Red Sox are ready for second-half pressure

July 16, 1995|By Nick Cafardo | Nick Cafardo,The Boston Globe

They say it's how you act, how you handle yourself in the pressurized moments that makes all the difference. Willie McGee says he doesn't have the hard facts about what experience means in a pennant race, but if he were venturing a guess, he would say it's important.

"If you've been there and you know what it takes to win," said the Red Sox newcomer, "I would think you'd be able to teach other players on your team how to win.

"That's the biggest reason I'm here. I've had my day in the sun as an everyday player and I know those days are over for me. But maybe I can help a Lee Tinsley and a Troy O'Leary through some tough times. Maybe I can be there for them if they need someone to talk to or bounce something off me. I'm here to do whatever Mr. [Kevin] Kennedy wants me to do. If he needs someone to carry the water cooler out to the dugout, I'll do it."

The fate of the Red Sox will be determined by how they respond to the pressure of a race. The pressure of the first half is nothing compared to what is to come. In the first half, they were a team that surprised the rest of baseball. Now they are for real, and in the second half, they must show why.

To help in this process, they have acquired an abundance of postseason experience.

The list:

Rick Aguilera -- two World Series championships and three playoffs.

Stan Belinda -- three National League playoffs with Pittsburgh. Record: 1-0, 0.90 ERA in eight appearances.

Jose Canseco -- Three American League playoff championships (two vs. Boston). Hit .273 in 13 games, with 4 homers and 8 RBIs. Three World Series -- .156, 3 HRs, 10 RBIs.

Roger Clemens -- three AL playoffs, one pennant, one World Series. Record: 1-2, 4.33 ERA in six playoff games; 0-0, 3.18 in two World Series games.

Mike Greenwell -- Three AL playoffs: .133, 1 homer, 3 RBIs. One World Series: 0 for 3.

McGee -- Four World Series, one world championship.

Tim Wakefield -- one NL playoff: 2-0, 0.82.

Whether they excelled or failed in the postseason isn't relevant to the 1995 Red Sox. The fact they were there and know what sacrifices it takes to win is what counts.

"I think it's all about how you go about your business," said Canseco. "If you overreact to every little thing, you're not going to do a good job. As a team, you have to have the confidence that you're going to come back and win every game, or if you lose a couple, you have to have the confidence that you're going to come back and win a few in a row.

"I think we're a team that got so many contributions from people that came out of the blue. Championship teams need that, but then there comes a time in the second half of the year when the veterans have to take over and carry a team. That's what I hope to do in the second half."

McGee says this Red Sox team reminds him a lot of the Cardinal champions he played on in the '80s.

"We didn't have superstars, we just had good players who found a way to win every day," he said. "I see a lot of similarities. There's a young outfield here, and we had a young outfield. I think Kevin Kennedy is a lot like Whitey [Herzog] in some ways because he demands excellence. He demands that you give it the maximum effort every day."

Clemens said he's looking forward to taking the reins as the veteran leader in the second half.

"We've had so many guys pick us up that now it's time for some of us guys who have been hurt all year to start doing our part," he said. "In a way, it's great the way it's happened. We've had some guys become good baseball players as a result of all our injuries. Now that we have everybody back, ready to go, I think it makes us a tough team to beat."

The Red Sox probably aren't done trading. They acquired

Aguilera to be the experienced closer after exprimenting in the first half, but they may also bring in a veteran starter. David Cone, Kevin Tapani, Bret Saberhagen and Kevin Appier remain viable options.

Another factor will be the schedule. The Red Sox play 27 of the next 28 days, which means that Kennedy somehow must keep his players fresh.

"You're going to see a lot more of our guys getting rested the second half," said Kennedy, who rested several players in Boston's 7-0 victory Sunday against Minnesota. "We have to be smart about that. Some of our guys were playing every day in the first half, and we have to keep them fresh. When you're fresh, you're less prone to injuries, and we can't afford to have the same number of injuries we had in the first half."

The Sox hope to stabilize their roster. In the first half, they used 44 players, 22 pitchers. They hope the experimenting is over and the roster is basically set, with the exception of a possible deal for a starter and the return of Mark Whiten from Triple-A at some point.

The Sox also realize some of their players might level off. Can Troy O'Leary continue to hit .345? Can Tim Naehring keep up his .343 pace? This is why McGee is around.

"I'm here to win some games if I can," he said. "Whether it be with defense, stealing a base, a hit, whatever it takes. That's how the rest of the team has to think: 'What can I do to win one game?'

"Consistency is important. A team has to be on an even keel. Be confident, upbeat. Have some fun. From what I can see around this team, they're a good group of guys who work very hard. That's half the battle."

The competition doesn't seem ferocious unless the Detroit Tigers become the Cinderella team of 1995.

What the Red Sox first have to do is stop the .500 syndrome. Since their 25-12 start, they have gone 14-18.

"We have to go back to winning series," said Kennedy. "We have to dominate at home and win series on the road."

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