Terry Francona made sure to emphasize that he was giving Julio Lugo a day off on Saturday rather than benching him. Lugo, who underwent knee surgery in March, failed to turn a critical double play on Friday against the Mets.
"When we brought Lugie back, we didn't want him to play a ton in a row," Francona said. "We've got a day game tomorrow, so one (of the Green-Lugo duo) was going to play one or the other."
But when a reporter steered the conversation toward that double play Lugo failed to turn, costing the Red Sox two runs in the process, Francona didn't exactly spring to the defense of his embattled shortstop. He didn't criticize Lugo, but he certainly chose his words carefully.
"Evaluating our shortstops in May for public consumption, I don't know that it helps our cause," he said. "We're trying to win games regardless of how bad we play on a certain night or how good we play.
"I watched the game. But, again, it's our responsibility to, if it's not good enough, make it good enough and always get better. I know it's not been perfect."
After a question about the team's turnover at shortstop over the years, another reporter asked specifically about Lugo's failure to turn the double play and if Francona had watched the tape to see what had happened.
"I watched it a lot," he said. "The last thing I want to do is, when I say something, not know what I'm talking about because I really don't. I thought he got flat-footed, and he put himself in a position where he ended up throwing the ball with not a lot on it.
"The hard thing is, Lugie and I go back and forth sometimes -- he wants me to have his back, which I think I'm supposed to and completely understand. But at the same time, if I feel like I have something to say to somebody, I've got to say it. We've gone back and forth. You're always try to help, but you're walking a fine line where you're helping and not hindering. Again, yeah, we all thought we should have had a better shot to turn that."
Read that one between the lines:
"Evaluating our shortstops in May for public consumption, I don't know that it helps our cause."
* Francona has no issue raving about his players when they're doing well. If he's "evaluating" his shortstops "for public consumption," the evaluation is not going to be positive.
"I watched the game."
* Translation: "I'm not disagreeing with the assessments that are out there."
"I know it's not been perfect."
* He doesn't expect his players to be perfect. He expects his players to be good. It hasn't been good.
"I thought he got flat-footed, and he put himself in a position where he ended up throwing the ball with not a lot on it."
* OK, this one stands on its own.
"He wants me to have his back, which I think I'm supposed to and completely understand. But at the same time, if I feel like I have something to say to somebody, I've got to say it."
* Whew. When you start a sentence with, "He wants me to have his back," and then throw a "but" in there, you're starting to reveal something. What you're almost saying, in fact, is, "I don't necessarily have his back." For some managers, this might not be a real big deal. For Francona, whose loyalty to his players is legendary, this is a very big deal.