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Don’t make Epstein face the music for this

Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam were at TD Garden Monday night — as was Theo Epstein. Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam were at TD Garden Monday night — as was Theo Epstein. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / May 19, 2010

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NEW YORK — No, Theo Epstein was not with the Red Sox last night.

The general manager was seen at the Pearl Jam concert at TD Garden Monday night, which led some to question where his priorities are. Well, relax.

Criticize Epstein, if you must, for his team construction, his moves (or lack thereof), but please, spending two hours at a Pearl Jam concert makes you angry?

Granted, it probably wasn’t the best timing, given that the Sox suffered the worst loss of what has been a very frustrating season. But this isn’t like the days when former Twins GM Howard Fox would walk into manager Ray Miller’s office and ask, “How’d we do last night?’’

For the past two weeks Epstein has been all over the country, watching amateur players the Sox might consider in the June draft. He had just returned to Boston Monday. He’s doing what executives do this time of the year — cross-checking prospects the scouting staff has recognized as the best players in the country.

Epstein has assistant general manager Ben Cherington on the team’s trip, dealing with the daily issues. He receives daily updates from Cherington, manager Terry Francona, the training staff, and the coaching staff. He was briefed on the Victor Martinez-Daisuke Matsuzaka flare-up and Mike Lowell’s comments about perhaps wanting to get out of Dodge.

According to a team source, Epstein has watched every pitch of every game while on the road. There’s nothing he isn’t up on. And if he had been in New York, what could he have done — tackle Alex Rodriguez so he couldn’t come to the plate and tie the game with a homer in the ninth?

Since spring training, Epstein has not taken one day off. He works virtually around the clock, and even at the concert, Epstein had his phone on, getting briefings and updates. So what’s the problem?

Asked about going to the concert, Epstein would not comment.

The problem is, the Sox are losing, and people want to blame someone. The blame pie is cut differently for different people, but it seems that the biggest slice has Epstein’s name on it.

But should it?

If you thought when the season started that the Sox were a playoff team — and many of us did — to criticize the team construction now would be hypocritical.

Epstein invested a huge amount of payroll in starting pitching. Problem is, the pitchers haven’t performed up to their caliber. Certainly not last night’s starter, Josh Beckett, who signed a four-year, $68 million extension. Beckett had back spasms and missed his last start, but otherwise his shoulder and elbow are fine. There really are no excuses.

John Lackey has performed well for the most part, and you can see where this will be a good pickup over the long haul.

One problem is Matsuzaka, who had put it all together in his previous outing before Monday. Blaming Martinez and then apparently arguing with him after the game is unbecoming of the righty, who washed out last season with an assortment of injuries because he was never in shape.

A team source indicated that the Sox decided to catch Martinez last night with Beckett pitching, out of support for Martinez. The team respects Martinez’s hard work in trying to get better with his overall catching game.

It was evident that the Sox were peeved at Matsuzaka for his comments to reporters following Monday night’s game.

With such a talented pitching staff, it’s tough not to place some blame on pitching coach John Farrell. He has to get these guys to pitch to their optimum level, but walks have killed the staff.

And isn’t it the pitchers themselves?

How much is Epstein responsible for the way Beckett, Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Matsuzaka, and Jon Lester pitch?

Offensively, the Sox are among the leaders in home runs (second in the majors) and runs (third), and they’ve done it without two starting outfielders in the lineup for most of the season. One veteran scout said last night, “You can’t truly evaluate your team until all of your people are healthy.’’

On only four occasions this season have the Red Sox been able to use their regular lineup.

No doubt, there has been unrest on the team, and this can be traced to team construction, which is Epstein’s area.

It was evident from the start that Tim Wakefield would not embrace a relief role. It was evident that if Lowell was healthy, he’d want more playing time. David Ortiz has gone through bouts of unhappiness over being platooned.

You can debate the merits of moving Ellsbury out of center field for the older Cameron, and both got hurt. The decision to go with Martinez as the full-time catcher is also one you can criticize Epstein for. The decision not to re-sign Jason Bay. The decision not to re-sign Alex Gonzalez. The run-prevention philosophy is another issue you can take up with Epstein.

Being the GM in Boston means: 1. You can’t ever have a losing season. It might be commonplace in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Kansas City, but if you have a $160 million payroll, you’d better make the playoffs, even in your bridge year. 2. Don’t ever think of retooling. You can’t give up the season and make the necessary deals with veteran players to replenish your farm system. Uh-uh, don’t dare do that in Boston; 3. Two World Series championships, and six playoff appearances in seven years don’t mean a thing; 4. Don’t ever be seen having a life outside baseball, even though you’re married and have a child you don’t see as much as you want to.

“Anybody who is in this fraternity of GMs understands the demands of the job and the criticisms we’re always subject to, but while the passion is great in Boston, it can get over the top,’’ said an American League GM. “I understand the Red Sox aren’t performing well right now, but some of the things you hear are just crazy.

“A lot of people envy Theo, but a lot more wouldn’t want his situation for all the money in the world.’’

If you’re a Red Sox GM, this is your life. You take the good with the bad. Dick O’Connell, Lou Gorman, Dan Duquette, and Mike Port all went through it.

Now it’s Theo’s turn.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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