Theo Epstein on D&H: Transcript
|09.30.10 at 2:53 pm ET|
“We’re disappointed,” he said. “We’re proud of the way the guys hung in there and played really hard to the end. But I’m disappointed that we’re going to fall short or our goal every year to get to the postseason and try to do some damage in October.”
Epstein said pitching and defense, which he thought would be the team’s strengths coming out of spring training, ended up being the major problems, especially the bullpen’s failure to prevent opponents from scoring.
“It’s just not acceptable,” he said. “If you’re looking for one area of the club, that’s really it. We didn’t pitch like we wanted to, we didn’t play defense like we wanted to, and we allowed our opponents to just score way too much.”
Following is a transcript. To hear the interview, visit the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.
How are you doing? You don’t sound a whole lot better than [Terry Francona] did yesterday.
Yeah, we’re hanging in there. Tito was pretty sick yesterday. I just talked to him. He’s doing a lot better today. But no, it’s a long grind, physically and emotionally. And when you reach the end of the line, it catches up with you a little bit.
Is the raspiness I hear in your voice, is that just the realization that your team is not going to make the playoffs, and you were somehow holding out hope that there could be some kind of miraculous finish regarding the postseason?
Well, yeah, I guess you hear disappointment. I mean, it would be kind of disturbing if you didn’t. We’re disappointed. We’re proud of the way the guys hung in there and played really hard to the end. But I’m disappointed that we’re going to fall short or our goal every year to get to the postseason and try to do some damage in October. So, sure, yeah, you hear some disappointment.
If you had to narrow it down to your top thing, why are you in this position? Why is your team 87-71 and on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs?
Well, it’s always hard to identify any one single factor. It is definitely multifactorial. But, just kind of recapping the year, if you look back to where we were and how we felt when we broke spring training, I think we felt like we had a really good team, a legitimate chance to be one of the best teams in the league, one of the best two or three in all of baseball, and the chance to accomplish our goals.
I think we thought we had a balanced club, you know, one that would be one of the top two or three in the league in scoring runs, and one that would be one of the top two or three in pitching and defense and limiting our opposition scoring. That’s the balance that we strive for. Some things went right and some things went wrong, and obviously we had a lot of injuries along the way.
The way things turned out offensively, it kind of went according to plan. We’re going to end up second in the league probably in runs scored, lead the league in OPS, and kind of match our projections where we thought we’d be. So, given that, you can really isolate a lot of the issue to our pitching and defense, where we underperformed pretty dramatically.
We thought we’d be, again, one of the top two or three teams in the league as far as preventing our opposition from scoring with our pitching and defense. We’re going to end up nowhere close to that. We’re going to end up eighth, ninth or 10th in the league, somewhere in there. It’s just not acceptable. If you’re looking for one area of the club, that’s really it. We didn’t pitch like we wanted to, we didn’t play defense like we wanted to, and we allowed our opponents to just score way too much.
Our starting pitching was a bit of a mixed bag. Obviously, [Jon] Lester and [Clay] Buchholz both had dominating years. Quite a homegrown tandem. We’re pretty excited about their futures. But the rest of the rotation didn’t really live up to expectations. And then the bullpen turned out to be our greatest weakness. We didn’t really have a third guy to emerge with [Jonathan Pabelbon] and [Daniel] Bard, and had some other issues.
And then our defense, probably on the defensive side largely because of the injuries. We had some key defenders in [Mike] Cameron and [Jacoby] Ellsbury and [Dustin] Pedroia and [Kevin] Youkilis go down. Our defense just wasn’t what we had projected it to be, either. That’s an important part of supporting your pitching.
So, all in all, to answer your question ‘ What one thing? ‘ our ability to prevent the opponent from scoring. We ended up being kind of what we thought offensively, and not what we wanted pitching- and defense-wise. That’s probably why we are where we are.
Given the issues in your bullpen, and I agree with you, I thought it was the area of single greatest need on this team this year, why didn’t you make a move, either at the July 31st or the August 31st trading deadlines?
Well, not for lack of effort. I think coming into the year we knew we needed to have a third guy emerge to go with Pap and Bard. We thought we had some internal candidates. [Hideki] Okajima had been better than that type of pitcher for most of his career. He’s in a bit of a decline, and we were hoping he would bounce back. Clearly, he had a really difficult season, especially early, and we stuck with him, and that cost us.
