Epstein, Francona resist panic

BOSTON -- The Red Sox won Tuesday night despite giving up nine stolen bases for the second time in their history. They won with a double that fell just inside the left-field line and caromed off a fan's face, which should have made it a ground-rule double and one run scoring instead of two, but went undetected by the umpiring crew.

They won with a winning rally that began with a one-hopper back to the mound that struck pitcher Frank Francisco's glove and bounced high up in the air, while he frantically tried to find it.

They won on a day they put two-thirds of their starting outfield on the disabled list, and didn't activate the star of the game, Darnell McDonald, until just over an hour before game time.

They won on a day Terry Francona did what was once unthinkable: pinch-hitting for David Ortiz, who saw nothing but fastballs Tuesday night, 19 in all, and failed to put a single one in play.

With left-handers starting each of the next two nights for Texas, Ortiz is likely to sit, weighed down by a .146 batting average and 17 strikeouts in 11 games. Mike Lowell, who pinch-hit for Ortiz and walked, then was walked intentionally during the game-winning rally in the ninth, is expected to serve as DH Wednesday night.

"We're trying to do everything in our power to win games,'' Francona said. "Ask me if I enjoy doing that; of course not. He's very prideful. But again, we're trying to win games. I think the players understand that, and it's our responsibility to communicate that.''

They won on a day they finally got a hit with runners in scoring position (4 for 10) after going 0 for 30 with RISP during their five-game losing streak. And for the first time since last Wednesday, they finally held a lead, although it didn't come until the ninth inning on Darnell McDonald's game-winning hit, ending a streak of not having a lead at 56 innings.

And they won on a day that general manager Theo Epstein, after meeting with Francona, his coaches and assistant GM Ben Cherington, addressed the team's miserable start -- "we're playing bad baseball'' -- and said the team had to own up to it.

"We don't panic, but we don't shrug it off, either,'' Epstein said of the team's start, which stood at 4-9, its worst since 1996, until a 7-6 win over Texas Tuesday night.

"I think what makes us feel better is that we know we're better than this,'' he said. "These players have track records as individuals and you pretty much know what they're going to do. There are going to be some guys who overperform and some who underperform. It's not going to be every player that's underperforming. We're going to get back to our level. And as an organization we have a track record and a standard we need to live up to.

"One way or another we're going to get there collectively. It's not like we lost faith in all of our players all of a sudden. It's not the way it is. We believe in these guys. But at the same you can be realistic about it and realize we haven't played well at all so far. There's no point in sugar-coating it or making excuses, or hide from it. You have to own it and take responsibility. We have not been good so far.''

Epstein was asked about Dustin Pedroia's comment the day before that "when you show up not ready to play, you're going to get beat ..." He said he couldn't dispute that perception.

"I wholeheartedly agree,'' he said. "Watching us play, it looks like we didn't show up for some games. We have to own that.''

Epstein, who had made improving the team's defense a focal point of the offseason, acknowledged that the results have been poor so far.

"It's even the routine plays, which are the most fundamental thing you can do defensively and the most important thing you can do defensively, is make the routine play,'' he said. "There have been games we lost because we haven't made the routine play, so it starts there. Beyond that, there have been a couple of disappointing performances defensively, but I think we'll be fine.

"I don't think [that] long term, that's not going to be our issue. We're going to catch the ball well and start playing better team defense. I think the disappointing thing is we haven't really done anything well, to be honest with you. We're not pitching, we're not hitting, we're not playing good defense, we're not running the bases well, so take your pick ... There are no excuses. We haven't been playing well."

Epstein also defended the decision not to place outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury on the disabled list earlier, although at that point he was still hopeful that Ellsbury would avoid the DL altogether. Instead, Ellsbury took batting practice and told the club he still was not able to play.

"Given the information we had at the time, and the medical prognosis we had, it was the right call,'' Epstein said, alluding to the fact that the club could not have known it would lose Cameron, too. "Would we have been better doing it a different way? In hindsight, probably."

How the team responds to this rough stretch, Epstein said, will tell much about this club.

"Having a tough April in Boston is not always an easy thing to go through,'' he said. "From the players to the manager to the coaching staff to the GM to the ownership to the bat boys, it can be an unsettling time. I think it's important that we show good leadership with the way we handle it.

"We can work hard in the right ways to try to improve and demonstrate we're the same organization, whether we're coming off a good fortnight or a bad fortnight. We believe in certain principles that lead to winning a lot of baseball games and doing it the right way. Those don't go out the window after two terrible weeks."

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.