BOSTON — Bouncing back from a disastrous September is something the Red Sox have had to do before.

It was just 10 years ago that the Red Sox reported to spring training coming off one of the worst Septembers in franchise history. Just 31⁄2 games out of first place on July 31, the first Red Sox team with a payroll of at least $100 million turned into a soap opera in the final two months of the 2001 season. It lost 23 of 29 at one point and finished 13-1⁄2 games out of first place, costing two managers their jobs.

Manager Jimy Williams clashed with general manager Dan Duquette, then got fired. Players — most notably Carl Everett — clashed with Williams, with his replacement Joe Kerrigan and with each other.

Pitcher Derek Lowe called the team “one big dysfunctional family.” Hitting coach Rick Down later called it “the worst situation I’ve ever been around.”

The next season, the Red Sox reported to spring training having jettisoned malcontents Everett and Mike Lansing while adding veteran leaders such as Carlos Baerga and Tony Clark. That team went 16-7 in April — showing no signs of a hangover from the previous season — and finished with 93 wins — 11 more than in the previous season.

Aided by sweeping changes in leadership, from the ownership level on down, that team put the misery of the previous season in the rearview mirror, although it didn’t qualify for the playoffs.

“You just put that one behind and go back to what you have to do,” former Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez said at a charity event this winter.

This spring, players will face far more questions than they’d like about last September, about beer and fried chicken, about a potential 100-win team falling apart down the stretch. They’ll answer just about all of them with some variation on the “turn the page” theme.

That sentiment probably will be widely dismissed, but it just might be sincere.

“Baseball players, more than any other professional sport, have to have the ability, as quickly as possible, to move on from experience — the week prior, the game prior, sometimes the at-bat prior,” Clark said in a phone interview this week.

Boston claimed Clark off waivers from the Tigers in late November 2001, hoping that he would provide a power bat at first base and a veteran leadership to help calm a turbulent clubhouse. The former didn’t work out so well — he hit only .207 in 2002 with three home runs — but his character in the clubhouse was widely lauded.

The Red Sox have made transactions on a smaller scale this winter. But among the additions, as was the case heading into the 2002 season, are veteran players who can contribute to a positive and productive clubhouse atmosphere.

“I feel really strongly that we have the core group in our clubhouse that not only has the talent to win but has the character to win,” Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said in December.

Nick Punto won a World Series last season with the St. Louis Cardinals. Cody Ross won a World Series the year before that with the San Francisco Giants. Kelly Shoppach has played on three playoff-bound teams in his seven seasons.

None of the newcomers has the cache to give a rah-rah speech right away. But all of them can — as Baerga and Clark did in 2002 — do their part to establish a culture of accountability that seemed to be lacking last September, when the Red Sox went 7-20 and squandered what had seemed like a sure playoff spot.

“Coming to a new team, the first thing you need to do is establish your accountability, establish your integrity, establish your work ethic,” said Clark, now the director of player relations for the Major League Baseball Players’ Association.

“Once you’ve developed that rapport and earned their respect, you’ll have the opportunity to share or mentor along the way. That’s not something, when you move on to a new club, that automatically is there. That’s earned.”

But all the leadership in the world doesn’t have much effect without production on the field.

Injuries to Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez and Jason Varitek hurt the 2001 team immensely, and all three returned to form in 2002. The addition of free-agent outfielder Johnny Damon made an impact right away.

The conversion of the team’s best incumbent relief pitcher into a starting pitcher reaped rewards as well. Lowe made 32 starts in his first full season as a starter and went 21-8 with a 2.58 ERA.
Injuries to Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kevin Youkilis hurt the 2011 team immensely.

Matsuzaka won’t be back before the middle of the season at the earliest, but Buchholz and Youkilis have a chance to be as productive as they were before their injuries.

The conversion of the team’s best incumbent relief pitcher into a starting pitcher — in this case, Daniel Bard — is an experiment about which the Red Sox have been optimistic.

More important, the Red Sox return a more-talented core of players than they did in 2002. Adrian Gonzalez, not Clark or Brian Daubach, will play first base. Dustin Pedroia, not Rey Sanchez, will play second base. Youkilis, not Shea Hillenbrand, will play third.

But they will have to shake off any hangover from the September collapse — and that starts in spring training.


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