BOSTON There was plenty of hopeful talk in the Red Sox clubhouse on Saturday night after another loss designed to rip the heart right out of the teams chest.
Never mind the batty reaction of Sox closer Alfredo Aceves, who was alternating between blaming the umpire for missing a borderline strike three call and guaranteeing hell get over the loss because his parents are cool.
Forget about a manager in Bobby Valentine that looks more-and-more shell-shocked with each passing day and is proving to be a very poor fit for a bunch of baseball misfits that needed some structure and order in their world.
Dont pay any attention to the slack-jawed, overpaid starting pitcher with no shot of coming from Tommy John surgery this season, who still somehow manages to secure himself a spot among the Sox traveling party. John Lackey is always around at home and on the road, and that is most definitely not a positive thing for the Olde Towne Team.
Instead most will pay attention to light-hitting, scrappy Nick Punto, who hadnt played in nearly two weeks before popping up in Saturdays lineup against his former Minnesota Twins ballclub. Punto was on the St. Louis Cardinals team that came back from the dead last year to shock the baseball world with a World Series win, and essentially experienced a hardball miracle.
These losses are all devastating, said Punto. Its getting to be that time in the year when you look up at the standings and were not in a very good position. There are a lot of teams in the wild card hunt, so we cant afford to lose games.
Theres no doubt that its not good. We were a mediocre team last year in St. Louis. We were a mediocre team until September. We went on a really nice run and got some help from Atlanta, and we came back from a 9 game deficit. There are some similarities with this team this year. We are very mediocre. Were not playing good baseball. We have the talent to be able to do it and we just havent. We have the talent to play good baseball, but the clock is ticking now. We need to get it going.
Thats exactly what the Red Sox will need after dropping their third game in a row to the lowly Twins by a 6-4 score when Joe Mauer smashed a three-run home run in the ninth inning. The ninth inning wiped out a two-run lead built on the back of inspirational clutch hitter Pedro Ciriaco, and illustrated once again why the Red Sox wont be a playoff team this season.
They are not the miracle Cardinals team of last season. They are not last years Tampa Bay Rays waiting for a choke artist group like the Popeyes and Pabst Blue Ribbon Sox to open the door for them.
Instead theyre a ballclub thats lost nine straight games to sub-.500 team. One of the true tests of a playoff-worthy team is the ability to take care of business against lesser squads, and the Sox are left utterly lacking in that category.
The Sox built up some optimism by winning series against the Yankees and Tigers as they entered August, but then they proceeded to drop three straight games against the American League cellar dweller Minnesota Twins.
Once again it was two steps forward and three steps behind for a Boston club thats made it their motto. Punto stressed that the Red Sox are way too talented to play mediocre baseball and serve as bottom-feeders in the American League.
But at a certain point you are what your record says you are as Bill Parcells was always fond of saying. The Red Sox are five games back in the wild card playoff hunt and sit 3 games and counting behind the Orioles and Rays.
The Red Sox are 75-86 over the last calendar year, and are the very picture of mediocre. This is no lovable group of overachievers ready to set the baseball world on its ear. Its a collection of mercenaries, malcontents and millionaire babies ready to turn on each other as the season inevitably implodes into another seismic event that will make them Major League Baseballs laughingstock.
There will be no happy ending or mythic run for this band of Red Sox.
There are merely those players, coaches and management that will be permitted to escape before the inevitably ugly denouement thats coming for a team that hasnt been a legit World Series threat in a long, long time.