Trouble for Red Sox didn’t begin in September

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BOSTON (AP) - In the bad old days, the Boston Red Sox were good for a catastrophe every decade or so: Bucky Dent. Bill Buckner. Pesky holding the ball. Grady leaving the mound. The Curse of the Bambino.

For 86 years, the Red Sox struggled to win but had no trouble finding new ways to lose, a streak many thought was over when the franchise won it all in 2004. With this year’s unprecedented September collapse, though, the Red Sox have written a new chapter of tragic lore for a generation of fans too young to remember the flops of the past.

“This is one for the ages, isn’t it?” general manager Theo Epstein said moments after the collapse was complete. David Ortiz agreed: “It’s going to stay in a lot of people’s minds for a while.”

Almost a month after they squandered the remnants of a nine-game September lead, the Red Sox are still falling apart and the city is still wallowing in its grief like it did before two World Series titles that were supposed to put an end to the notion that the franchise was jinxed.

Manager Terry Francona is gone, Epstein is on his way to the Chicago Cubs and the players are calling every radio station with an open phone line to defend themselves from reports that they grew fat on beer and fast food-fried chicken in the clubhouse rather than root on their teammates.

“To be honest, we were doing the same things all season when we had the best record in baseball,” pitcher Jon Lester told the Boston Globe. “Was it a bad habit? Yes. I should have been on the bench more than I was. But we just played bad baseball as a team in September. We stunk.”

The Red Sox led the AL East on Sept. 1 and had a nine-game lead over the Rays for a wild-card spot but went just 7-20 over the month to finish one game behind Tampa Bay and miss the playoffs. It was the worst September collapse in baseball history, and it brought back the memories of the classic Boston choke jobs.

All of the same old ingredients are there: The blown lead, the overpaid talent, the out-of-touch management and of course, the finger-pointing in every direction because, in Boston, the answer is never a bad pitch or a misplayed fly when the second-guessers on talk radio can spend an extra month arguing about who ordered the Cajun fries.

This time, much of the blame is focused on Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Lester. But it’s not because they were part of a starting rotation that went 4-13 with a 7.08 ERA in September.

Instead, it’s because of a report in the Globe that the three starters would spend their off-nights in the clubhouse eating fried chicken and drinking beer. The players and management denied a separate TV report that the pitchers also drank beer in the dugout.

“Enough is enough,” Beckett said in a statement released by the team after the reports that the beer-swilling also took place in the dugout during games. “I admit that I made mistakes along the way this season, but this has gone too far.”

The Globe also quoted anonymous sources saying the club grew concerned that Francona was “distracted” _ perhaps because was living in a hotel, separated from his wife, or perhaps because he was taking painkillers to deal with multiple operations on his knee. Francona said his personal life did not affect his performance.

“I wasn’t terribly successful this year,” he told the paper, “but I worked harder and spent more time at the ballpark this year than I ever did.”

Nor was management spared by the 2,500-word, front-page article: Epstein’s big-ticket free agent signings hadn’t worked out _ with Lackey the biggest bust _ while ownership tried to buy the players’ loyalty with $300 headphones and a party on John Henry’s yacht, “Iroquois.”

(In a separate article, the owner of the nearby Popeye’s franchise said fans have also blamed him for the collapse. Owner Jon Stilianos told the paper that he also served players on the opposing team but noted that the Red Sox players “really liked the corn on the cob.”)

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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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