We were hoping that [Manny] Delcarmen or [Ramon] Ramirez would step up and be that third guy in the bullpen as well, and that didn’t happen. Perhaps we waited too long. You know, all the while we were actively looking outside the organization to upgrade, and sort of hoping that by the second half or last third of the season we’d have some internal replacements as well.
I think really more than anything it was the product of just the landscape out there for relief pitchers. Trust me, we looked all year, and there just weren’t that many guys moved, and not that many guys at all that ended up helping.
If you look at it ‘ and I have, trust me, at the time and in hindsight ‘ there were four pitchers, four major league relievers, who were traded during the year who ended up helping their club. Five if you count August, when [Brian] Fuentes was moved. Two of those guys, we’d given opportunities before ‘ Javy Lopez and Ramon Ramirez. One, Matt Capps, we couldn’t have gotten unless we gave up Bard. Fuented was behind us on the waiver order.
And the last one was Kerry Wood. That was an important decision. We scouted him on rehab, we liked what we saw. He was available last minute at the deadline. They were going to take him into August and they made him available at the last minute. And we put in what I thought was a pretty aggressive financial bid for him. And we were outbid by the Yankees. They were willing to take on just a little bit more of his salary. It ended up being a great move for them. It cost us.
There were a number of other relievers we were on that I thought would have made a difference. We were aggressive with our prospect proposals, and those guys weren’t moved. So, yeah, I would have loved to have made a trade for a reliever. I feel bad, I feel like we didn’t get it done. When it didn’t happen, I said that on July 31st. It ended up being a factor and costing us. But not for a lack of effort. Probably, as I look at it now, primarily a function of just not that many available relievers, not that many guys who were moved who ended up helping their clubs.
To be top-of-the rotation-type guys and pitch up to previous levels. Those are still my expectations for those guys going forward. Josh, the injury really cost him. It’s hard to say how much it cost his performance before he went down, and then coming back, he clearly just wasn’t himself all year. He’s been very stand-up about it. He’s taken a hard look at his performance and taken accountability for it, which is an important first step.
The last time that he had this type of season ‘ obviously, it wasn’t exactly the same ‘ was 2006. The last thing he said to me going out the door at the end of the 2006 season was, “I’m going to fix this this winter. I’m going to take a good, hard look and fix this thing.” He came back and had a great 2007. He’s showing a lot of the same tendencies right now, being honest with himself about what happened this year, and setting out to fix it.
With John Lackey, it was a mixed bag. He did some good things. He’s leading our club in innings pitched, he’s tied for the club lead in quality starts. That said, there was definitely an adjustment period for him. The first half of the season in particular, he didn’t pitch his best baseball. He’s had a pretty good second half. He’s started to pitch much better of late.
I think the biggest issue with him, if you look at his performance this year relative to the past, is left-handed hitters. He’s pretty much the same as he’s always been against righties. For whatever reason, left-handed hitters have had some good swings against him this year, and maybe that’s attributable in part to moving into this division. There’s some really good left-handed hitters. And I do think there’s an adjustment period. I think he’s going to be better going forward for having gone through what he went through this year, and I think we’ve already seen some of that adjustment with how he’s pitched lately in the second half.
Given that he’s never put back-to-back good seasons together, what are your projections for Josh Beckett the next three or four years?
To be a major contributor and part of one of the best rotations in baseball. Signing the contract that we did, that we signed him to, I told this to Josh, it’s not about buying one year of performance. It’s not about you’re asked to perform in 2010 and this thing’s a bust. It’s about making an investment in the person and making an investment in the rest of his career, and right now it’s a down point in Josh’s career just like 2006 was. I think we trust the person, we trust the pitcher to be able to bounce back, and I think he certainly will.
Is his stuff different than it was earlier in his career? Maybe some, just not dramatically different. Does he still have weapons to get guys out, does he still have the ability to combine that stuff with good command and throw strikes? Absolutely. He was hit pretty hard this year, at times, when he was around the zone, and I think that’s largely a function of the injury. This is a guy who, I think, you say he hasn’t had great back-to-back seasons, but another way to look at it, if you look at the best pitchers in baseball the last three, four, five years, he’s certainly in the conversation.
