Red Sox

Theo: Red Sox were swallowed by 'The Monster'

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Theo: Red Sox were swallowed by 'The Monster'

There are codewords for it. Bricks. Sox Appeal. Sweet Caroline. The sellout streak.

But Theo Epstein had a better, more direct, phrase:

"The Monster".

He wasn't referring to the left-field wall. The former Red Sox GM, now the president of the Chicago Cubs, was talking about the post-2004 Sox organization's "emphasis on doing things bigger, better . . . pushing to be more marketable, more profitable, not to lose any fans, continuing to push all these numbers".

Which leads them to sell bricks. And do everything they can to keep their record sellout streak alive. And play 'Sweet Caroline' every night in the middle of the eighth, even if they're losing 16-5.

"It's perfectly understandable; I don't blame anyone for it," Epstein said Wednesday on the 'Felger & Mazz' radio show. "It's sort of a natural consequence of winning and a natural consequence of being a business."

The problem is, it also leads them to do things like signing a 30-something pitcher like John Lackey to a multiyear contract. To run through a revolving door of overpaid, mediocre shortstops. To embrace quick, external fixes to problems that sometimes would be better solved with long-term, internal strategies. The need to win now, to sell tickets, to keep ratings high, to keep impatient fans and a braying media (especially the talk-show media) at bay, led to what Epstein called a "push and pull" in the Red Sox organization.

"Our true baseball approach, what we most wanted to do in an ideal world, was a bit antithetical to this notion of 'The Monster'," said Epstein.

In the end, 'The Monster' won . . . something Epstein feels bad about to this day.

"If I have one serious regret, I think that 'The Monster' grew and grew and grew and then I didn't do as good a job of pushing back, clearly, in the later years," he said. "I kind of gave in to it."

Not at the beginning, though.

"The philosophy that I tried to bring to our baseball operation -- again, especially in the early and middle years -- was built around developing young players, built around the draft, built around development," Epstein said. "We talked all the time about how the ideal world would be developing a complete roster full of homegrown players.

"We knew, as we dreamt about that, that it was probably impossible in a big market. But as recently as a couple of years ago, we talked about it. 'Well, what'll be like if we could have Will Middlebrooks at third and Jed Lowrie at short and Dustin Pedroia at second and Anthony Rizzo at first and Ryan Lavarnway behind the plate and Jacoby Ellsbury, Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish in the outfield? Wouldn't it be incredible to have that kind of team, and can we get there?' And that was really . . . the drive behind almost everything that we did . . .

"And then you had the reality of being a big market and being in a really competitive atmosphere and being in a place that wasn't that patient."

The problem is, such an approach can only work with patience. Young players take time to develop, and sometimes they regress before they move forward.

Boston, however, is not a patient place.

"You guys remember -- you probably were at the forefront of -- all the mockery when I talked about, 'Hey, having a bridge year', and being patient and letting these guys develop," Epstein told hosts Michael Felger and Tony Massarotti. "In retrospect, I could have done a better job of articulating that and fighting the forces that didn't allow that to happen."

The Red Sox sit today with a bloated payroll, an aging and thus far underachieving roster, and an uncertain future. It's not where anyone thought they'd be in the mid- to late 2000s, when the farm system was annually sending top prospects like Pedroia, Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard to Boston, and the Sox were being hailed far and wide as baseball's most progressive and forward-thinking organization.

In some circles, Epstein is catching much of the blame; after all, everything that happened up until this past offseason was his handiwork. And he freely admits that, at the end of his reign, he began "giving in to the need to be good next year".

But, he says he learned his lesson.

"Be true to the philosophy and understand the bigger picture," he said. "There's always another day to fight."

NLCS: Cubs avoid sweep, top Dodgers 3-2 to cut series deficit to 3-1

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NLCS: Cubs avoid sweep, top Dodgers 3-2 to cut series deficit to 3-1

CHICAGO - Javier Baez snapped an 0-for-20 skid with two home runs, Wade Davis hung on for a six-out save and the Chicago Cubs avoided a sweep, holding off the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 Wednesday night in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.

