By Phil Perry
As it turns out, the Red Sox's September collapse was as sudden and surprising to the players in the clubhouse as it was to the rest of the world. According to Jonathan Papelbon, there were locker room issues that never got resolved, and before they knew it, they were at home, watching playoff baseball instead of taking part in it.
"I think it just snuck up on us," Papelbon told WEEI.com's Rob Bradford. "It snuck up on Tito. I think it snuck up on GM Theo Epstein. I think it snuck up on the players, and I think it snuck up on the leaders in that Red Sox clubhouse that had been there for the past six, seven, eight years.
"That's why I feel like it's kind of hard to point a finger on somebody. But just as quick as it snuck on Tito, with the team being kind of out of sorts, I think it snuck up on the players and the general manager. It snuck up on everybody."
The fact that the Red Sox jettisoned their manager was equally unnerving for the Red Sox's closer.
"I wouldn't say surprised. That's a bad word to use. I would say more like shocked," said Papelbon about Francona's departure. "The shock value increased and the realization that, you know, if I come back to Boston next year I was more like, is this really happening? I wasn't surprised. It's hard to be surprised in Boston because every little whisper people try to run with it. It's hard to be surprised."
Apparently, though, when it comes to the most headline-worthy locker room problem plaguing the 2011 Red Sox, there were no whispers of drinking in the clubhouse during games because Papelbon said never heard anything about it.
"I have no idea about that," Papelbon said. "I'm getting ready from the first inning. I come in from batting practice, and when I get done with BP, I get my pregame meal and do what I need to, and then I start getting ready for the game. As far as starting pitchers drinking in the clubhouse, I would have never seen it because I'm worried about the Jonathan Papelbon-type things. I 'm not worried about if I need to go find out what the starting pitchers are doing. You see what I'm saying? So from 6 o'clock to 7 o'clock I'm trying to get locked in. From 7 o'clock on, I'm in my routine to go get ready. So, no, it was a shock to me. I had no clue.
"I think everybody in Major League Baseball is their own entity," he added. "So I don't get how people can say, 'You know this didn't work with that.' I think that I'm my own entity. And if I show up to work and bust my ass to put myself in position to do my job I put myself in position to do my job. If I could put myself in a position to be successful every day, then that's all you can ask from every guy in that clubhouse. And I can't answer that for each person. I don't know if they're doing what they feel like they need to be doing to be successful. That's their personal approach."
When asked at what point the Red Sox seemed to be spiriling downward, Papelbon said, "When we were in Tampa Bay, middle of September. When we went there, we lost."
That's when David Ortiz took matters into his own hands and called a team meeting. It wasn't enough to snap the Red Sox out of their funk, but it was something.
"You could see the things kind of like, the team kind of unraveling a bit, and I know David could kind of see that, you know, the frustration. So he called a team meeting," Papelbon remembered. "I'm not going to tell you what the team meeting was about. It was just like, 'Hey, let's get our act together. I'm one of the leaders, and this is what we have got to do to succeed. This is what we can't do to fail.'
"I think that not to say it (earlier) isn't David's fault by any means because he didn't know the timing of the whole Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield and myself and Dustin and some of the guys that had been in the clubhouse for a little while, had we said, 'Hey, let's get these guys together, let's get our team together, and kind of re-evaluate our plans for the end of the season if it was two weeks earlier, we might not be sitting on the phone taking about this. This is all hindsight. Nobody knows."