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Red Sox hope this year's overhaul is championship-caliber

The team considered personality as well as stats in an offseason that resulted in a revamped pitching staff.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published April 3, 2005


FORT MYERS Diamondbacks pitcher Matt Mantei wasn't an interested bystander during last season's AL Championship Series between the Red Sox and Yankees, he was a fan a Red Sox fan who disliked the Yankees.

So when Boston swept the final four games to earn a spot in the World Series, Mantei, watching at home in Stevensville, Mich., cheered long and loud.

"It was awesome," the Tampa native said. "Obviously you wanted the Red Sox to beat the Yankees. Everybody wants the Red Sox to beat the Yankees. I think that's common knowledge. It was exciting."

Imagine Mantei's excitement, then, when as a free agent he signed with Boston.

"Just trying on my uniform," he said, "I got chills."

Mantei, a right-handed reliever, is part of the major overhaul undertaken by Boston general manager Theo Epstein of the team that won its first World Series since 1918.

In fact, there must have been as many handshakes of introduction when the Red Sox reported for spring training as of recognition.

The Red Sox lost pitchers Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez, shortstop Orlando Cabrera and second baseman Pokey Reese to free agency.

They traded first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz to the Mets for first baseman Ian Bladergroen, and outfielder Dave Roberts to the Padres for centerfielder Jay Payton and infielder Ramon Vazquez. They signed free-agent shortstop Edgar Renteria.

But most of the focus is on the pitching staff that is shy 30 victories without Martinez and Lowe and which could be without the rehabilitating Curt Schilling for at least the first two weeks of the season.

Epstein signed free-agent starters David Wells, Matt Clement and Wade Miller to help fill out a rotation that also returns Tim Wakefield and Bronson Arroyo. Mantei and free agent and former Devil Ray John Halama were added to the bullpen.

Epstein said finding the right fit for what was a close-knit clubhouse was not just a matter of scrutinizing statistics.

"We check to see if he's a selfish player, how he deals with pressure and, generally, with group dynamics," Epstein said. "You do all the due diligence you can to see how well he factors into the existing clubhouse and go from there."

"Guys just have to be themselves," manager Terry Francona said. "You can't fake a team personality. One of our goals is to get to that personality as quickly as we can, to not be 25 but to be one. The quicker we do that, the better we'll be."

Wakefield, of Melbourne and in his 11th season with the Red Sox, said assimilating the new blood should not be difficult.

"It'd be different if they were young guys," he said. "They're all professionals in this clubhouse and I assume they're all going to take their jobs seriously and try to help us win as much as possible."

That brings us back to Mantei, 31, who last season pitched in only 12 games for Arizona before June shoulder surgery. But he worked in two division series with the Diamondbacks and was with the team, though hurt, when it won the 2001 Series.

"You see a new guy coming into a clubhouse who has been in playoff situations, you just kind of welcome him," Mantei said. "But you obviously want to come in here and help the team do the best it can. There's going to be a lot of pressure on this team."

Not to mention the newcomers.