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BOB RYAN

Warning: These truths may hurt

Like the Red Sox in the series, Mark Loretta was upended yesterday while trying for a second-inning Robinson Cano double.
Like the Red Sox in the series, Mark Loretta was upended yesterday while trying for a second-inning Robinson Cano double. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)

You want the truth?

OK. Let's see if you can handle the truth.

The truth is that at present the Red Sox have two reliable pitchers, Curt Schilling and Jonathan Papelbon.

The truth is that, while you cannot blame everything on not having Jason Varitek, you cannot ignore his loss, either. They are 6-15 in his absence. There is some connection.

The truth is that there has been no legitimate No. 5 hitter on this team all season. It wasn't Varitek and it wasn't Trot Nixon. It most certainly is not Kevin Youkilis. It isn't Mike Lowell. The guy's not quite ready yet, but the closest thing would be Wily Mo Peña, and the truth is that he generally bats right where any decent team currently would put him: seventh.

The truth is that Johnny Damon was an enormous loss for the Red Sox and a tremendous addition to the Yankees. Over and above his obvious offensive skills, he has an irreplaceable personality. People who know the Yankees well say they have never before known such a relaxed Yankee clubhouse, and they attribute it all to the daily presence of Damon. He will not be playing center field when his current Yankee contract expires, but he will be in the lineup somewhere. They consider him money well spent (as only they could).

The truth is that Coco Crisp is not the player the Red Sox thought he was. He was enticing because he appeared to be getting better at the plate with each passing year, and the expectation was that further improvement was a given. Well, it wasn't, and that's not a strange baseball occurrence, especially when someone is changing teams. My guess is that he will be a much more productive player next year, but it's foolish to think he's going to be Johnny Damon. Fans cannot hold him to that standard.

The truth is that Josh Beckett is a mystery. Is he stupid? Is he stubborn? Is he lacking in focus? Is he a National League fraud? I do not know for sure what the answer is, but if someone can't find the solution to his problem, he will represent a monumental miscalculation and a colossal waste of money. His second-half performance has been pathetic.

The truth is that Theo Epstein whiffed on his big bullpen acquisitions. Julian Tavarez and Rudy Seanez were each coming off very good seasons. Tavarez had been a reliable middle guy for several seasons, while Seanez, long one of the great teases in baseball, had posted a career year in San Diego (7-1, 2.69, 84 K's and 22 walks). I don't have to tell you how it's turned out.

The truth is that everyone has to get old sometime and it appears that Mike Timlin's time has come. Some trace it to the World Baseball Classic in the spring. Maybe. I really don't know. I do know that when he gets up in that bullpen now, Red Sox fans get nervous, and with good reason. I also know that it was beyond stupid for a 16-year veteran to throw his offense under the bus as Timlin did early last week. You think a few guys in that clubhouse weren't smirking when he blew the second game last Friday night?

The truth is that if you're going to go through most of the season without a major league lefty in your bullpen, you'd better have a very good reason. You'd better have a righty who is exceptionally tough on lefties, and the only person on the Sox roster who could answer that description was Keith Foulke, and then only when he is at the very peak of his game. I really don't know why the Red Sox allowed Mike Myers to skip town, and I would be saying that even if he hadn't K'd Big Papi with his 80-m.p.h. heater in a key situation yesterday. ``Mike Myers is the consummate pro," said Joe Torre afterward, and I would second that notion.

The truth is that the Red Sox made their big move against the (inferior) National League, and they weren't alone. The Red Sox, Tigers, White Sox, and Twins were a combined 61-11 against the NL. I know that looks ridiculous, but it's the gospel truth. The Red Sox are now officially .500 in their own league. Now we must accept the fact that they were never really that good.

The truth is that this has been a very good year to be a Yankee fan. They lost Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui within two weeks in the spring, they also lost the scary-good Robinson Cano for about six weeks, and they had concurrent problems with their starting pitching. They had to wait out a Red Sox surge, knowing there was plenty of time in a long, long season to pull themselves together. In its present form, it is a thoroughly likeable and rootable team.

The truth is that the only team in baseball that could take on the Bobby Abreu contract was the team that did so. And while people knew he was good, no one foresaw him having this much of an effect on the rest of the lineup. A lineup that already had some patient hitters now has become a pitcher's nightmare. Schilling might have gone nine Sunday night if he didn't need 41 pitches to get six outs during the scoreless first and second innings.

The truth is that Brian Cashman's moves in getting Scott Proctor, Ron Villone, and Kyle Farnsworth to form his setup corps are now looking every bit as good as Theo's moves now look bad. You don't see any Craig Hansens or Manny Delcarmens doing their OJT in the middle of a pennant race because the big-money vets have been completely inadequate.

The truth is that Derek Jeter is submitting an MVP season. When the Yankees were going through their problems, the one person they always could count on was Jeter. He is both highly skilled and single-minded in the pursuit of victory. He is the last man any Red Sox fan should ever want to see up in any meaningful situation. There was enough evidence of that in this series.

The truth is that the Yankees lost two very good players in Sheffield and Matsui, but they retained such players as Damon, Jeter, Jason Giambi, Abreu, and Alex Rodriguez, none of whom makes less than $13 million a year. That's before you get to Randy Johnson. See any other teams around like that?

The truth is that, in addition to the big-money guys, the Yankees in the space of a year presented for the perusal of their fans the likes of Chien-Ming Wang, Cano, and Melky Cabrera from their farm system. Give them credit.

The truth is that this is not a good time to be Theo Epstein. For two years running, he has been unable to construct a viable pitching rotation. (We haven't mentioned Matt Clement, a very nice guy; no one is in a hurry to see him come back, because it's clear he wasn't cut out for Boston.) Theo was cut one year of afterglow slack, but overheated fans, already in a bloodthirsty mood, are downright rebellious now that the Yankees have humiliated their team with a five-game sweep.

The truth is that the essential Yankee/Red Sox dynamics haven't changed, no matter what happened in the fall of 2004. The Red Sox have a lot of money, but the Yankees HAVE A LOT OF MONEY. The real story is that the Yankees have not won since 2000. They're winless in this century. People around here should focus more on that. The Yankees have some splainin' to do.

The truth is that in this perverted sports climate, the other team is never just allowed to be better, even for a day, let alone a series or a season. No, no. Blame must be affixed. Heads must be severed.

Once upon a time, losing brought a brief period of sorrow. Now it brings rage. The rest of the season, I fear, will not be much fun.

The truth is we need to sit down and figure out what sports are all about. We've lost our way.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail is ryan@globe.com

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