EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 30, 2009

Dead Sox: Sox need to loosen up and have fun ... like the Yankees

Sox need to loosen up and have fun ... like the Yankees

On Baseball

BOSTON — Where is Kevin Millar when you need him?

Come to think of it, instead of trading the farm to the Toronto Blue Jays for Roy Halladay, maybe the blockbuster move the Red Sox should make is Clay Buchholz to the Jays for backup first baseman Millar.

At least Millar would have something to say. At least Millar would give a few dozen hungry journalists something to write about in the toughest of times. At least Millar would add some life to a team that has the spunk of roadkill these days. And, at least Millar would try to inject some life into this morbid scene.

On a more serious note, the Red Sox are dead.

No, they aren't out of the anything when it comes to the division and post-season. In fact, it could be argued that they are still the team to beat because of their pitching staff and a few seasoned MVP candidates in the lineup — see Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis.

They're just dead.

The Red Sox clubhouse, you should know, is no haven for jokers and pranksters. Not anymore.

Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Jason Varitek, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia, to name a few, are all in the same category: all business, all of the time. A few of them will toss in a funny wisecrack from time to time, but combined they couldn't touch Millar.

Jason Bay is as nice and approachable a guy as there is on the team, but let's be honest: he is not the life of even his own party. And Tim Wakefield, another nice guy, would rather eat glass than purposely add spice to the Sox clubhouse when the media is around.

Where have the clubhouse clowns gone?

Well, David Ortiz simply isn't the face of the franchise any more. The guy used to be electric, on and off the field. Now he is about as exciting as his eighth-inning pinch-hit popup last night. He has become a non-entity.

And the other candidate, Jonathan Papelbon, who used to yuk it up with the best of them, hasn't been the same since he started complaining about his contract a year ago or floated the possibility of joining Yankees when he becomes a free agent.

Pitching coach John Farrell is Exhibit A. The guy with Hollywood-good looks carries himself more like a CEO of a Fortune 500 company than a pitching coach. He's always armed with stats, facts and answers. Other than acknowledging a player or clubhouse attendant with a slight nod when he strolls through the clubhouse about 90 minutes before each game, Farrell is all business.

Is he having a ball? Maybe he thinks he is.

Winning cures everything, doesn't it?

I wasn't writing about "fun" when the Red Sox were three games in front of the New York Yankees two weeks ago, was I?

But there are times, a little personality can cut through the tension. And the Red Sox, especially on offense, are as tight as they've been since they won the World Series in 2004.

Is this Theo Epstein's biggest failure, even worse than the $110 million he guaranteed to Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew?

He has rid the team of the off-the-wall personalities — Millar, Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, to name a few — and replaced them with good guys and good players.

We all agreed — I know I did — that this uber-pitching staff and professional approach to hitting appeared unbreakable.

Remember when the Red Sox fell behind 3-0 against the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series?

Millar was one of the few who didn't shun reporters after that dreadful third loss at Fenway Park. In fact, it was Millar who had the gall to say, "If we win tomorrow, they'd better watch out," inferring that the Red Sox, even down 3-0, had the Yankees right where they wanted them with starters Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Derek Lowe slated for Games 5 through 7.

A night later, in the ninth inning and down one run, Millar started off the inning with a walk off Mariano Rivera. Dave Roberts pinch ran for him, and history was made.

Speaking of the Yankees, don't they appear to have cornered the market on having fun?

The Yankees, who are, of course, winning (11 of 13, including last night over the Rays), are having a ball.

Even when they were barely hanging with the Red Sox in May and June, they were winning games in the craziest of ways, with the A-Rod popup/error that spurred a victory over the Mets being the craziest.

Well, the Red Sox might want to emulate their neighbors to the south.

Maybe they need a walkoff homer — Drew grounded out to end the game when he came up as the potential winning run last night — to let off some steam and get back to their precision.

Or maybe they should just have some fun.

Hey, it's worth a try.

E-mail Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.