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GM not in giving mood

Epstein refuses to concede defeat

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / September 1, 2010

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BALTIMORE — We have officially reached that “funny time’’ in the season when many pundits have declared the season over for the Red Sox, yet the team just can’t bring itself to hear the fat lady singing yet.

Well, after last night’s 5-2 to the Orioles, they might be one step closer.

There are signs that general manager Theo Epstein and the Sox have bailed on this season. Epstein shipped Manny Delcarmen out of town yesterday to the Rockies, who feel they still have a chance at the National League wild card. Epstein was able to do something he likes to do — trade a player with declining value for a prospect. He accomplished that in acquiring Chris Balcom-Miller, a 21-year-old righthander who had a lot of success in Single A this year.

Epstein said this trade was very different from the one he made in 2006 when he shipped David Wells to San Diego on Aug. 31 for a player to be named later (George Kottaras) because he felt the Sox were hopelessly out of it.

So what does it mean? Does Theo think the Sox are a little bit pregnant? A little bit drunk? A little bit out of it? Is the fat lady just humming, and not singing with her usual gusto?

“That’s a tough question,’’ Epstein said before the game. “It’s kind of like what the Supreme Court said about pornography: ‘You’ll know it when you see it.’ Right now, we’re not eliminated. We’re trying to get really hot.’’

Don’t know about pornography, but what we’re seeing now is downright ugly.

The Sox clubhouse was not a warm and fuzzy place last night. Josh Beckett pitched well (7 innings, 2 earned runs) but had nothing to say, escaping before the media were let in. Marco Scutaro acknowledged that he made a huge error with a bad throw in the third inning but said no more.

Epstein hasn’t been able to do anything to help this team. He said yesterday that a couple of things were really close but fell apart because of circumstances beyond his control. Don’t know what those were exactly, but one major league source said the Sox were close to a deal for Toronto first baseman Lyle Overbay, who has missed the last four games with post-concussion symptoms after a collision with Brian Tallet last Friday.

They have needed an experienced first baseman to take over for Kevin Youkilis and haven’t been able to make it happen. They also claimed Angels catcher Mike Napoli on waivers but couldn’t get a deal done.

There are signs that the Sox are pointing to the future, such as trading Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez, and that, according to major league sources, they have at least talked to Victor Martinez about a two-year offer.

Martinez has been hot lately, turning more into the hitter the Sox had a year ago. His defense has improved, with nice plays blocking the plate. His game-calling is better. It could be that the Sox are trying to throw something out to let him know they want him, hoping to keep him out of free agency (the Tigers and White Sox are sure to be interested).

The injured Youkilis told me yesterday he would be enthusiastic about a move to third base if the Sox can’t re-sign Adrian Beltre.

What about now?

“The priority right now is trying to catch lightning in a bottle, trying to get as hot as we need to get to get back into this thing,’’ said Epstein. “You don’t give up while you still have that opportunity.

“It’s not all about the math. We’re seven games back and we have a month to play — we can get extremely hot. But if we’re not able to accomplish that and we reach a point where we’re no longer playing for this year and we’re eliminated, then obviously you take a look at some pieces for the future.

“But you can tell by the lineup Tito’s writing out that we’re trying to win today, tomorrow, and the next day to make this thing interesting. Just because we’ve let some things slip away and some things have gone against us this year doesn’t mean it’s over. We have to try to make this thing interesting if we can.’’

Up until the Tampa Bay series, the Sox were the little engine that could. They hung around despite the injuries to four starters. The culprit was the starting pitching — the much-ballyhooed rotation that simply didn’t live up to its billing.

“Um, well, I think it’s fair to say that we expected the rotation 1 through 5 to be a real weapon for us, that if everything broke our way, it might be really dominant in that there was even some margin for error built in,’’ Epstein said. “If one guy didn’t perform, we had the horses to pick up the slack. And it hasn’t come to fruition exactly the way we imagined.

“I think the guys are still battling; certainly, there’s been some guys who have taken a major step forward, Clay Buchholz first and foremost. But it hasn’t all come together the way we would have liked, and that’s baseball.

“I wish things were more predictable. You try to put the pieces in place and hope it plays out a certain way, but it doesn’t always work that way. There’s still time to sort of right the ship and string together quality start after quality start after quality start and figure things out for the future as well.’’

Asked whether he was disappointed, Epstein said, “We’re still fighting. It’s not necessarily the time to be disappointed or pleased. We’ll tell you how we are at the end of the year.

“But injuries are a part of the game. I think we are where we are in part because of the injuries. But it’s not the whole reason, either. We’ve had some opportunities that we’ve let get away. That’s not placing blame on anyone, that’s just the reality of it.

“So you can sit back and say what might have been had we stayed healthy or had normal health. There’s a ton of talent on this roster, and maybe we’d be in a different position, but we’re not. We have to play with the hand that we’re dealt.’’

The Sox looked like a tired, beaten team before, during, and after last night’s loss.

This happens. You give it all you have with limited manpower for so long, and then there comes a point in time when you just don’t have any more to give.

The fat lady’s voice is getting a little clearer now. Pretty soon you will see a shadow. And you’ll know it when you see it.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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