Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz became the latest Sox player to weigh in on the team’s tumultuous end to the season, answering questions on WEEI’s Mut & Merloni show this afternoon. Buchholz was asked about drinking beer and eating fried chicken and the reported personal problems of his manager, but he blamed the team’s collapse on expectations that got out of control.
“The big problem with this team this year was that everybody knew how good we were on paper,” said Buchholz. “Best team in baseball probably in the last 10 years or whatever. To a certain extent, especially when we were playing like the best team in baseball, we’d step on the field and go win a game. Even me, sitting on the bench and watching these games I was like, ‘What’s going on? How are we losing these games?'”
The Red Sox went 7-20 in September and missed the playoffs, a collapse that led to manager Terry Francona’s departure and the expected departure of general manager Theo Epstein to the Chicago Cubs. Buchholz expressed sadness that Francona has moved on.
“He’s been the only guy there since I’ve been in this organization,” said Buchholz. “So it was a little bit of a shock. I had to sit there and just sort of think about it for a little bit. At the same time, it’s the same way with the players. Players get shipped out every day from different teams. It’s a business. But every time I needed something from Tito, he was there when I had something to say, so no ill will there at all.”
Sox pitcher Jon Lester said earlier this week that he thought Red Sox players lost respect for Francona toward the end of the season. Buchholz sang a different tune.
“I don’t know if anybody took advantage of him,” said Buchholz. “I think he treated everybody like a man, like they wanted to be treated. Maybe some of the decisions that were made were not the right ones, but you’ve got to live with your mistakes and learn from them and move on. I don’t think it was to the point where he was getting walked all over … I don’t think it was anything like that. Something happened, it was a business move, I believe, and sometimes you’ve got to part ways.”
Much has been made of Red Sox starters drinking beer and eating fried chicken during games on the days they weren’t pitching, with John Lackey, Lester, and Josh Beckett implicated in a comprehensive Globe story and other reports. Lester has admitted to the drinking but has said it wasn’t a big deal. Buchholz also defended his pitching brethren, especially Beckett.
“If anything I would think Josh Beckett was different in a good way this year,” said Buchholz. “He’s one of the guys I’ve looked up to. He’s just got that killer mentality of going out and winning the game, and he’s really in a bad mood if he doesn’t win a game. He’s one of the hardest workers — I’m not saying it because he’s my teammate trying to cover his butt. He was in the clubhouse early, getting his work done, ran, did all his stuff. There was nothing … He was the best pitcher on our team this year. He’s getting blamed for a lot of stuff, but he was the best pitcher on team.”
On Lackey, Buchholz said, “I hope he’s back. I think he’s going to turn it around. He was pitching with a lot of stuff this year …He’s a good clubhouse guy. He’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet in your life.”
On Beckett’s possible weight gain, Buchholz said, “Gaining weight’s gaining weight. You’ve still got to go out there and perform.”
On ChickenGate, Buchholz said, “It wasn’t like the guys were in there saying, ‘We’re going to order chicken today.’ We’d come upstairs, there’d be chicken on the table, and it happened maybe three times this season. It wasn’t like it was an everyday thing. And the whole beer thing, it was more of a rally beer. And yeah it might not have been right, but I feel like there’s other teams in baseball that might have gone through something like that. And it’s not like it wasn’t a big deal because we’re grown men. Probably shouldn’t be making those decisions like that during a baseball game, happened to be paid this money. I understand. You’ve got to live with what you’ve done and learn from it.
“It’s not going to happen again because it’s blown up a lot bigger than everybody thought it was.”
Buchholz said he never saw beer in the dugout.
“No, never,” said Buchholz.
There was a long, awkward pause when Buchholz was asked about whether Red Sox pitchers worked as hard for pitching coach Curt Young as they did for former pitching coach John Farrell, now manager of the Blue Jays.
“Um, it was a different personality,” said Buchholz. “Curt’s a really laid back guy. I don’t have anything bad to say about Curt. He was a really cool dude. He talked to me every time I needed to talk … just two different personalities. John, when I got called up, it was like I don’t want to talk to him unless I have to because I’m scared of him.”
Red Sox pitchers have taken more blame than the team’s position players for the perception that they isolated themselves from the rest of the team. Buchholz addressed that as well.
“I think us as pitchers, we did hang out a lott, and I think that was a good thing,” he said. “If we went to dinner in a city we invited each other, and that’s not to say we didn’t invite anyone else … that’s just the guys that we hung out with.
“Things have gotten a little bit out of hand with all the stuff that’s been going on, but we didn’t do what we were supposed to do in September, and I guess it’s a little bit our fault.”
Buchholz was injured in June and could not work his way back into the rotation in time for the end of the season, but said that if the Sox had made the playoffs he was aiming to return as a starter.
“I’ve been bred to be a starter,” he said. “It’s a different animal coming out of the bullpen. That’s what I was working up to, to start.”
Buchholz said he expects to be 100 percent healthy for the 2012 season.