Jake Arrieta pitched three-hit ball into the seventh inning to held the defending World Series champion Cubs close their deficit to 3-1. Manager Joe Maddon got ejected for the second time in this series in the eighth, and a packed Wrigley Field crowd watched Davis get Cody Bellinger to ground into a game-ending double play.

Maddon was heavily criticized for not using Davis during a 4-1 loss in Game 2. This time, the Cubs closer threw 48 pitches to finish the job.

Willson Contreras also homered for the Cubs. Bellinger and Justin Turner connected for the Dodgers, who had won a team-record six straight playoff games.

Game 5 is Thursday, with Jose Quintana pitching for Chicago against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

Baez hit solo drives in the second and fifth after going hitless in his first 20 playoff at-bats. Contreras added a long homer against Alex Wood.

Davis entered with a 3-1 lead in the eighth. He gave up a leadoff homer to Turner, who went 2 for 2 and drew two walks.

Maddon became incensed that a swinging strike three against Curtis Granderson was ruled a foul after the umpires discussed the play. Maddon got tossed, and Granderson struck out swinging at the next pitch.

And after walking Yasmani Grandal to put runners on first and second, Davis struck out Chase Utley, who is hitless in his last 24 postseason at-bats.

All seven of Chicago's runs in this series have come on homers. And long drives in the second by Contreras and Baez made it 2-0.

Contreras' homer banged off the left-field videoboard and Baez's landed beyond the left-field bleachers on Waveland Avenue.

Bellinger cut it to 2-1 with his drive to right in the third. But Baez got the lead back up to two with a shot to the left-field bleachers in the fifth, the raucous crowd chanting "Javy! Javy!" for the flashy young star who was co-MVP of the NLCS last year.

No Cubs player had hit two in a playoff game since Alex Gonzalez went deep twice in Game 2 of the 2003 NLCS against Miami.

Arrieta exited with runners on first and second in the seventh after walking Chris Taylor on a 3-2 pitch. He tipped his hat as fans gave him a standing ovation, a fitting show of appreciation for a pitcher with an expiring contract.

Arrieta turns 32 in March and figures to land a huge deal in free agency. The trade that brought him from Baltimore helped fuel Chicago's rise, with the right-hander capturing the 2015 NL Cy Young Award and contributing to last year's drought-busting championship run.

Limited by a right hamstring injury in the final month of the season, he threw 111 pitches. Brian Duensing retired Bellinger on a fly to end the seventh.

Turner made it a one-run game with his homer off the left-field videoboard against Davis in the eighth.

A career-high 16-game winner, Wood gave up three runs and four hits in 42/3 innings.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

ALCS: Tanaka, Yankees top Keuchel, Astros 5-0 for 3-2 lead

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ALCS: Tanaka, Yankees top Keuchel, Astros 5-0 for 3-2 lead

NEW YORK - Masahiro Tanaka pitched seven innings of three-hit ball and the New York Yankees finally solved Houston Astros nemesis Dallas Keuchel, beating the ace lefty 5-0 on Wednesday for a 3-2 lead in the AL Championship Series.

Gary Sanchez hit an RBI single off Keuchel and later homered to help the wild-card Yankees win for the third straight day at home and move within one victory of their first trip to the World Series since 2009.

The teams head back to Houston for Game 6 on Friday night, when Justin Verlander and the reeling Astros will try to regain their footing following an off day and force a decisive Game 7. Luis Severino is scheduled to start for New York.

Just days ago, Houston was up two games to none and appeared to be closing in on its second World Series appearance. But the Astros, like defending AL champion Cleveland before them, have been unable to put away these poised Yankees, who improved to 6-0 at home in this postseason in front of their cheering, chanting fans.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE