Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester admitted today that he drank beer in the clubhouse during games this season and that, "it was the wrong thing to do." But he was adamant that such behavior was not to blame for the team's September collapse.
"There's a perception out there that we were up there getting hammered and that wasn't the case," Lester told The Globe via telephone from his home in Georgia. "Was it a bad habit? Yes. I should have been on the bench more than I was. But we just played bad baseball as a team in September. We stunk. To be honest, we were doing the same things all season when we had the best record in baseball."
Lester said the drinking was confined to starting pitchers who weren't in the game that day. "It was a ninth-inning rally beer," he said. "We probably ordered chicken from Popeye's like once a month. That happened. But that's not the reason we lost."
Lester has not spoken to deposed manager Terry Francona, communicating with him only through text messages.
He said he was sorry to see Francona leave the team but believes it might be for the best.
"I love Tito and he did a great job for us when he was here. On a personal level I was more than grateful for what he did for me and my family," Lester said. "But there comes a time when your authority is no longer there. You kind of run your course. People who knew how Tito was and we pushed the envelope with it. We never had rules, we never that that iron-fist mentality. If you screwed up, he called you on it. That was how it worked.
"I never say guys purposely breaking rules or doing the wrong thing in front of him and rubbing it in his face. But this particular team probably needed more structure."
During a lengthy interview, Lester said he did not have permission to speak on behalf of Josh Beckett, John Lackey or the other starters, but felt he had to.
"Consider us a unit when it comes to these accusations," he said. "We either fall together or rise above it all together whether they like it or not. Things got magnified because we lost and sources started telling people what happened, which has me upset because if you're going to say something, be a man to put your name to it. But we're not bad people and we're not a bad group of guys.
"Are there things I regret? Sure there are. But nothing happened that had me unprepared to pitch. I don't blame people for wanting answers because we had a hell of a team and we lost. You can't have a team that gets paid like we get paid and loses and not expect people to want answers."
Lester also denied that poor physical conditioning was a reason for the team's 7-20 September collapse. He said that pitchers typically gain weight during the season.
"It's probably because of how we eat," he said. "We have some crazy hours with the travel and you get in at 4 a.m. and you get room service or something quick. But unless your body fat is going up 10 percent or something like that, you don't have a problem.
"I've heard what people are saying in Boston. I can tell you that guys were in the weight room. Guys were doing their shoulder [exercises] and guys were prepared to pitch. If we win a few more games in September and make the playoffs, none of this comes out. But we didn't and that's on us as a team and on me personally. I take a lot of the blame for this, a lot."
Lester was 15-6 with a 2.93 earned run average in his first 27 starts. He was 0-3 with an 8.24 ERA in his last four with the team losing all four of the games.
"It bothers me because I'm supposed to be a stopper," he said. "I picked a terrible time to stink. That's on me."