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Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay throws against the Tampa Bay Rays. (MIKE CASSESE)
Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay throws against the Tampa Bay Rays. (MIKE CASSESE)

Jeff Blair

Red Sox' golden ticket not cashed in Add to ...

The numbers lie. They show that the Boston Red Sox starting pitchers are doing their bit and it is the offence that has dragged them down since the all-star break.

They lie.

If the Red Sox do not make baseball's postseason, it says here, it is because general manager Theo Epstein turtled when he had a chance to acquire pitcher Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays at the trade deadline.

Instead, fixated on his lineup, Epstein added catcher/first baseman Victor Martinez and outfielder Brian Anderson. And even though Martinez hasn't been a piker since the deal (.311 with three home runs and 11 runs batted in) neither has he proven to be any type of tonic.

Halladay will face Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz tonight at the Rogers Centre - and it was those two men who figured in much of the conjecture leading up to last month's non-waiver trade deadline.

Let's be honest: The two teams who needed Halladay the most were the Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Boston needed him because it's the type of bold, decisive move you make when you get the sense the New York Yankees may have found the formula that has eluded them in recent years and when you sense the Yankees finally found the right players to overpay. It's also the type of move you make when John Smoltz is in your rotation and Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield are hurt.

The Dodgers needed him because Halladay would give them the workhorse they'll need in a postseason series. And because he would have given them an arm up on the San Francisco Giants and Tim Lincecum. Halladay in Dodger Stadium? With that defence? Yikes.

All that … and you'd have him for next year, too.

Yet, from all accounts, Epstein spent more time trying to pull off some sort of exotic three-team deal for Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners, which now appears to be a case of the smartest kid in the room trying to be too cute by half.

Halladay? He was there for the taking. The Blue Jays would have wanted prospects such as pitcher Michael Bowden and infielder Lars Anderson. Several people close to the team say the Blue Jays were not unanimous on the need to include flame-throwing Daniel Bard in the deal, that they would have thought about Buchholz and maybe Justin Masterson (traded to the Cleveland Indians for Martinez). The Blue Jays were right to want more to finalize a Halladay trade within their division - and the Red Sox should have paid the premium.

As it turns out, the Red Sox and Blue Jays did talk about Halladay. An offer was made; a counter offer extended. And that was it. Discussions never advanced beyond that stage, not even to the what-if-we-substitute-this-guy-for-that-guy stage. Matters hadn't even reached the point where the Blue Jays had asked Halladay if he would waive his no-trade clause to go to Boston. But they knew he would.

"Very surprised," was how one Jays official described Boston's tepid interest - especially once it became clear the Yankees weren't a factor at all.

And look what's happened: The Red Sox, history suggests, won't catch the Yankees, who have never blown a lead of six games or more and led the American League East by seven games going into last night. The Red Sox were 11th in the AL since the all-star break with a 12-17 (.414) record, their worst through the first 29 games after the break since 1994.

Boston's starting pitching has been okay, allowing three earned runs or less in eight of their last 10 games before last night, but that's beside the point.

The Red Sox would have had Halladay to start one of those four games they lost to the Yankees earlier in the month, which effectively ended the AL East title fight.

Think of Halladay, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester going into a big series; a rested Jonathan Papelbon closing. You could make hay in the wild-card chase and certainly in the postseason with that trio. But look beyond that: Think of the Red Sox with that trio intact for next year (Halladay isn't a free agent until after 2010) and the added benefit of outpitching opponents while making hard decisions about the likes of slugger David Ortiz (hitting seventh last night; benched for a game against the Yankees).

Fans of a team with the Red Sox history might wonder about the mojo deficit created by Big Papi's steroid imbroglio and about how adding Halladay might have somehow counteracted it. Red Sox Nation is weird that way, you know.

Hey, I can see their point, although I prefer to take a less karmic approach. I just want to know why a team that didn't balk at a premium for Matsuzaka would now balk at a premium for a guy who will once again be the best pitcher not in the playoffs.

I thought I knew Theo Epstein. Turns out I didn't. And my guess is I won't get to revisit it with him on the field on some cool, October afternoon in New England. You know, before a playoff game.

 

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