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Give Credit Where It’s Due

The Anaheim Angels were still looking for the license plate of the bus that ran them over repeatedly for three straight days at Fenway Park, having been swept by the surging Boston Red Sox. The win gave Boston a 4-1/2 game cushion in the American League wild card race over the same Angels and a six-game lead over the Texas Rangers, who will pay a weekend visit to Boston starting tonight. The win also kept Boston just 3-1/2 games behind the New York Yankees, whose once seemingly insurmountable lead of 10-1/2 games had been whittled away in just over two weeks. Life is good for the legion of fanatical Red Sox fans that is suddenly savoring the possibilities of some exciting October baseball.

Looking back just over a month ago, this same legion was scratching its collective head as it tried to make sense of a team that seemed to be underachieving. Was this not practically the same team that just last year was five outs away from heading to a World Series for the first time in many years at the expense of the dreaded Yankees? Were they not that much better with the addition of Curt Schilling in an already strong rotation and Keith Foulke as the dominant closer?

Even more so was the question of the team’s leadership. Was manager Terry Francona, who has not much more experience than his predecessor, Grady Little, just not the dugout leader this team needed to motivate the club to win consistently? Had the young general manager, Theo Epstein, gone mad by trading one of the most popular players in Red Sox history, Nomar Garciaparra, in return for a one-time Gold Glove first baseman and an anonymous shortstop from a lame-duck Canadian team?

Much has been said about the roles of these two gentlemen on this team and not much of that has been positive. Francona, with just four years of head coaching experience at the major league level, did not carry with him the awesome respect of a Joe Torre or a Jim Leyland when he was brought in during the off-season to take over for the disgraced Little. Epstein, at age 30 years the youngest GM in MLB history, had been given leeway during his first year in 2003 and was applauded for his success, but some wondered if that aura was wearing thin.

While it would have been easy to make excuses in relation to the injuries and the clubhouse distractions, the two instead ignored these critics and did their parts; Francona continued to find a game plan that worked while Epstein continued to look for ways to improve the club. Now, the team has gelled at the right time and has left a path of destruction over the last month of baseball like a twister through a trailer park.

For that, you almost have to tip your cap to these two for staying poised and true to task. The two have also put the club on a road to future success; Francona has shown the flexibility to go with the flow of the game and Epstein, with Nomar in his rear view mirror, has set the club up to sign two of its key players that will become free agents at the end of the season, Pedro Martinez and Jason Varitek.

True, at this point, even with 30 games that remain to be played, there are no guarantees. A team does not make the playoffs because the club is more deserving; to paraphrase former actor John Houseman, it must earn that shot. However, with a team an upstart general manager has assembled and a no-nonsense manager now leads, you must feel pretty good right about now. At least, you must feel better than the Angels.

The Pedro Principle

Pedro Martinez
Pedro Martinez

(Note: This article was published by the author on another Red Sox web site prior to the establishment of this site.)

While most of Red Sox Nation spent December focused on the negotiations between Texas and Boston for a proposed trade of Alex Rodriguez for Manny Ramirez, respectively, a Red Sox veteran sat on the sidelines wondering what his future held. It seemed like only yesterday that his wish to finish his career as a Red Sox player was certain, but now that appears only to be a distant memory.

No, I’m not talking about Nomar Garciaparra, a central figure during these talks, who would have spent his recent honeymoon with Mia Hamm shopping for as new home on the Left Coast. Instead, I refer you to Exhibit B, one Pedro Jaime Martinez, age 32, with 12 years of big-league experience and winner of 101 games in six years with the Red Sox. Year number seven comes as a result of Boston picking up a team option on him last spring, a few days after the regular season began.

2004 may be the make-or-break year for the Red Sox. Several star Boston players are under contract through the end of this season and then they become free agents. These are names that have become synonymous with the winning ways of the Sox: Martinez, Garciaparra, Derek Lowe, and Jason Varitek, to name a few. One or more of these players will either have to accept the “hometown discount” to keep this core intact or, in a more likely scenario, find a new home in 2005.

It’s quite possible that, before the season begins, Garciaparra will be gone if trade talks between the Rangers and the Red Sox are resurrected and an agreement is reached; that would settle one issue. However, at what point will the Sox begin to address a contract extension with Pedro… or will his chapter in Red Sox history be completed? For all he’s done for this team, and even with the knowledge that he helps draw the crowds to Fenway Park, will the front office let him walk? Thanks for everything – good luck in the next life?

Yes, the question of his health remains the primary focus. Pedro spent most of the 2001 season nursing a sore right shoulder and has missed more than a few starts thanks to occasional discomfort or concern from the team doctor. What price tag do you put on a guy who, with all his success, may someday throw one pitch and that’s it?

However, in late November, we watched as the Sox brass did backflips to land 37-year-old former Red Sox prospect Curt Schilling here in Boston for the remainder of his career. You cannot ignore the fact that he spent part of 2003 on the disabled list. However, the Red Sox saw a chance to bring aboard another potential 20-game winner to work beside Martinez and Lowe. Schilling was also assured that the Sox will continue to field a championship-caliber team well after this season ends.

It would be hard to believe that Pedro did not watch the events of this trade and wonder if Larry Lucchino and Theo Epstein would sit down across the dinner table from him and offer a similar package in the near future. For what he has meant for this organization, does he not deserve this?