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Still playing defense

Garciaparra fumes over accusations

DENVER -- Nomar Garciaparra just wants to play. Boston's All-Star shortstop is tired of the stories -- some new, others that have been around for years -- that always seem to crop up when his name is mentioned.

Some of those tales include whether Garciaparra purposely delayed his return from a recent Achilles' injury as a message to management, either in response to not receiving a contract extension or lingering bitterness over the offseason pursuit of Alex Rodriguez. He's tired of people speculating about property he's thinking of buying or selling.

Then there's the old story about him preferring to ply his trade somewhere other than Boston. That one particularly irks Garciaparra because that's something he's never said.

He's tired of the expectations that he's supposed to roll off the disabled list and hit .360 right away.

Garciaparra, who went 3 for 5 in yesterday's 11-0 win over Colorado, doesn't want to be judged by his first 25 at-bats after spending more than 50 games on the disabled list. He doesn't want to be compared to the player who was hitting .328 with 10 home runs and 46 RBIs at this point last year.

As it is, he's up to .320 after legging out his first triple yesterday, and said afterward he felt great putting that stress on his Achilles'.

"I thought I hit it pretty well today. It felt like I did a couple of different times, but today the results were good," Garciaparra said. "That triple was the first time I've had to really stretch it out like that. It felt good to do that. The big thing is the way Derek [Lowe] pitched. He was phenomenal."

If Garciaparra doesn't do the job over the long haul either at the plate or in the field, then so be it -- rip away. Don't sign him to a long-term deal, let him go off merrily to Los Angeles or Seattle or Anaheim and just remember the eight years he spent at Fenway.

He wants to be judged on his career as a whole. Does consistency mean anything? Do we dismiss eight excellent seasons because of a small window when he's struggled?

These are the types of things he's tired of hearing.

While all Garciaparra wants to do is play, general manager Theo Epstein appears to want to let the contract stuff play out at the end of the season.

"I was surprised by a lot of the skepticism about Nomar's rehab," Epstein said yesterday. "I saw firsthand how hard he worked. It was a real cooperative effort. Nomar and the training staff and [manager Terry Francona] met regularly and I was involved, too, in helping to coordinate a lot of the resources with Nomar and everything he needed. If anything, I was proud of how quickly he came back regarding the nature of the injury, how hard he worked to get back, and how cooperative the effort was. We were all of one mind. That's what we did."

Epstein wouldn't comment on Garciaparra's statements in Thursday's Boston Herald: "I've been judged on one month -- I've got eight years. Think about what I've done. What would you rather have: eight great years and one bad month or eight bad months and one good year? I think those eight years will count -- they will somewhere, to somebody . . . I can't win -- 21 ABs [for Pawtucket] but no, `You're faking it' and `C'mon, what are you waiting for?' Then I come back, they are still going to say, `See -- he sucks. He's not good. You were bad last year, you're bad this year.' It's a no-win situation. They should just be glad I'm back."

We don't know who the "they" are that Garciaparra is referring to. Is it Red Sox management? Is it fans? Is it reporters, talk-show hosts, or talk-show callers?

Those comments, which Garciaparra repeated prior to yesterday's game, are vague. What is also vague are those who are accusing Garciaparra of faking it. Are we not to believe Epstein, who has a track record of sincerity? Then who in the Sox organization is saying different? The owners? The ticket-takers?

"Nobody can tell me who said that," said Garciaparra yesterday. "A writer told me he heard that from a team source. Well, if somebody said that then tell me who it is. I have no idea who it is."

Sox president Larry Lucchino went on WEEI's "Dennis & Callahan" yesterday and came down on Garciaparra's words.

"I would rather not have seen that kind of commentary like this at this point. I don't think that's what the team needs at this stage in the season. I think he probably would agree, in retrospect," Lucchino said.

Garciaparra didn't back off anything.

He was defending himself. This was about a player venting after his character and integrity were attacked.

Isn't it only natural for someone to defend himself against reckless claims? Garciaparra has been a good soldier who has always given all of himself on the field. Has he not built a reservoir of good will?

Perhaps these accusations will force him out of Boston after this season, but do eight years of being a team player and fan favorite not count for anything?

"I've worked hard every day," said Garciaparra. "It's a work in progress. I never said I was coming back 100 percent. I never said that. I'm just trying to go out there and be the best I can. That's all I've been about since I've been here. I've played through a lot of injuries and been through a lot of stuff over the years. This has been no different.

"I went out there and got hurt. It was a kind of a freak accident. It was strange how it happened. I can't help what happened, all I can do is go forward and be what I'm about and that's go out there about my job with integrity. It's frustrating when people say things about me, but I've come to the conclusion that people who really know me, know me, and people who don't, don't. What I have done for the past eight years does matter. It does count. That's what I'm about. I'm not going to change."

Garciaparra yesterday brought energy to a lineup that has been lacking it for some time. He is sick of people speaking for him, so he's speaking for himself. Yesterday, he did it on the field, the place where he will ultimately silence the whispers.

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