Theo's pep talk works wonders for Sox

April, 8, 2011
4/08/11
11:10
PM ET
BOSTON -- Losing often breeds doubt and negativity, so general manager Theo Epstein, a normally low-key and somewhat elusive figure in the Red Sox clubhouse, made a rare foray into his team's inner sanctum and delivered an impassioned pregame speech Friday to remind them they are a championship-caliber team that would emerge stronger from their recent struggles.

"Once in a while the lead man has got to light the fire. That's what he did. He let us know we're a good team," said Jonathan Papelbon, who pitched a dominant 9th inning to close out Boston's first win of the season, 9-6 over the Yankees in the Fenway opener.

Slugger David Ortiz said Epstein's words were both inspiring and surprising.

"I was shocked,'' admitted Ortiz. "Theo doesn't talk. Sometimes he walks right by you and doesn't see you.''

If the general manager had been speechless over his team's recent play, who could blame him? Epstein went out and assembled a lineup that cost $160 million and was forecasted to be the best in baseball.

Instead, the Sox stumbled out of the blocks with anemic offense (7-for-44 with men in scoring position before Friday) and a starting rotation that, with the exception of Jon Lester, was imploding before his eyes. Newcomers (Carl Crawford, Jarrod Saltalamacchia) were pressing. Old-time veterans (Kevin Youkilis) were pressing, too. The manager, a model of consistency, was juggling his lineup daily.

The pressure was mounting. The Sox came home with some trepidation, unsure how their discerning fans would respond to a team that was clearly scuffling.

Epstein's pre-emptive move to bolster his players was met with almost universal approval.

"Once in a while the lead man has got to light the fire,'' said Jonathan Papelbon, who pitched a dominant ninth inning to close out the win. "Thats what he did. He let us know we're a good team. And when it comes from the top, it trickles on down.''

Read the full column HERE.

Jackie MacMullan

ESPNBoston.com columnist

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