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Theo Epstein: 'It's time to step up and show what we're made of'

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  September 23, 2011 05:34 PM

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NEW YORK ó Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein spoke to a small group of reporters in the dugout a little while ago. Here's a transcript of the salient parts of the interview:

On the collapse: "We had a rough homestand which was preceded by a rough road trip. We still have an opportunity to get where we want to go. It's all on us to turn this thing around. We don't have any excuses, not an excuse in the world. It's time to step up and show what we're made of. This is a stretch of disappointing play and we own that. We can't run away from that. It's certainly not too late. We're fortunate in a sense that we can wake up play one good week of baseball and have a great opportunity in the postseason. It's time to do it, though."

"We had a rough April. We played close to .700 ball or something for close to four months. Now we're having a real rough September. It's in there. We've pulled ourselves out of this before. We just to do it in a hurry."

On the suggestion by Peter Gammons that there's a disconnect between Epstein and Terry Francona: "There's no disconnect with me and Tito. I think anyone who has been around the club on a daily basis will see that. We talk several times a day. We spend a ton of time together. I was in [Francona's office] today laughing and joking like I was yesterday, like I was the day before. Obviously less laughing and joking this month than previously because of the way things are going.

"We're all on the same page. We're talking all the time and trying to figure out how to put this team in a position to succeed. For eight years I've respected and admired him. I believe the feeling is mutual. This is what happens when a team plays poorly down the stretch. There's a tendency to try and turn a stretch of bad baseball into a soap opera and we're not going to let that happen. Have we played good baseball this month? No. Are there sort of deeper issues, interpersonal problems or dramatics around here? No. This is not a soap opera. This is a team that hasn't played well all of a sudden for two or three weeks. Tito and I are on the same page."

What of Francona's job security? "He's under contract and there's a two-year option this year. We're going to take the same stance that we do with players who have options. This is an offseason issue. We're struggling to turn this around and we're going to turn this thing around. That's the focus, on the field. That's how Tito would want it. That's how I want it."

On the mood in the clubhouse: "I think it's frustration with not being able to play better baseball this month. I don't think there's a sense of doom or inevitability at all because this isn't inevitable. If we score more runs than the other team tonight we're going to win. If we do it the next night, it's two in a row and we're back. It's not fated or inevitable. It just seems that way sometimes when you lose two in a row the same way.

"These are the same guys who started 0-6, who started 2-10 and fought hard to get off of that and played great baseball for four months and put us in position to have a great season even with a tough couple of weeks like that. We talked about it in the clubhouse. We talked to the players about it. They feel the same way. It's what happens after you get knocked on your ass that matters. Everyone gets knocked on their ass. We were on our ass in April and our players dug deep and pulled themselves out. I know it sounds silly because it's April, but if you were around the team there were trying circumstances in April. The players dug deep, pulled themselves off the mat and plated great. It's what happens next that matters."

On the two-game lead: "Given how we've played, we're fortunate that we do control our fate here. All your really ask for in baseball, and in life, is a chance to carve your own path. We have that opportunity. No one's going to remember April, no one's going to remember the last two weeks. Everyone's going to remember what happens next. We have a chance to control that. We have to go out there and win some games."

On pitching depth now and in the postseason: "Our focus right now is getting there and winning tonight and the next night. We have the capability to pitch well. We haven't. We can get this done. You'd always like to be deeper; you'd always like to be healthier. You'd always like to have more guys on a roll. Right know we're searching to find it. We can. We can do it."

On Carl Crawford's poor season: "It's hard to explain why. Obviously if you could pinpoint an exact reason why it happens, someone would have done something to address it by now. I'll say this, he's never stopped working his tail off. He's never stopped fighting. He's shown accountability, taking responsibility for the year he's had. That's a great sign, a great indication that he's going to bounce back from this."

On the lack of starting pitching: "You constantly assess where your vulnerabilities are and where guys might go down or where guys might regress. You try to plan accordingly. You do that from the offseason on through spring training to the middle of the year. It was sort of a confluence of events that left us exposed. We need to bounce back from that. We still have a lot of talent on this roster and can still win games.

"The things that were foreseeable, we foresaw and we did the best we could to plan around it. If it's not good enough, it's not good enough and I'll own that."

Should a team be able to withstand injuries to starters? "You have do the best you can. You can never assume that all your starters are going to stay healthy because they don't. You go through the exercises if one guy goes down, if a certain other guys goes down. Your backup plans look OK. If everyone goes down, they start to look a little bit less good. When it's two and three and then four, it gets rough.

"It's a number of factors. We had a number of [prospects] we thought [were] positioned fairly well in the farm system to step up and take a more meaningful role. But development is not linear, and it just so happened that those players didnít develop the way exactly we wanted on the perfect time frame for how our injuries coincided. That happens. Thatís baseball. We have to own that as an organization. That didnít happen. There were injuries that occurred, and we didnít necessarily match up with the trade market to go and replace those guys. That happens. If I had done a better job, maybe we would have had better backup solutions. We had depth that we liked and to some degree they stepped. That's how we won so may games for those four months, from May to August. We had guys from Andrew Miller to [Alfredo] Aceves and [Tim] Wakefield who weren't in our rotation.Ē

On John Lackey's bad season: "It's hard to explain. Again, if we could pinpoint the reason we would have addressed it by now. It's a number of factors. It's very difficult to explain. He's had a much better track record than this. We have to spend a lot of time trying to get him back to what he was."

On Clay Buchholz: "Saw him throw in the cage. To my eye, it was really sharp. His stuff was there. It got better as it went on. It was pretty exciting. Most importantly, he looked really healthy and felt good. We'll see if we can find a way to make him available to help this team. If we can, we will."

On the team looking to obtain pitchers in September: "At different points in September, we strongly considered it, including early in September when we started to have some holes. It was such a limited market out there. ... We explored it."

On Mike Aviles: "He's done a real nice job. He's a shortstop by trade and he's worked hard to make the adjustment over to third base. He's taken a ton of ground balls early every day. He's starting to look comfortable at third. He can hit. He has the ability to barrel up the ball. It's an unconventional swing and approach but he finds a way to put the barrel on the ball. When he gets hot, he gets really hot. We're fortunate that he's played his way into a hot stretch here. We think he's a valuable player for now and for the future. You can't ask anything more."

How is he handling the collapse? "It's hard on everybody. I think it's a good opportunity to demonstrate some leadership. Not just me, but Tito and the coaches and the management and ownership. I don't see any of us panicking. It is hard on us and we want desperately to turn this thing around as our players do. It's not going to do anyone any good to make the burden even more immense and walk around like the weight of the world's on your shoulders. Just try to turn adversity into opportunity. Everyone gets knocked on their ass sooner or later. It's what happens afterwards that matters. It's an opportunity to do something."

On the potential of playing in the postseason: "I will say this, win a game or two in a row and this team will feel unburdened a little bit and get dangerous in a hurry. It starts with winning one game."

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