Commentary

Red Sox have survivors' attitude

Players' professional approach has helped them through tough times

Updated: July 26, 2010, 2:44 PM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

SEATTLE -- Boston Red Sox players hold themselves and their teammates accountable not only on the field, but for how they conduct their business in the clubhouse as well.

The Sox have been a brittle bunch this season who have relied on their professionalism and grit in an attempt to keep themselves alive in the AL East.

Francona I've been a lot of places. You don't see guys hitting in the cage sitting in a chair. You don't see guys on crutches, trying to play. It doesn't happen. This is an extraordinary group right now.

-- Red Sox manager Terry Francona

There was an incident in the Mariners' dugout Friday at Safeco Field when some players, along with manager Don Wakamatsu, lost their cool and started going at one another. In fact, one Mariners player said afterward that the team is a sinking ship. That sort of thing can happen when you're one the worst teams in the big leagues.

But that sort of incident doesn't happen in Boston. At least not with Terry Francona as the manager.

The only time the Red Sox had a similar situation was a month before Manny Ramirez was traded in 2008, when he and Kevin Youkilis got into a shoving match in the dugout at Fenway. When Ramirez was dealt to the Dodgers as part of a three-team deal that brought Jason Bay to Boston, the environment in the clubhouse changed.

The Red Sox players felt at the time that Ramirez was not holding himself accountable off the field. They praised his ability and contributions on the field, but how you act in the clubhouse is just as important, especially in a market like Boston in which everyone is under a microscope.

Not everyone on the Red Sox is happy behind closed doors this season, but it's not having a negative effect on the team's play.

Veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield is clearly not pleased with his situation, but he's not about to air his dissatisfaction with being an on-again, off-again starter/reliever in a public forum.

Veteran third baseman Mike Lowell has talked about his unhappiness as a role player and how he would welcome a change of scenery, but hasn't been a distraction. He's currently on a minor-league rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket.

After 11 seasons as the starting catcher, captain Jason Varitek lost his job this season and has handled it like a true professional. He spoke earlier this season, saying Victor Martinez needs to be the everyday catcher on this team.

All-Star second baseman Dustin Pedroia has been on the disabled list with a fractured left foot since June 25 and is nearing his much-need return. During his hiatus, he's been keeping the environment in the clubhouse loose with his usual antics.

[+] EnlargeDustin Pedroia & Terry Francona
AP Photo/Jeff ChiuIt's no secret Terry Francona likes having guys like Dustin Pedroia on his team.

Martinez is expected to be activated Monday in Anaheim, and not at a moment too soon.

Varitek has been working hard to stay sharp during his stint on the DL with a fractured right foot.

With the exception of Jacoby Ellsbury, all the other injured players this season have remained with the team, including on the road, in order to keep that team atmosphere in tact. While Ellsbury's absence was endorsed by the team, some teammates spoke out about it, notably Youkilis.

All of this made Hideki Okajima's refusal to address his problems during the eighth inning of Sunday's loss to Seattle stand out that much more.

The way the majority of the team has handled this season hasn't gone unnoticed by Francona.

"There's so much reported and so much time spent on Jacoby, I don't think people realize how extraordinary what we have going here is," he said. "You don't see this. I've been a lot of places. You don't see guys hitting in the cage sitting in a chair. You don't see guys on crutches, trying to play. It doesn't happen. This is an extraordinary group right now.

"Sometimes I think that gets lost," Francona added. "It's amazing to me."

Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett returned from the disabled list and started against the Mariners on Friday night. While he was rehabbing a lower-back injury (suffered on May 18 when he slipped on a wet mound in New York), the right-hander pitched at the Triple-A level for the first time in his career when he made two rehab starts for Pawtucket.

The two-time World Series champion is all business when he gets to the ballpark. When he first came to the Red Sox, it didn't take him long to realize what the atmosphere is like under Francona.

"We've got professional [expletives] in here," Beckett said.

Francona concurs.

"I agree with that. That's a good way to put it. It's not a Cub Scout troop," Francona said. "They like to play baseball and I kind of enjoy that."

Francona doesn't have to manage just on the field; he has the daunting task of trying to keep all the different personalities happy and productive. He's said time and again this season that he loves this group of players because of their professionalism.

"It makes me love my job. It's not always very easy," he said. "There are some nights when you come in, like [Saturday] night, with your heart broken. It's hard to explain. When you lose, it rips your heart out. But you bounce back, and doing it with guys that you know care, it means a lot."

The clubhouse is always bustling with activity. The players are either in the batting cage, working out, watching television, eating or playing on their iPads (every player has one).

"You come in here, and yeah, there's some card playing, but everybody is getting their work done," Beckett said. "We don't have a strength coach, tapping guys on the shoulder saying, 'Hey, you need to get your work done.' Every guy in here does it on their own. That's professional."

Beckett noticed the same was true in Pawtucket, and he knows when players are called up from the minors, it's easy for them to fit in.

"You're not going to come into our clubhouse and not be [professional]. You're going to be left out," Beckett said. "It's not going to work that way because there are so many professional guys. You can learn a lot by just watching guys."

Beckett said that's how it's been in the clubhouse since he arrived in Boston, and if there's a problem it gets fixed behind closed doors.

Boston is desperately trying to hold on. With Martinez returning to the lineup, and Pedroia not too far behind, the team concept might be what ultimately saves this club from utter destruction this season.

"The losses hurt more when the team cares," Francona said.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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