Red Sox pack up and ponder what could have been
BOSTON ” Their nearly unprecedented comeback in Game 5 of the AL championship series didn’t get the Boston Red Sox into the World Series.
All it did was change their outlook on how things ended.
“It was big that we didn’t just roll over,” shortstop Jed Lowrie said on Monday, a day after Boston’s Game 7 loss to Tampa Bay ended their hopes of repeating as champs. “We gave it a great run and we made the Rays earn their spot. We can look in the mirror knowing we did everything we could.”
The Rays beat the Red Sox 3-1 in won Game 7 of the ALCS on Sunday night, eliminating the 2007 champs and advancing to the first World Series in Tampa Bay’s franchise history. That left Boston right where it seemed to be headed three nights earlier, when it trailed the Rays 7-0 with seven outs to go before staging the biggest postseason rally in almost 80 years.
The Red Sox followed with a victory in Game 6 on Saturday night to force a decisive seventh game.
They seemed to have all of the momentum, all of the experience and certainly all of the tradition over the expansion team that had never been to the playoffs before.
But it’s the Rays who were getting ready to face the Philadelphia Phillies in the Series on Monday, and the Red Sox who were cleaning out their lockers at Fenway Park in preparation for a little bit longer of an offseason than they had planned.
“Hopefully we can come back and give the fans another championship” in 2009, infielder Alex Cora said. “Because I know ” even though we just won last year ” they’re still hungry.”
A half-dozen players stopped by the clubhouse to box up their belongings and head into the winter.
Mike Timlin, who is probably headed for retirement after an 18-year career, declined to talk to reporters. Daisuke Matsuzaka signed some bats for teammates and clubhouse workers. Cora, Coco Crisp and Sean Casey made plans to see the Boston Bruins’ home opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Outside, the dugouts were boarded up and an irrigation truck was parked on the field to begin preparing it for the offseason. The 2007 championship banner had been lowered from the flagpole in center field for good.
In his postseason meeting with reporters, general manager Theo Epstein said the comeback may have changed how the end of the season is viewed, but it doesn’t affect how the organization will push ahead this offseason to prepare for 2009.
“What happened in Game 5, to get with a few runs of the World Series, to salvage the season right up until the very end, to me that changes the tone of the end of our season. It doesn’t change where we are, where we need to improve and how we stack up against our competition,” Epstein said. “That maybe helps people sleep a little better at night and maybe help our fans realize the fight that this team had.”
Although this offseason has the potential to be quiet, it rarely turns out that way for Boston.
“Catcher Jason Varitek, the captain and an 11-year member of the Red Sox, is eligible to become a free agent, and he did not have the kind of contract year (.220, 13 HR, 43 RBIs) that would command a lot of attention. But Epstein said his defense and handling of the pitching staff still make him an important player for the organization.
“If I walk into spring training and don’t see Jason Varitek, it will be eye-opening and very sad,” infielder Kevin Youkilis said after the game.
“Third baseman Mike Lowell, who had surgery on his hip Monday, should be ready for the start of the ’09 season. “They said they were pleasantly surprised by the condition of the labrum,” Epstein said. “They called it a complete success. His recovery starts tomorrow.”
“Shortstop Julio Lugo, who missed the last half of the season because of an leg injury, has yet to perform to the level of the four-year, $36 million contract he signed before the ’07 season. Cora and Jed Lowrie filled in for him, but Epstein has always sought more production from that position and is likely to pursue an upgrade.
“Pitcher Josh Beckett will have all offseason to rest and recover from the strained side muscle that kept him from performing like the postseason star he had always been. Epstein said Beckett injured himself on the 45th of 45 scheduled pitches on his last throwing session before the playoffs began.
“It’s pretty clear, watching him in October, that he wasn’t 100 percent,” Epstein said. “He just needs rest.”
“Designated hitter David Ortiz, who also had an off-season (.264, 23, 89) while making two trips to the disabled list with a left wrist injury, is also expected to recover with rest. “I see no reason why he can’t continue to be one of the most dominant power bats sitting in the middle of our lineup,” Epstein said.
“Outfielder Jason Bay, acquired in the trading deadline deal that sent Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers, is under contract for another season. Epstein would not comment specifically on signing Bay to an extension, but he said, “He really excelled in his first taste of the (playoff) action. So we’re excited he’s going to be back.”
“Although Francona signed an extension in spring training that would keep him in Boston through at least 2011, the rest of the coaching staff has yet to be discussed. Francona was “under the weather,” team spokesman John Blake said, and would address the offseason later.
After the Game 7 loss at Tampa Bay, Francona said the pride in his team’s resiliency will outlast the disappointment over not making the World Series.
“This is probably the funnest couple months maybe I’ve ever had,” he said. “I know our guys will be down for a little while, but they have no reason to hang their head. That’s an unbelievable group of guys in there. The outcome of this game won’t change my feelings towards that ever.”
Epstein met with reporters for about a half-hour at Fenway on Monday before Blake called the final question.
But with the free agent filing period at least a week away, the GM was in no hurry to leave.
“If they have more, I can answer,” Epstein said. “I’ve got nothing to do today, unfortunately.”