FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With varying degrees of success -- and, a cynic might add, commitment -- Jon Lester and Josh Beckett attempted to, at once, acknowledge the horrendous finish to the 2011 Red Sox season while simultaneously burying it.
Neither Lester nor Beckett is in his element in dealing with the media. Lester, who has a stubborn streak to him, habitually answers many questions the same way ("Yes and no"), flashing a contrarian nature.
Beckett, meanwhile, has little patience for the reporter-athlete exchanges that are, like it or not, part of the routine for any major league starting pitcher once in every five days.
Beckett can be witheringly self-deprecating in assessing his starts, but also curt and dismissive. He would surely prefer a root canal rather than his weekly Q-and-A.
But Lester and Beckett seemed to understand the task at hand yesterday. To be sure, this was not your standard "How I spent my off-season" recital Sunday, with promises of being in the best shape ever.
No, this was a reckoning of all that had gone wrong last season, particularly at the end when the Red Sox collapsed in the standings, and along the way, behaved so unprofessionally in the clubhouse their putrid 7-20 play on the field was very nearly the least of their sins.
Lester and Beckett knew there would be a day for explanations for all of that and that they would be squarely in the cross-hairs, having been identified as two of the beer-swilling, chicken-chomping starters who lounged in the clubhouse while, out on the field, the season slipped away.
Over the winter, Lester made a round of phone calls to reporters in which he expressed regret for his actions and bemoaned what might have been. Beckett stayed almost entirely under the radar, and when he finally surfaced days before the Super Bowl, seemed more intent on rationalizing the behavior while scapegoating whomever had leaked the details in the first place.
It's unclear whether the two were advised by team officials to take a more contrite tone Sunday as pitchers and catchers reported to camp, but that was the net effect.
At times, Lester seemed to be standing at the head of a grade school English class, tasked with conjugating the verb "to stink" in every form imaginable.
"I stunk, we stunk," Lester recalled at least a few times.
He allowed that had it had been "a long winter." He revealed that he thought about the nosedive "a lot. It's one of those things I don't think you'll ever forget," and, showcasing a pro athlete's competitive DNA, vowed that just having endured it "will make us better, make us stronger."
Perhaps the first step in that direction was the accountability and responsibility that Lester and Beckett demonstrated Sunday.
"I've learned from it," said Lester. "It's something I'm not proud of."
Most memorably, Lester seemed to show keen understanding of what that month had done to fans.
"There should be," he said of the perceived anger of the fan base. "We didn't play very good. And with all the other stuff added on top of that, it's obviously going to make it worse. I don't blame them for that. We stunk. I stunk. And I take complete responsibility for it."
Befitting his famously stubborn nature, Beckett warmed to the topic more slowly. He blamed himself for pitching poorly in September but seemed to tip-toe away from the "clubhouse" issue.
"I'm not saying we didn't make mistakes, because we did make mistakes in the clubhouse," said Beckett. "But the biggest mistake I made was not pitching well against Baltimore (twice in the last 10 days)."
Fairly or not, Beckett became the face of Beer-and-chickenGate, owing more to his age and stature on the staff. He said he couldn't control that perception while confessing "I had lapses in judgement."
He cryptically referred to "things going on . . . I got distracted," but wouldn't explain further. He adamantly maintained that he never missed a between-start conditioning workout and seemed perplexed that, yes, he had gained some weight.
But like Lester, Beckett warmed to the talk of responsibility to the fans.
"Absolutely," he said when he asked if he understood the fans' wrath. "I've been a fan of (teams), too. It stinks whenever things don't go the way they're supposed to go . . . It sucks the way things ended. We're just as let down as they are."
If there was a disappointment, it was that Lester and Beckett failed to see the connection between their behavior and their on-field performance. Both, to varying degrees, suggested that if the Sox had only won more, none of this would have been an issue.
But that ignores the obvious: had they (and others) been in better shape (i.e. chicken and beer, more conditioning) and more committed teammates, the team's play wouldn't have suffered as much.
Still, there was value to the day. Even in sports, confession is good for the soul.
"We're moving on," concluded Lester. "I'm sure that's going to be a big theme for this spring training for a lot of guys -- that we're moving on and we're looking forward to 2012."
But first, a look back at 2011 was necessary and Lester and Beckett delivered with their first pitches of the spring.