His body of work is really impressive. His body of work separates him. Can he be ‘ what’s a No. 1? One of the best 30 starting pitchers in baseball? What’s a No. 2? One of the best 60 starting pitchers in baseball? Can Josh do that? Absolutely. We expect him to going forward.
When you look back on the Jacoby Ellsbury situation, what could have been done better, what could have been done differently?
Initially, when he had that first injury in Kansas City and we took the X-rays, looking back on it and maybe it’s something we learned a little bit about it, we probably could have taken the CAT scan sooner. We’ve already made an adjustment in our policy going forward. It would’ve revealed the fractures a little sooner. It wouldn’t have gotten him back any quicker, but it would have helped manage the perception of the injury. Jacoby took some unwarranted heat from a lot of different sources because it wasn’t clear right from the get-go that the ribs were fractured. When he came back and there was a recurrence, I think it was just unavoidable, just one of those things. Josh Hamilton‘s going through the same thing in Texas right now.
All in all, it became a lost season for Jacoby. We certainly missed his contributions along the way. Importantly, I don’t think there’s any residue of this going forward. I don’t think these injuries are going to affect Jacoby’s career going forward. I expect him to pick up right where he left off when he comes back, and be a dynamic player, and our leadoff hitter and a guy who contributes offensively, defensively and on the bases. I don’t think there’s any residue whatsoever, or hard feelings.
When I think of Jacoby this year, I think of a guy who got hurt, went through some tough times along the way, and tried his best to come back and wasn’t able to because of the severity of the injuries. I think Jacoby’s going to take this year as a learning experience, work out this winter and come back. It’s not the way any of us saw the year going for him, but I don’t think it’s anything that will affect his career significantly going forward.
Was it a mistake to ask Ellsbury to move to left field? Did it affect his play?
I don’t think it did. Obviously, you can take the position that he wouldn’t have gotten kicked in the ribs had he not been in left, that type of thing can happen anytime on the field. Someone else would’ve gotten hit chasing that same ball, so I don’t look at it that way. The plan all along with Cameron was to start him in center field and start Jacoby in left. We were up front about this, we said this in spring training that there’d be a point, some point during the two years Mike was going to be here that they’d probably flip-flop, and Jacoby would end up back in center and Cameron would end up on one of the corners.
Neither guy stayed healthy. Mike really got hurt in spring training with the groin pull and the beginnings of the hernia and that affected his performance right from the get-go, and he eventually got shut down. Jacoby, we had on the field for like a week before that happened. No, I don’t regret that move, I’m not sure that’s the way it’s going to line up going forward, that’s something that we’ve got to discuss. I regret the way it played out, but I don’t think that move per se was a mistake.
Why do you think the confusion between the medical staff and players exists?
The confusion that you call it is not a reflection of the quality of our medical care, I don’t believe. I don’t think that either of those things are an indictment of the quality of care that we give. Mass General Hospital is one of the best hospitals in the world. Tom Gill is the head of their sports medicine department, he’s extremely qualified. I think the answer must lie somewhere in the communication mechanisms and how we handle medical information with the media.
Is there a way we can improve in that respect? Absolutely. And then another component of this, too, is how we handle the information with our players and the communication with our players. Are those areas in which we can we improve? Yeah, absolutely.
Anytime there’s either a problem or the perception of a problem ‘ and in this case I believe there’s a little bit of both ‘ it has to be addressed. All this ultimately falls under my responsibility. We look at the systems that we have in place, see if there’s any ways we can improve them, we did some of that during the year, made some adjustments in the type of communication that we have internally, and we’ll do some more of it this winter. It’s part of an ongoing process of getting better. But ultimately, I think our players have high-quality care with our set-up, and that’s the most important factor.
Is it safe to say that you’ll be back with the same medical set-up in 2011, in terms of the people in place, not the communication, the same staff in 2011 that you had in 2010?
Just in the same way I’m not going to discuss any player comings and goings in an interview like this, in a forum like this, I’m not going to discuss any internal staffing, either. I certainly believe in the people we have in place, and what will occur this winter is just a continuation of what already occurred during the season, which is to review of the system we have in place. Yeah, personnel is a part of that, but primarily, the system’s how we operate, how we communicate with one another, it’s responsible of how ultimately we get the job done together. We’ll see if there’s any improvements that we can make in that process.
