The Providence Journal

A baseball season is a soap opera.

Call it “As the World Turns” in double-knits.

Or “Days of Our Lives” in cleats.

Call it anything you want.

But it’s still a daily soap opera, with twists and turns, and a story line that’s always changing.

Remember when the Boston Sox came out of spring training, back when this was being called one of the best teams in Red Sox history, a team that was all but penciled in for 100 wins?

Remember at the start of the season, when Carl Crawford was being penciled in as the No. 3 hitter and everyone still liked John Lackey? Remember when everyone was worried about the catching situation, and what happens if Josh Beckett doesn’t bounce back? Remember when this team went into the season with as much hype about it as “The Blair Witch Project,” only to get off to the start from baseball hell?

Now, all that seems as gone as the Easter Bunny, totally irrelevant.

In retrospect, though, it told us a lot, both about this particular team and about manager Terry Francona. For they did not panic, knew intellectually that a dozen or so games were not a realistic sample, regardless of the results. Not in baseball. This game’s about the long haul, the daily grind of a season that begins in the spring when the leaves aren’t even on the trees yet, and ends with when they’ve turned colors, another summer come and gone.

This always has been Francona’s strength as a manager, his ability to keep a level emotional keel, to keep his team coming to the park every day and competing. You can criticize him for his tendency to go too long with his starters or for never criticizing a player in public if you want.

But there’s no question he understands what it takes to be a successful major league manager, that he knows that baseball is about the long haul, and a manager’s main job is to get his team to both understand that, and to deal with the soap opera that is every season.

Maybe it’s this simple: In his time here he has dealt with the “Cowboy Up” group in 2004, dealt with the incredibly complicated personalities of Pedro and Manny, dealt with David Ortiz when it looked like his career was all in the past tense, potentially treacherous ground for any manager to walk on, and never had a public problem with any of them.

Do you think that’s just coincidence?

Do you think it was just coincidence that Francona essentially said after Ortiz’s recent dustup with the Orioles’ Kevin Gregg that he didn’t see it?

Yes, listening to a Francona news conference can often be a sleep aid, but it’s not his job to give a good news conference.

And his greatest strength?

He has created a blue-collar team, despite the huge payroll.

But no team is immune from the soap-opera nature of a baseball season.

So we have the disappointing half-year performance of Crawford, someone who was brought in here to be a star, not just another guy. We have the nagging back problems of Clay Buchholz, who the Red Sox are going to need in the playoffs, the reliable No. 3 starter. We have the mail-it-in season of J.D. Drew, who is in the last year of his big contract and is playing like he can’t wait to put Boston in his rear-view mirror.

And we have Lackey, Boston’s version of an enigma wrapped in a riddle.

Is there something wrong with his arm, something wrong with his head? Is it both?

Who knows?

And we’re probably not going to find out. Not unless he goes on the disabled list.

But enough of the bad news, right?

The Red Sox have gotten more out of the catcher’s position than anyone thought possible back in April with Jarrod Saltalamacchia finding his career again and Jason Varitek finding the baseball version of the Fountain of Youth. Wasn’t he supposed to be done two years ago? Guess not.

And remember all the offseason concern with Jonathan Papelbon?

That, too, is as gone as the spring rain. He and Daniel Bard are a great one-two knockout punch at the end of games.

The point is that as the second half begins, the Red Sox are right where they were supposed to be, right there with the Yankees atop the AL East. Take away all the trials and tribulations any team goes through, the daily soap opera if you will, and form holds.

The point is, here it is midseason and the Red Sox are on pace to be in the playoffs, and that’s with Crawford having done little and Lackey less.

Here they are, right where they’re supposed to be, regardless of the specifics.

Soap opera, be damned.

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