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Rooting disinterest

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  September 20, 2011 09:36 AM

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They will probably still make the playoffs. They may even win the World Series.

OK, that's a stretch.

But on numerous occasions yesterday, over the span of six hours, 45 minutes, 647 pitches, 53 hits, and 38 runs, the Red Sox - once the darling pick to bring home a third championship in eight years -  and some of their fans - once known as the most knowledgeable in all of baseball - both proved just exactly why they are so difficult to root for and with.

First, it was Carl Crawford cowarding his way out of the Game 1 lineup against the Orioles with a stiff neck prior to a game of utmost importance for his team's playoff chances. In the nightcap, it was John Lackey vomiting away an 11-3 lead, and having the audacity to glare at his manager for lifting him with one out in the fifth inning, denying him the win he felt he so richly deserved.

Lackey's line on the night: 4 1/3 innings, 11 hits, eight earned runs. Scott Atchison picked up the victory in relief, throwing 100 fewer pitches than the worst starting pitcher in baseball. Crawford was nowhere to be found. 

These are the guys you have to root for.

Then, there are the fans, the antiseptic supporters that would make McGreevey and his band of rooters cringe. In the fifth inning of yesterday's matinee, Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy launched a ball into the Monster seats, increasing Baltimore's lead to 6-2. A grown man with a glove caught the home run and celebrated the magnificent feat by high-fiving his fellow "fans." Many hours later, as the disgraced Lackey made his way off the field, a smattering of Fenway patrons seated in box seats behind the dugout showed their appreciation by applauding the effort.

Clueless.

Yes, a certain amount of angst has returned to Boston when it concerns the Red Sox, and despite what the lollipop and gumdrop crowd may have you believe, that's not such a bad thing. Frustration brings with it a semblance of passion, something that has been widely lacking in a general sense. The people who care are angry about Boston's pathetic September swoon. They are fed up with the constant sell that is the franchise once regarded as old-school as they come in professional sports. They have had it with Theo Epstein's disastrous free agent signings, in spite of how much good he has done for the team by building from within.

The Red Sox may still be two games up on the Rays in the wild card race, same as they started yesterday, but the happenings at Fenway were glaring. As the Red Sox faced their most important day of the year thus far, Crawford, the "splash" of the offseason, bowed out, and Lackey, maybe the most questionable free agent signing Epstein has ever made - which is saying something - showed absolutely nothing, and whined about not getting something he didn't deserve. In between, David Ortiz threw Game 1 starter Kyle Weiland under the bus by saying that Alfredo Aceves should be starting, but who can argue with him?

All the while, the Red Sox crow about their stupid sellout streak and three million Facebook fans, while their target audience, the gullible sheep who fill Fenway, cheer opposing homers and a guy who just surrendered eight runs.

The franchise hasn't just been sanitized, it's been downright neutered.

You expect that with success, but the way the Sox are sold it's happened to such a nauseating degree that has even turned some longtime fans against the FSG portfolio. Should the Red Sox win the World Series - stay with me - it validates everything they've done the past few seasons. It will mean Lackey was a smart decision. It will mean Crawford wasn't an unmitigated disaster at the dollars he's getting. It will mean status quo for next year, when Epstein can burn another $156 million on a free agent piece that doesn't fit. Press conference to come during Christmas at Fenway.

Here's an idea: If ownership wants a "splash," tell them to put Lackey on irrevocable waivers. That'll get headlines.

The Red Sox have eight games remaining to maintain their lead in the wild card race. If they go 4-4 the rest of the way, the Rays have to go 8-2 to leapfrog them. Mathematically, things look good for Boston.

But come the postseason, where the Red Sox have not won since Game 6 of the 2008 ALCS, what kind of stock do you have in this team? Putting the injury excuse aside, do you have faith this is a title contender? Should you? What reason has it given you the past 30 days?

While players like Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis continue to fight for their playoff lives at the most critical point of the season, guys like Crawford and Lackey, the offseason headlines of the last two years, continue to confound. Perhaps even more than last year, this offseason needs to see major changes, not for ratings this time, but for the long-term health of the franchise.

Overall, yesterday was a pretty good day for the Red Sox. It was a great day for Red Sox Nation, which got two sing-alongs on the day.

For Red Sox fans, it had to give great concern where this team is headed not only next month, but for the lives of overpaid contracts given to guys who can't - or don't want to - perform when it matters most, and are stuck here for the foreseeable future. 

Yay.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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