Are you operating, or have you been operating, under budgetary restrictions that makes it hard for you to do your job?
We have tremendous resources, I think the second-highest payroll in baseball, a record payroll. Any insinuation that ownership’s not committed to winning or that we aren’t spending enough resources to win, I think those claims are completely baseless.
The only thing that’s a little different this year than maybe in previous years is we had a great opportunity in January to sign a player that we looked at almost as an in-season move in a way because it happened so late and because it pushed us to a club-record payroll, it pushed us to an area we hadn’t anticipated being in, to an area we had never been before. And that was Adrian Beltre.
We had a team that was pretty complete, I think we were ready to go with a team we knew we needed to make some in-season adjustments with, and then all of the sudden a player that we really liked for a long time was available under a contract that we thought was a real value, so ownership said go ahead, go ahead and do that. I think that’s typical of their attitude and approach. If there’s a way to make the team better, we’ll find a way to make it work.
That deal probably put us in a place we hadn’t expected to be in that early in the season. But again, there’s no hard limitations. Whenever there’s a way to make a team better, you’ll find an ownership group that’s willing and excited to make that happen. Do we have to be creative and find a little bit of money here and there if we do go above where we expected to be? Sure. But that’s like any business and any other ball club. Why didn’t we acquire a middle reliever is not because we didn’t have the money to do so. It’s because, as I mentioned earlier, there were only a handful of guys moved and we weren’t able to acquire those guys.
The substance of that as well as the timing of that, those aren’t things we really discuss publicly. No offense, you’ve heard this from us before,. The reason we don’t talk about it publicly, besides the fact that it’s a tough thing to have your contract negotiated in public or have information to come out publicly, the most important reason is that I just don’t think it helps get it done. If it doesn’t contribute to signing the player, keeping the player then we’re not going to discuss it publicly.
In a sense, the’ve already started, with some of the players we’ve had basic discussions during the course of the year, not real hard negotiations just basic discussions. It will pick up in large part as soon as the season ends. You’re right, we do have a number of very important players who are eligible for free agency this year, and I have a strong interest in retaining those players. So, we have a lot of work to do.
You’re on record as being a huge J.D. Drew fan. What’s your explanation for why he performed like he did this year?
I think it was just an off year for him. Certainly, the year he had, while respectable, didn’t live up to expectations and certainly didn’t approach the quality of his previous two seasons. Typically, J.D. will get really hot for a month or two and get locked in and really perform at an elite level offensively for that period and then performs well in the other months, and that all adds up to an excellent performance.
This year he never really got hot. He had a little trouble with the strike zone, if you look, his walk totals are down. For whatever reason, he just didn’t quite control the zone quite as well as he has in the past. I know that frustrated him. He wasn’t able to get locked in offensively at all. I think he probably would agree that the season didn’t live up to his previous years here, and to his expectations, and he’ll look forward to have a better year next year.
He did play his usual good defense in right field, which has value to us, especially in our ballpark. He did run the bases well and did some other things, but as far as his performance offensively and controlling the strike zone at the level he normally does, he didn’t do it quite as well this year, you’re right.
You grew up here, you know how this town works. Every town has lightning-rod guys. For the Red Sox, it’s J.D. Drew, Daisuke Matsuzaka, it used to be Manny Ramirez, Josh Beckett to a degree. Can you see why fans have a hard time embracing J.D. Drew and do you think he’s still an elite player.
We talked about that last year. In a year when he was hands-down one of the best outfielders in the game, as far as what he contributed ‘ just looking at last year in a vacuum ‘ and fans didn’t necessarily embrace him then, they’re certainly not going to this year, during a disappointing year. So, I think it has less to do with his performance and more to do with the perception of the people watching the game, as far as how he handles himself on the field.
I’m sorry, the characteristics that he displays on the field ‘ he’s not an emotional player, he’s not somebody who will throw his helmet, he’s not someone who will get too happy when we score the winning run, not someone who’s going to get too upset when things go badly. As far as how he shows it on the field, I think fans see that and they draw their own conclusions about how much the player cares. It’s not necessarily the case. It’s dangerous too draw conclusions about a player’s personality, let alone about his character, simply based on how he handles himself between the white lines.
