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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

For now, Epstein remains unmoved

Criticism comes in many forms when you are general manager of the Boston Red Sox. It swallowed a great man named Lou Gorman and it no doubt expedited the departure of Dan Duquette. Being in charge of the Sox makes you a target for nasty newspaper columns, raging radio opinions, TV panel shows, blogs, and standard water cooler conversation.

Theo Epstein has a name for it: ``The sound and the fury."

``You can't listen to it," Epstein said in a phone conversation as the struggling Red Sox prepared to resume their quest to make the playoffs for a fourth straight season. ``The sound and fury can eat you up. If you listen to the sound and fury and react to it, it can drive you crazy. We have to train ourselves not to pay attention to it."

These are trying days for the young Red Sox GM. Epstein and his men failed to make a significant deal before the major league trading deadline July 31. Meanwhile, Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek went on the disabled list, Doug Mirabelli got hurt, and suddenly the Sox were scrambling for catching help. At the same time, Boston is without a quality lefthander in the bullpen and most of the righties have been struggling.

The Yankees -- after making significant deals at the deadline -- moved three games ahead of the Sox in the loss column Sunday. Boston has lost four of seven series since the All-Star break. The Sox have lost four of their last five series. David Ortiz and Manny Ramírez have been keeping the Sox afloat all by themselves.

In retrospect, would Theo have done anything differently?

``If we had known Varitek was going to get hurt, it might have changed some things," said the GM. ``But we didn't want to make any of the deals that were offered. I wouldn't be doing my job if I let public opinion dictate what we think is in the best interest of the ball club."

Still, there are nine games with the Yankees on the horizon, and things seem to be going in the wrong direction. Any concerns?

``I'm concerned about the way we're playing," he said. ``That's what concerns me. We have to start playing better baseball if we want to make the playoffs.

``I take a broad view. What we're going through right now is our toughest stretch. We haven't played great baseball and we're facing the most adversity we've faced. This is the toughest stretch. It is the time that defines a club and I'm confident we will overcome the adversity."

The Sox will enjoy one last cushy week against the Royals and Orioles before facing the iron in late August and September. In addition to the upcoming Yankee wars, a three-city West Coast trip looms ominously.

On the hot seat for the first time in his big league career, Epstein disputes the notion that the Sox have been intransigent at the negotiating table because they've fallen in love with their prospects.

``If we did that, we never would have thrown Matt Murton into the Nomar deal in 2004," he said. ``We didn't want to lose Murton, just as we don't want to lose prospects now, but if we don't make that deal, we don't win the World Series. And given what was out there, I'm glad we didn't make any of the deals that were offered this year.

``We searched long and hard and proposed many deals, including many which included our own prospects. But the deals we turned down were so unreasonable, if we'd accepted them, I should resign on the spot. They were harmful to the franchise."

So maybe the Red Sox did dangle Manny Delcarmen, Craig Hansen, and David Murphy. Maybe they did try to get Cory Lidle from the Phillies. Maybe they just figured $24 million was too much for the tag-along services of Bobby Abreu (the Phillies were unwilling to deal Lidle without Abreu). Certainly the Sox look good for saying no to a deal that would have brought Kip Wells to Boston. The Rangers dealt for Wells and he was shut down with shoulder woes after one start with Texas.

At this hour, most Sox fans are still crossing their fingers and chanting ``In Theo We Trust" just as Patriot Nation worships at the feet of Bill Belichick.

But if the Sox fail to make the playoffs, Epstein knows that July 31 will be cited as the beginning of the end of Boston's chances for 2006. And he'll be blamed. That's a fact of life when you are general manager of the Red Sox. There is no escape from the sound and the fury.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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