Playoff run finished, Red Sox face changes

Boston might take on different look in 2006

Baseball

October 09, 2005|By THE NEW YORK TIMES

BOSTON -- In the end, in the minutes after the Boston Red Sox talked solemnly about losing the chance to repeat as World Series champions, there was a mixture of depression, sadness and relief filling their clubhouse. There was no disbelief, which is revealing. The Red Sox sensed this was coming.

As much as they skirmished to keep their fragile season alive, and as much as they spoke about trying to make 2005 feel like 2004, they knew that this season was probably not going to finish the way last season did. The Red Sox did not have the pitching strength or the offensive tenacity that guided them like a beacon last October.

So they plodded along with an aching Curt Schilling trying to pitch like an ace, with a fissure in the bullpen because of Keith Foulke's absence, and with David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez as the only two hitters that pitchers feared. The Chicago White Sox exposed the once-powerful Red Sox and made them look feeble with a three-game sweep in their American League Division Series.

"We just weren't good enough to win again," Schilling said.

The talkative Schilling summed up Boston's season in those eight words, and they were as accurate as any he had ever spoken. The Red Sox were good, solid enough to make the playoffs. But the Red Sox were not good enough to overcome their glaring weaknesses.

Sure, the Red Sox won 95 games, as many as the New York Yankees, and reached the postseason for the third consecutive season. Yes, the Red Sox led the major leagues in batting average and runs scored. And they were awesome at Fenway Park and had baseball's best home record.

But the Red Sox never really had a healthy Schilling, and they no longer had Pedro Martinez, who had signed with the New York Mets. The Red Sox could not match their formidable 1-2 punch from 2004. It showed.

There could be numerous changes in Boston, including the departure of Johnny Damon, the long-haired linchpin of this group.

"This whole clubhouse could be different," Damon said. "I don't even know where to start."

He could start with himself because he is the most attractive of the team's eight free agents. The Red Sox like Damon, but they will not overpay for him. Damon, who is 31 and has an injured shoulder, has said he will not give Boston a hometown discount.

Third baseman Bill Mueller; relievers Mike Timlin, Mike Myers and Matt Mantei; Tony Graffanino; and first basemen Kevin Millar and John Olerud are also free agents. David Wells is not a free agent, but he is weary of Boston and could seek a trade.

There is also a chance the Red Sox will try to unload Ramirez, something they have attempted several times since 2003. Even Damon called it "the Manny situation" and hinted about the possibility that Ramirez would have a new baseball address in 2006. The Red Sox might deal Ramirez and the three years and about $60 million left on his contract to gain more financial flexibility.

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