Hey, it’s every fans right. I completely understand it. I did the same thing as I was growing up here. But it doesn’t necessarily make it accurate. And I think it can affect a player’s popularity, certainly. And I’ve even seen cases where it can affect a player’s performance, because if a player isn’t embraced by the fans, it can make it tougher to do his job.
Thankfully, I don’t think J.D. falls into that category, because I think he knows himself pretty well, knows what he’s all about and doesn’t get too caught up in how warmly he’s embraced anywhere. That said, when he plays well and helps the team win, he gets respect and appreciation from the fans. Ultimately, when we win, he’s part of a winning club. I think that’s what he and all our other guys are looking for.
At 34, do you think he still has the ability to be an elite player?
Yeah, I certainly do. We have him under contract for one more year. When you sign players in their 30s to free agent contracts, your typical expectation going in is for better performance earlier in the contract and not quite as good performance late. But it’s not a linear thing, and not every player lives up exactly to that aging curve year in and year out.
This is a guy who has played really good defense in right field throughout his contract, which is hard to find. And it’s especially hard to find in combination with a guy who gets on base 40 percent of the time and hits 20 homers and controls the strike zone. So, this year he played his good defense in right field. He’s going to end up with an .800 OPS and with numbers that are still above the league average, but not by much. No, he didn’t perform like an elite player offensively this year.
His track record is that he’s a guy who can get on base 40 percent of the time, can put up .900-plus OPS and do those types of things while playing good defense in right field. So, what’s he going to do next year? It’s anybody’s guess, but I expect it will be probably be better than what he did this year, and hopefully approaching the levels of what he did in 2008, 2009, and that will help us win.
When you look back on this season, what’s your biggest mistake and/or biggest regret?
I think we probably covered the biggest regret. When the injuries happened, we weren’t able to make a big trade to fill that gap, and especially with respect to the bullpen. We knew coming into the year that someone was going to have to emerge as the third guy. We were patient and hoping it would happen internally. When it didn’t, our clear intention was to upgrade from outside, and the fact that we weren’t able to do that is a disappointment.
With respect to the other positions and the injuries that occurred, I actually think we handled it pretty well internally. Looking back, I wouldn’t change how we handled the Pedroia injury. I don’t think there was a better candidate outside the organization to come in and fill ‘ well, no one could fill Pedey’s shoes ‘ but to play second base than what Jed Lowrie did. I don’t think a single middle infielder trade could have performed better than how Jed’s performed for us.
In the outfield, plugging in, while we expected Jacoby to be out, and Cameron went down, and [Ryan] Kalish and [Darnell] McDonald and Billy Hall to an extent ‘ all those guys performed pretty well.
So, if you look back on thing with regret, it would probably be the bullpen. But all in all, I think the biggest regret is, I wish we could rewind to right at the end of spring training, that feeling we talked about, that this team has lots of talent, has the ability to be one of the best offensive clubs in the league, one of the best pitching and defense clubs in the league. It happened offensively. It didn’t happen with our pitching and defense. Certainly we had our injuries mixed in. I just wish we could go back and replay it, stay a little healthier, pitch a little bit better, keep our defenders on the field, and I think you’re looking at a different result. So, that’s the big regret that we have organizationally.
Are you concerned about the trend and the results this season for Jonathan Papelbon?
I think two things you can certainly say about Pap: He didn’t perform this year at the level he performed earlier in his career, especially those peak years when he was far and away the best reliever in baseball. I think you can also say he’s still good, he still helps us win.
It was a tough year for him at times. There were some save situations when he didn’t come through. That’s the case for all closers. It probably happened a couple more times than any of us would have wanted, than Jonathan would have wanted. When that happens, the closer is going to become a bit of a lightning rod, as you said.
It wasn’t his best year. Do we still consider him a very good closer and someone who is capable of helping us win a lot of games? Absolutely. He’s under club control for one more year. We certainly hope that he can perform again as he did earlier in his career. But at the same time, we understand that’s almost an impossible standard. You’re talking about somebody who for a couple of years there was near perfect. This year he certainly wasn’t perfect. We just expect him going forward to be really good, and make some adjustments and make some improvements, and we think he’s going to do that.
How would you assess Daisuke’s season? If you look at the beginning of his career, very good. This year, not so good. What do you see?
