BOSTON -- The owner already has vouched for his team, the last time things looked their dimmest. So did the chief operating officer, the general manager, the manager, the hot dog vendor, the parking lot attendant, and Wally.
Who's left, the Pope?
It's going to take an extraordinary leap of faith to continue to trust that these Boston Red Sox are better than they appear through the first 68 days of the 2015 season, especially after their latest free fall toward oblivion. The Sox crumbled 13-10 to the Toronto Blue Jays Friday night in Fenway Park, blowing an 8-1 advantage -- the biggest lead they've lost this season -- to fall eight games under .500. It's their low point to date.
"I wouldn't write this team off," manager John Farrell said, words that are finding few converts outside the walls of the Red Sox clubhouse. "This is still a team that's got a long track record of individual performance, and we have to put some things together as a team in all phases.
"This isn't to single anyone out. You could say it was a strong offensive night tonight. It takes the other two components, the pitching and defense, to have a winning combination."
Call it a toss-up who was moving faster Friday night: the fans ready to bail on the Sox, or third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who was already fleeing the scene in a black Porsche mere moments after a grim-faced Farrell had concluded another painful postmortem with a media pack baying at the scent of blood.
This, remember, came in the aftermath of a frenzied dissection of the meaning of Farrell's run-in the night before with pitcher Wade Miley. A popular interpretation among the chattering set was that Miley's public challenge of Farrell was further evidence the manager no longer had control of the clubhouse. Never mind that, as one longtime baseball executive said Friday, "things like this happen once every 10 days somewhere in the big leagues. The whole job is just crisis management."
What set Miley's tantrum apart was he did it in full view of the TV cameras. Even teammates who privately defended Miley for caring so deeply said he shouldn't have shown up his manager, a point Miley himself acknowledged when he said Friday afternoon, "I handled it terrible ... I lost my head."
But Farrell losing the clubhouse? This is a long way from Bobby Valentine, even though this was the biggest lead the Sox have blown since that notorious afternoon in April 2012, when the Sox surrendered a 9-0 lead on national TV to the Yankees, and GM Ben Cherington was compelled to assure one and all that Valentine's job was safe, six months before firing him.
The litany of issues plaguing this team go far beyond one immature outburst from a player who regretted going that route, and told his manager so. There is no mutiny brewing, like the one that consumed Valentine and ultimately claimed Jimy Williams a decade earlier. If this team is going down, it looks like it is going down together, much to the disappointment of those critics who won't be satisfied with anything less than Farrell's dismissal.
Friday's loss, of course, exponentially increased the discontent that found its voice in the booing that swept across the Fens during Toronto's nine-run uprising in the seventh, and in the sarcastic ovation that greeted Sandoval when he turned a routine play an inning later.
This should have been a rare warm and fuzzy occasion for Sandoval, who along with Mookie Betts hit back-to-back home runs in the first inning, when Boston seized a 5-0 lead. It was Sandoval's first home run in 65 at-bats, and -- combined with his two-run double the night before in Baltimore, his first extra-base hit in 24 games -- suggested he was ready to become a contributing member of the Sox offense again after a monthlong absence.
Instead, Sandoval invited ridicule by failing to execute two makeable plays during the Jays' seventh-inning uprising. He charged Josh Donaldson's bouncer, but the ball popped out of his glove long enough to render a throw pointless. Three plays later, he was unable to cleanly backhand Chris Colabello's ball down the line, the ball again failing to remain attached to leather. He probably didn't deserve the error, but when Jays third baseman Donaldson made a terrific backhanded play in the bottom of the inning, no one was inclined to offer charity to Sandoval.
Sandoval's fielding has become a much greater issue than anyone expected coming into the season.
"Didn't anticipate some of the misdirection of some of the plays, particularly on the backhand," Farrell said. "This is still about Pablo and the work he does consistently, and yet still trying to get a rhythm for him over there."
Sandoval had no inclination to address his shortcomings, on a night that battered reliever Junichi Tazawa and first baseman Mike Napoli, who struck out with the bases loaded in the eighth with a chance to tie the score, took on all comers. Napoli is 1 for his past 20 with 10 strikeouts, and was eaten up by a bouncing ground ball from Jose Reyes for one of Toronto's eight hits in the interminable seventh.
"It's frustrating," Napoli said, "but I'm going to keep working, keep grinding, every day. I'm out here early [taking] BP, my cage work, trying to keep going.
"Obviously I don't look comfortable up there, and I'm not feeling too comfortable, but just working for that at-bat where I can find it and be in a position to do something. I want to do my part, to contribute to this offense. I come here every day thinking this is the day I'm going to come to hit."
Napoli came to the plate in the eighth against left-hander Brett Cecil, who had generally handled Napoli (2-for-14, though one of those hits was a home run). Friday night, he dispatched Napoli on three pitches, the Sox first baseman looking at strike three.
"I can leave the park in one swing," Napoli said. "I could have tied that ballgame up, or hit a ball off the wall or in the gap. That was my mindset. I got a fastball first pitch, and I fouled it off. When I'm going good, I don't foul it off."
Instead of music pulsating through a victorious clubhouse, the only sound heard Friday night was that of a vacuum cleaner making its way past mostly deserted lockers.
"Tough one to swallow," Napoli said. "But we've got to keep going out there and getting after it. No one's given up in here. We're going to go out there and play the game the right way and get it done."
Gotta believe? Good luck with that.