstein insists, “We’re better than this,” there must be a great leap from playing with more precision to playing to catch the Yankees and the Rays. And that’s the point here, isn’t it? Discounting their now annual contribution to the thrill of the perfect game, the Rays might have the best offense in the game. If not, then the Yankees do. The Rays probably have the best starting rotation in the league. The only argument might come from the Yankees.
The Red Sox aren’t in the discussion yet, and that’s because they haven’t pitched yet. When they do, well, maybe they’ll cross that bridge when they get to it.