Lenny Megliola: It all starts and ends with Theo Epstein

Lenny Megliola

Closers, after they’ve blown one, always talk about having short memories. Hey, if you’re Joe Nathan, J.J. Putz, Francisco Rodriguez, Marino Rivera or Trevor Hoffman, in other words, any top shelf, self-respecting closer, you’re going to give it up now and then. And when they do, you get the short memory spiel.  It’s over and done with. I’ll be ready tomorrow.

Still, I wonder what’s going through Jonathan Papelbon’s head right now. He’s been a lights out closer in his brief big-league career. Absolutely brilliant. The Red Sox aren’t much without him at the end of the game.

But it’s not like he’s been doing this for a long time, unlike the above-mentioned closers who rely on the short memory mantra. The last two times out, Papelbon was used as a punching bag by the Yankees, then surrendered a grand slam to Russ Adams in another brutal loss, 5-1, to the Blue Jays. Adams was hitting eighth in the lineup. It was his second homer.

Now I’m not suggesting that back-to-back nightmares are going to spook Papelbon. And he’ll tell you his confidence hasn’t cracked. That’s what closers do. Exhibit foxhole bravery. In close games, they’re the last bastion between winning and losing. When they blow one, what they say after can’t give even a whiff of vulnerability. Closers keep closing, until they lose it altogether (see: Brad Lidge).

Against the Yankees Sunday night Papelbon couldn’t stop the bleeding. Against he Blue Jays Wednesday night he couldn’t clean up Mike Timlin’s mess. OK, he’s human. But this can’t go on. It’s hard enough for the Red Sox to win games lately (oh, you’ve noticed?). When games aren’t resolved by the eighth and ninth inning, the thought of Papelbon finishing business has been a comforting one the last two seasons.

It hasn’t been that way lately. He’s let the team down. If the Sox were playing better, it wouldn’t be such a big deal. But with all the things that ails this team right now, Papelbon in a rut is more misery than the Sox can handle. Yes, they’re going to be in the playoffs, but they owe a great debt to the choking Tigers.

I’m just curious to see how it goes for Papelbon the next time he pitches, that’s all.

This has become a weird Red Sox season. Uplifting for the most part, capital F Frustrating in the home stretch. Gone are the magical days of Daisuke Matsuzaka. The only trustworthy starter now is Josh Beckett. The rock-solid bullpen combo of Hideki Okajima and Papelbon has been broken. Okajima is resting his sore arm. Paplebon’s pitching like he’s got one.

With Coco Crisp and Kevin Youkilis out and Manny Ramirez a spectator in uniform, Boston doesn’t’ scare anyone. The Red Sox’ 5-7 hitters Wednesday: J.D. Drew (.261); Jason Varitek (.252); Eric Hinske (.216). The Yankees, same night, 5-7: Jorge Posada (.335); Hideki Matsui (.289); Robinson Cano (.303). As for 1-4, not even close.

For Boston, only Mike Lowell, David Ortiz and rookie Dustin Pedroia have been constants, even though we all know this has been an “off” season for Big Papi.

The Yankees’ offense took a long time to start smoking. Even better, gloated Red Sox fans, New York’s pitching was a mess. It was. Back then. That’s where the Red Sox had the upper hand. Pitching. That’s no longer true. In their amazing run in an attempt to win the AL East, Yankees starters have been more dependable than Boston’s. Heck, even Mike Mussina, who stunk so badly that he was dropped from the rotation, has pitched two good games in a row.

As for setup guys and closers, who would you take right now, Okajima and Papelbon or Joba Chamberlain and Rivera? Just wondering.

All this has put Red Sox fans in a lousy mood. Several WEEI callers Tuesday night, after the Greg Gagne implosion, complained the media in town - namely the newspapers - were going soft on the Red Sox.  Where was the punch-in-the-nose criticism? And what about Theo Epstein? How’s he get off? It’s his team, is it not?

Here’s how that works. If Boston doesn’t get by the first round of the playoffs, and especially if it gets swept like it did two years ago, it’ll fall on Epstein’s head. Certain players, Drew, Julio Lugo and Gagne particularly, have been fans’ and media targets. Epstein brought them here. They haven’t done squat. The bench of Bobby Kielty, Doug Mirabelli, Kevin Cash and Alex Cora is weak

If this season ends in failure, any bashing of the Red Sox will start and end with Epstein. He know it. He understands this town.

Lenny Megliola is a MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News columnist. His e-mail is lennymegs@aol.com.