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Thursday, September 29, 2011
Updated: September 30, 2:21 PM ET
GM doesn't blame Terry Francona

By Joe McDonald
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Terry Francona has been the manager of the Boston Red Sox for eight seasons. He won World Series titles in 2004 and 2007. There have been some great moments during his tenure, and some not so great moments.

Francona sat alongside general manager Theo Epstein in the interview room at Fenway Park on Thursday afternoon and tried to dissect exactly what happened to the once-promising 2011 season. Entering the year, the Red Sox were the odds-on favorite to win the World Series.

As Francona sat at the rectangular table, he looked tired. He looked beat up. He's probably nervous as to whether he'll keep his job.

The Red Sox have until a week from Saturday to pick up club options for one or both of the next two seasons, but Epstein said the upper management and ownership will take a breather and reassess everyone in the organization in the next few days, including Francona. His options are worth $4.25 million each.

"Tito and I spent some time talking today, just catching up on the season and talking about what the next few days will look like," Epstein said. "We're going to get together, all the ownership, Larry (Lucchino) and I and Tito over the next several days and talk about the season and talk about the future.

"We're less than 24 hours removed from the end of the season, so we need some time to calm down and get objective and look at ourselves, look at 2011 and look ahead and make the best decisions for everybody."

Epstein made it a point of not blaming Francona for the club's collapse in September, when the Red Sox went 7-20 and lost a nine-game lead in the AL wild-card race to the Tampa Bay Rays.

"We've already talked about it ... and nobody blames what happened in September on Tito," Epstein said. "That would be totally irresponsible and totally short-sighted and wouldn't recognize everything he means to the organization and to all of our successes, including at times during 2011, so we take full responsibility for what happened, all of us and collectively as a failure.

"I'm the general manager so I take more responsibility than anybody. I know we don't believe in scapegoats, in particular nobody blames Tito for what happened in September. We all failed collectively. We all failed in this one and we have to live with that. We're not going to point the fingers at any one person in particular, we're going to be identifying issues, finding ways to address those issues, and in some cases getting the right people to help address those issues."

Francona also said he would like to give it a few days before making a decision whether he would want to come back as Red Sox manager.

"I think we'll to talk tomorrow," Francona said. "I think maybe it's best for today to stay where we're at. It's still pretty fresh and pretty raw. It's a fair question, but I would rather focus on the other stuff today."

Francona said he would identify the collapse of the 2011 season as the toughest moment of his career with the Red Sox. But said part of that is because it just happened. There have been other hard times.

"Only because it's now. It's easy to forget," Francona said. "There isn't a whole lot here that isn't trying, even in the best of (times) because everything is so important to people here, and that's good. Because it's fresh and raw it seems that way, but there have been a lot of trying moments here, we just fought through them a little bit better."

"A very quiet day in Boston after a terrible, terrible month for the fans. Night after night they came, they tuned in. Rain, quiet streets," Red Sox owner John Henry wrote on Twitter. "Congratulations to the entire Tampa Bay organization on a miraculous, but well-earned passport to the postseason."

Henry did not respond to a request for comment, and co-owner Tom Werner said he was "still absorbing last night's collapse." But it was not just one night of failure that doomed this team.

Terry Francona
While saying nobody in the organization blames manager Terry Francona (left) for the Red Sox's collapse in September, Theo Epstein admits the team will be "dissecting that forever."
The Red Sox lost their first six games and opened the season 2-10, but they went a major league-best 81-42 from then through Aug. 31 to take a comfortable lead in the playoff race. As it slowly disappeared, players insisted they would pull out of the slide in time; but Epstein and Francona both acknowledged on Thursday that they saw signs of trouble.

"A lot of things went wrong and a lot of things had to go wrong for us to blow the lead, and they did. But I don't think they were completely unforeseen," Epstein said. "The bottom line is we didn't find a way to stop the slide."

Francona said he called a team meeting earlier in the month in Toronto -- even after a 14-0 win. He did not specify what he saw, but said "normally, as a season progresses, there's events that make you care about each other."

"With this team, it didn't happen as much as I wanted it to. I was frustrated about that," he said. "You don't need a team that wants to go out to dinner together. But you need a team that wants to protect each other on the field and be fiercely loyal to each other on the field."

Those problems bubbled to the surface in September, when the Red Sox failed to win consecutive games. Boston finished 90-72, one game behind the Rays and seven behind the archrival New York Yankees; the nine-game lead was the biggest ever held in September by a team that failed to make the playoffs.

"I think we'll be dissecting that forever," Epstein said.

Only a handful of players appeared in the cardboard box-filled Red Sox clubhouse on Thursday afternoon, including Jonathan Papelbon and John Lackey; they did not speak to reporters.

Epstein said the "silver lining" of the team's collapse was that, had the Red Sox made the playoffs, it would have been easier to overlook the shortcomings of the team that played so poorly down the stretch.

No chance of that happening now.

"When you go through what we just went through, you can't look past anything," Epstein said. "We have to take a hard look at every aspect of the organization -- myself included."

Among the problems Epstein took the blame for were the decisions on some high-priced free agents. Though he didn't call them mistakes, Epstein acknowledged that the team needs more from both Lackey, who was 12-12 with a 6.41 ERA in the second year of a five-year, $82.5 million deal, and Carl Crawford, who signed a seven-year, $142 million deal last offseason.

"The rehabilitation of John Lackey," Epstein said, "I think it's a big priority, for obvious reasons and we have to attack it from a physical perspective and see if there are things we can do differently with him physically to put him in a better position to have success on the mound."

There have been plenty of times during his career with the Red Sox, especially this season, when Lackey would roll his eyes and his body language would show disgust, anger and frustration, almost as if he were showing up his teammates.

Players, even Francona, said time and again this season that they weren't bothered by it because Lackey's a great teammate. The manager said it again on Thursday.

"I don't think we can put in a guy's contract that if he's going to make a certain amount of money he can't roll his eyes," Francona said. "I don't think guys in the clubhouse have a problem with Lack, nor do I. I think we certainly wish it had gone better on the mound, but I haven't had a problem with Lack at all."

Epstein also addressed the body language issues, and he too is not overly concerned with it.

"I will say this about rolling his eyes and whatnot, that's nothing new. John has always been emotional on the mound," Epstein said. "He's always been demonstrative. It kind of looks bad on the field, it looks as though he's showing up his teammates, it was that way in Anaheim, too."

Crawford is also a priority, as he was at or near career lows with a .255 average, 18 stolen bases, 11 homers and 56 RBIs.

"Carl has taken full and very public responsibility for having a disappointing year," Epstein said. "The next step is, what are you going to do about it."

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.