Actually, ’09 was the disappointing, was the step back, and this year I think you’re going to look back in hindsight at this year as him starting to emerge from the issues that caught up to him in ’09. Obviously, ’07 he came over and threw 200 innings and won 15 games for us, performed really well, struck out over 200 hitters. It wasn’t exactly the way we expected it to be, but he was good ‘ 200 innings and helped us win a lot of games.
In 2008 he didn’t throw as many innings, but he was really hard to hit, contributed, had a sub-3.00 ERA and threw really well. Then ’09 was the disappointing year. I think he threw less than 60 or so innings and struggled with injuries and struggled with the WBC earlier in the year and never got on track. It was a disappointing and disturbing year.
We were troubled and concerned that it would carry over at the start of this spring training with the way his spring went, showing up with the injury. I think he did a good job of recovering from that. He obviously rehabbed it in April, worked extremely hard to get himself back in good condition, get his arm in good condition, take the ball every fifth day.
And then since he’s been back, it’s been ups and downs. It hasn’t been exactly what we’re looking for. He’s gone through some tough periods. He’s thrown some good games as well. All in all this year, it certainly didn’t live up to the standard he set in 2007 and 2008. But I believe we’ll look back on it as him pulling himself out of what troubled him in 2009.
He’s still evolving. His last start, he came out with a new pitch. He’s throwing a splitter, a much different version of his changeup than he had been using previously, and it showed some promise. But I think he’s still a guy who’s searching. He’s still guy trying to improve. While it wasn’t the year we were looking for per se, I do think there were things to build on this year going forward ‘ his ability to stay healthy, the velocity that he brought to the table, and some of the refinements, and some of the secondary pitches that he’s been working on lately.
How close are you to being a championship team again?
I think pretty close. This offseason presents us with a lot of challenges. But at the same time, it presents us with a lot of opportunities. You have to sort of be reasonable about everything. In a year that ends like this, sometimes there’s a tendency to look at all the issues and all the problems, and you think that you’re nowhere close to a championship team. Certainly there are elements to the team that are close to championship-caliber.
We have to completely fix the bullpen. We do have a lot of important position players who are eligible for free agency. We’re going to have to keep those guys or replace them or some combination thereof.
But then, you can’t let the way things happened to play out this year also cloud your judgment about what you have. We had one of the best two offenses in baseball this year. We had a pitching staff that coming into the year, the starting staff coming into the year we expected ‘ and I think just about every baseball person expected it to be if not the best in baseball then one of the two or three best in baseball. Some good things happened on that starting staff ‘ the continuation of Jon Lester’s dominance and Clay Buchholz‘ emergence. Clearly, there were some other issues that we discussed earlier that we have room for improvement on that stating staff as well.
I do think there’s some foundational pieces in place.. We have some young players who are going to contribute to the club next year ‘ Lowrie, [Felix] Doubront, [Jarrod] Saltalamacchia, maybe Kalish. And then another wave coming behind them, approximately 2012 ‘ [Casey] Kelly and [Jose] Iglesias and [Anthony] Rizzo and Lars [Anderson] and some bullpen arms and some young catchers.
Those pieces combined with the strong nucleus that we have, many of whom weren’t available for most of the year but will be next year ‘ the Youkilises and Pedroias of the world ‘ combined with what we do this winter, either retaining some of our best players, or perhaps bringing in some talent from outside the organization if we don’t retain those guys. I think it adds up to an organization that’s in really good position and not far away from a championship at all. In fact, we could very well win one next year, and that’s the goal.
How’s Ryan Westmoreland doing?
Thanks for asking, he’s doing exceptionally well, especially when you consider that he’s not that far removed from brain surgery that he had toward the end of spring training. He joined the Lowell team and the Greenville club the last week of the season and was in uniform and around the guys and did some baseball activities pregame.
Now he’s building on that down in the Florida Instructional League, where every day he’s doing a number of therapies and exercises, but also dressing out like a regular player and going through the dynamic warmup routine and doing some tee work and taking soft toss. He just started overhand toss and is about to part regular batting practice.
The amount of recovery that’s occurred in the last six months is just incredible. Just as significantly, his attitude and the courage that he’s shown throughout this process is unbelievable an incredibly inspirational for me and for those who get to be around him and the organization as a whole. If we could hold up one person to represent what we want the organization to be about ‘ his actions this year have made us all proud ‘ it would really be him.
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