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Red Sox: Still they believe?

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  September 22, 2011 03:50 PM

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The good news is that the Red Sox can't possibly lose again tonight. You can't lose a game if you don't play one. Had to look that one up on Fangraphs.com to be sure.

That's about as positive as Red Sox rooters can get after watching their team turn a playoff spot into a playoff race with a calamitous 5-16 September.

Ace Josh Beckett, the man who in spring training insinuated this version of the Sox could win 100 games, provided the latest letdown last night, blowing a 4-1 lead to the woeful Baltimore Orioles, who took three of four from the Sox to win a four-game set at Fenway Park for the first time since 2003.

The stumbling, bumbling Sox are idle (haven't they really been all month?) tonight before heading to the Bronx for a three-game series with the Yankees, who have become unlikely, if still reviled, allies in the Sox' pursuit of a playoff berth. The American League East-champion Yankees are blocking the Tampa Bay Rays from pulling into the passing lane in the wild card chase, but suddenly the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who have joined the Rays at 2.5 games behind Boston, are closing fast in the rear-view mirror.

Speaking of rear-view mirrors, that beeping sound you hear is the Sox backing into the playoffs.

The Best Team Ever and the undisputed champions of the Hot Stove circuit has been reduced to chiming its bell and hoping for some charity. So pray that old friend and former Sox pitching coach John Farrell, now the manager of the Blue Jays, helps out his former team tonight with a win over the Angels, and put pride and spite aside and pull for the Pinstripes one more time against the Rays.

But of more concern than the Rays and Angels is the mental state of the Sox. Even if they moonwalk their way into the playoffs they have the aura of a dead team walking. Where is the energy, the leadership, the defiance, the spunk that has marked previous Sox playoff entries?

Eleven days ago, David Ortiz said it was time to panic after the Sox were swept in Tampa. Last night, he ratcheted up the rhetoric.

"Iíve been here nine years. Weíve never collapsed that bad," Ortiz told the media. "Trust me, we've been through some tough times. But this is bad. No matter what we do, things are going to be bad. Right now, itís depressing."

Between the time of Ortiz's call for panic and his pronouncement last night the Rays, who were 3.5 back at the close of play on Sept. 11, have made up exactly one game.

But you wouldn't know that listening to the talk that came out of the Boston clubhouse last night. As the defeats pile up it appears the Sox have adopted a defeated and defeatist attitude. Confidence has given way to diffidence, as the ground disappears beneath their collective feet. Perhaps, it's just frustration seeping out or blunt assessments of a September tailspin, but it's not encouraging or becoming of this team to wallow in self-flagellation.

Cocksure second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who is never at a loss for confidence, was reminded of the team's abysmal 5-16 record this month and instead of offering a flippant quip, simply said, "Thatís a sign of a [expletive] team. Good teams donít go 5-16 in any month," said Pedroia.

Instead of Cowboying Up or playing like oblivious baseball Idiots, it appears the Sox are assuming the fetal position and passing the Prozac.

Where is lovable loudmouth Kevin Millar when you need him? Back in 2004, when the Sox were down 3-0 to the Yankees and had just gotten their teeth kicked in 19-8 on a sepulchral Saturday night, Millar defiantly said the pressure was on the Yankees to win Game 4.

"Don't let us win tonight," said Millar. "This is a big game. They've got to win because if we win, we've got Pedro coming back in Game 5 and Schilling in 6. ...Don't let the Sox win this game."

If you didn't know any better you would think these Sox have already been eliminated from the playoff chase, instead of still being in the driver's seat with Clay Buchholz ostensibly about to come along for the ride.

Tonight is a crucial if the Rays or Angels are going to catch the Sox and at least force a playoff for the American League wild card. If the Rays and/or Angels win then they're two games behind the Sox with six to play. But if one or both of them loses they're three back with a half-dozen games remaining, a Randy Johnson-esque tall task, even with the way the Sox have been playing.

You get sense that even if the Sox make the postseason they don't expect to go very far. The psychological damage has been done.

A team that overcame an 0-6 road trip to start the season and a 2-10 start overall and didn't reach .500 until its 40th game should have a deep reservoir of resolve to draw upon, but the Sox appear as dry as the Depression-era Dust Bowl in that category. Reliable starting pitching and bullpen depth aren't the only attributes the team is lacking. There could be a deficit of intangibles, a missing component in its DNA that has prolonged this slump and turned it into a spiral.

The odds are still in the Sox favor. There is still time to turn this around. This team is too talented -- even with its shocking paucity of pitching and without Kevin Youkilis in the lineup -- to continue playing this way. They still lead the majors in runs scored (851), on-base percentage (.349) and on-base-plus-slugging (.810). Even with a ghastly 23 errors in 21 games, they're still in the top 10 in baseball in fewest errors made.

Those numbers don't add up to a team that is watching the playoffs on television. The errors should cease, the timely hits should resume, the 100-win swagger should return.

But if they don't believe that, why should we?

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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