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Toxic or not, Red Sox must earn their way back

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff  June 20, 2012 09:34 AM

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The toxicity of their clubhouse is certainly debatable, though the Red Sox are again missing the point. We can always debate a choice of words. But the cause is indisputable.

Maybe now the Red Sox understand the full impact of their actions last September and beyond.

For now, at least, Boston is back above water thanks to a 7-5 victory over the Florida Marlins at Fenway Park on Tuesday night, though there is still relatively little to be excited about in this season of constantly shifting tides. Thus far, the pendulum has always swung back. If the Red Sox are annoyed at the seemingly never-ending questions about their performance and chemistry, well, that is what happens after irresponsible behavior resulting in the loss of jobs.

People watch more closely in the wake of things like that. Everything gets scrutinized because, quite simply, the guilty parties lose any benefit of the doubt.

“It’s not like that, dog,’’ David Ortiz told reporters when asked about the latest ESPN.com report by the respected Buster Olney, who used the word "toxic" to describe the Boston clubhouse. “We all get along here. There’s not one guy here that has a problem with the other. We got a bus that we all have to [ride] and you should see that bus when we’re riding on it. If there’s anything ‘toxic’ between the players, I couldn’t really tell you, because I’m a guy in control of this [clubhouse], so [Olney] is wrong when it comes down to that, I can tell you that."

Said manager Bobby Valentine: "I don’t know how to define ‘toxic.’ It’s too big a word for me. I don’t even comment on people’s articles. I don’t even comment on your articles. Why would I comment on someone that I don’t think knows anything?"

Added pitcher Josh Beckett: “Completely fabricated."

Completely fabricated? Well, no. Not even close. The core of this Red Sox team is as it was then, in September, when the Sox self-destructed in a shameful demonstration of unprofessionalism and selfishness. Beckett showed up in spring training intent on finding a "snitch." Then the Sox followed a dreadful finish to last year with a dreadful beginning to this one, a seemingly incomprehensible development given what was at stake.

Today, they are still trying to dig themselves out. At the moment, the Red Sox' record has them in last place in the American League East and ninth in the AL overall, and Boston's record and run differential makes them a nearly perfect comparison to the Toronto Blue Jays, whom none of us really regard as a championship team.

And please, before anyone cites the injuries, let's remember that the Sox did not lose a single starting pitcher to the disabled list before Beckett joined that high-priced crew just days ago. Overall, the starting pitchers on this team have underperformed. Meanwhile, without Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford among others at various times, the Sox have scored more runs than any AL team but the explosive Texas Rangers.

They are where they are by their own doing, no one else's.

Nonetheless, if the 2012 Sox feel they are being treated unfairly, they are probably right. Were this, say, 2005 or 2008, we might look at their 34-33 and see the glass as half-full. Those Sox teams were coming off championships. Those Sox teams had given us reason to believe that they knew how to win, that they would make sacrifices for one another, that they truly and deeply cared. As such, when things went badly, the Sox had a rather sizable reservoir of goodwill from which to draw.

This team? None. Zero. Zippo. Whatever latitude the Sox had went into the garbage with the chicken bones and empty beer containers, be they bottles or cans.

Yes, guys, many of us are still at least a little hung up on last year. That is not anyone's fault but yours. The bigger the transgression and deeper the wound, the longer it takes to heal. And last September was a whopper.

The good news? Most all of us are open to changing our minds, though that obviously depends on the balance of this season. Thanks to the addition of a fifth playoff spot in each league, a postseason appearance doesn't require as much as it used to. The Sox are still very much in the race. Sox pitchers have performed much better in the last 36 games (a 3.44 team ERA) than they did in the first 31 (when the aggregate ERA was 5.29), and Valentine has done a nice job of maximizing his lineup and his bullpen a large cast of role players in roles where they can succeed.

In the end, where that all leaves the Red Sox is somewhere in the middle, ground they forfeited months ago. Toxic or not, the gray areas just do not belong to them anymore. The Red Sox have to win that land back, one day at a time, and the truth is that they have made up little distance, if any, since the start of spring training.

Innocence may be presumed in a court of law, after all.

But in Boston during the summer of 2012, toxicity or no toxicity, it has to be earned back.

Tony's Top 5

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The final chapter on Teixeira and How Red Sox pitchers work the strike zone Jan. 7, 2009 and July 17, 2009. Some actual reporting – an obsession with Mark Teixeira and the art of pitching.
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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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