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Dan Shaughnessy

Doing well with homer odyssey

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / March 31, 2008

LOS ANGELES - Yesterday was odyssey day No. 12, the final day in southern California. Last night the Red Sox were scheduled to fly to San Francisco. Their next opener is tomorrow night at Oakland. Friday they open Rogers Centre in Toronto. The Fenway opener is a week from tomorrow - two weeks after the Japan opener, and 10 days after the Sox played in front of the largest crowd in baseball history.

When they finally line up along the first-base side at Fenway, these Sox will be leading the majors in pregame introductions.

"It's a little bit of a dog-and-pony show," third baseman Mike Lowell said after the Sox were thumped yesterday at Chavez Ravine by the Dodgers, 8-0, in their final (we think) exhibition game. "I'm not saying that as a negative. It's just that we have no routine. There's no pace."

This must be what it feels like to run for office. The Sox in the spring of 2008 are a traveling spectacle. They are forced to be "on" just about 24/7. They are required to be gracious, patient, and polite. Even when it hurts.

The world champions have lost all semblance of the routine that is part of professional baseball. The cocoon they know and embrace has gone on the shelf while they pose in MLB's candy store window. Perhaps after today's workout the Red Sox could squeeze in a charity softball game against some Bay Area Hooters staff.

The Sox looked pretty wobbly yesterday. They committed two errors and made two wild pitches. Coco Crisp dropped a fly ball in center, Clay Buchholz delivered another stinker to set his Grapefruit-Japan-California spring ERA at 10.03, and the only Sox hit was a one-out flare in the eighth by Bobby Kielty.

"There was some adjustment coming back from Japan," said captain Jason Varitek. "I think that was evident the first night - the swings that were put on by the whole group weren't very good. We've got to focus on trying to make this team better. We're still trying to do that.

"Everybody's getting their work in. We're not necessarily locked in yet. We need to play. We've had a little start-stop, that kind of stuff, and we need to play."

Before the start of the 19-day, three-country trip, the Sox pledged not to complain. They thus far have honored the promise, though it is getting more difficult to ignore the nonstop sideshows that have accompanied the interminable junket.

Saturday night's hardball Woodstock (115,300 strong at the Coliseum) featured multiple first-ball tosses and numerous other ceremonies and interruptions.

"It was an honor to be able to start that game," said Tim Wakefield, who had to yield the mound to several first-ball throwers.

"I felt like I was in the bullpen all night," said closer Jonathan Papelbon, who has been rocked in his last couple of outings (one counted, one didn't). "I think everybody's just ready to get home and get settled in our own place and get in a routine which everybody's accustomed to. I think that's what everybody's looking for and we're just trying to grind it out right now to the best that we can do it. Right now we're trying to please everybody but ourselves.

"I'm in the process of trying to go back to throwing a slider which I threw two years ago when I was a starter. It hasn't been as easy a road as I expected it to be I think because of everything else that's going on with all the travel and stuff. You're trying to pick times to save your rest and yet still go out there and get work done. It's kind of a hard spot that you're in.

"It's hard to really complain because I believe there's certain things you have to do," said Varitek. "The cards are dealt. Got to play 'em. We have a few extra days and wild travel, whatever. Those are all little things. It makes you have to focus on what you need to focus on when you have to play."

Manager Terry Francona remains patient, though he nearly snapped when a television reporter addressed him as "coach" after Saturday night's spectacular.

"I think we've handled it," said the manager. "It's just something you have to accept or if you don't accept it it's gonna set you back. We've been dealt whatever we've been dealt. We're supposed to handle it. We want to get into the grind of the season because we're a little bit nomadic. You don't know if you can get on a roll or not. We played two games that counted a week ago, or whatever it was."

"I think we kind of understand that it goes hand-in-hand with being the Red Sox," added Lowell. "We won the championship. We have a really good following. I think most guys prefer to get into the routine of the season."

Oakland awaits. The regular season awaits. Just a few more openers and pregame introductions.

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

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