FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For a few years now, the Red Sox have gone as far as Jon Lester and Josh Beckett have been able to take them. They have been the co-leaders of the pitching staff, and there is no more vital ingredient to the overall success of a team.

With time for reflection, Lester and Beckett both acknowledged on Sunday -- the reporting date for pitchers and catchers -- that they let the team down amid the 7-20 collapse last September.

They weren't just talking about the way they pitched. Lester and Beckett not only failed to perform well when the games mattered the most, but they also set less than an exemplary example for the rest of the pitching staff.

Both of them have taken it personally, admitting they let down the team and the ravenous fan base that follows it. They'd both like to make up for it by leading with their arms and attitudes.

"For me, I can only speak for myself here. I think that we had -- I had -- lapses in judgment," said Beckett. "I can't speak for everybody else. I want to keep it at that. I can't speak for Jon or John [Lackey] or Clay [Buchholz] or [Tim Wakefield] or anybody. We made mistakes in the clubhouse. That's about as far as I'll go talking about the clubhouse.

Be it drinking beer or eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during games they weren't pitching in, or, perhaps most importantly, failing to be on the bench supporting their teammates in the heat of battle, they know that they let people down.

"We both know we need to do a better job of being on the field and being around these guys more and instilling in these young guys that we do work hard and we do take this seriously, and we care," Lester said. "I think that's the biggest thing, is that we do care and we want to win."

Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine wasn't around for all that took place last September, but he's been impressed by what he's seen from his co-ace tandem in the early days of camp.

"Attitude filters down," Valentine said. "When you see Josh Beckett and Jon Lester here [early], they are at the top of the pyramid here as far as the pitchers are concerned. They came early and they've been showing fantastic attitude."

Both pitchers are aware that Red Sox fans were downright angry about September, not only with the failure to make the postseason, but over some of the stories that came out about life in the clubhouse.

"We need to earn that trust back," Beckett said. "I think that they're the best fans in baseball. There's some good, there's some bad, but they're the best fans in baseball. I mean, I definitely think we need to earn that trust back, and the way we've got to do that is just go about our business the way we have in previous years. Just earn it back and win ballgames."

"We didn't play very good. And with all of the other stuff added on top of that, it's obviously going to make it worse," said Lester. "I don't blame them for being mad. We stunk. I stunk. I take complete responsibility for it."

If you think the Red Sox lost some of their edge when they had that nine-game lead at the start of September, Lester doesn't disagree. He thinks it could be an invaluable live-and-learn experience.

"I don't think any of us had been through it," said Lester. "That's the biggest learning curve is going through situations. When you go through it the first time, you're naive.

"We're all saying, 'We're going to be fine, we're going to be fine.' I think kind of the mindset was, 'Well, we're going to be in the playoffs and we'll get there, and when we get there, everyone is going to come back and we'll be healthy and ready to go. We stunk, I stunk, and Tampa Bay was better. That was basically how it was.

"Now you put that in your [memory] bank. Just like your experiences in the World Series and the playoffs, and pitching in tight games in the Yankees series all year. You file those into your memory bank and when you get back into situations, you draw from it and learn from it and know, 'OK, I've been in this situation before. I know how to handle it."'

Beckett has long been the pitcher who has set the tone for the staff. So how did things deteriorate under his watch?

"I had things going on," Beckett said. "I got distracted. That was the biggest thing that, going forward, I would definitely change, is not to be distracted."

Beckett's wife gave birth to the couple's first child the day after the season ended. There might have been other distractions, too, but he didn't feel like getting into specifics on Sunday.

As for Lester, he turned 28 in January and knows that the time has come in his career where he needs to take on more leadership.

"It's something the guys in my age group have never really had to do because we've been around guys like Wake and [Jason Varitek] and had veteran guys who have been around a long time," said Lester. "We've just kind of sat back and let them do their thing and kind of follow them.

"I think it's time for us and me to step up and try to feel comfortable in that situation and try to just do the best I can. Hopefully just by me going out and pitching and doing the stuff I do in the weight room and in between starts, young kids can do that and say, 'Alright, well, this is what I need to do."'

The biggest thing Lester and Beckett wish they could change was the results of their September starts, which played a significant role in the Red Sox being eliminated on the final day for the regular season.

"I had one good start and one decent start [in September]," said Lester. "That's not good out of five in a month. It weighed on me pretty good this offseason. I think it's going to help me this year."

Beckett didn't say whether the sprained ankle he suffered in early September played a role in his sharp decline down the stretch. He just wishes things had gone a lot differently.

"I'm not saying we didn't make mistakes because we did make mistakes in the clubhouse," said Beckett. "But the biggest mistake we made was -- the biggest mistake I made -- was not pitching well in my last two starts against Baltimore. I was prepared to pitch every time I went out there. I just didn't execute pitches when I needed to."

But if they can both regain their grooves, perhaps the Red Sox can get back to the postseason for the first time since 2009.

"We want to bring getting back to the playoffs and hopefully winning the World Series back to this town again and show these fans that we are a good team," said Lester. "Obviously it leaves a bitter taste in everybody's mouth. I'm definitely motivated to get back and ready to go. It's been a long winter. I'm just excited to be here."

"Winning cures things," said Beckett. If we go 20-7 [this September], it'll be a little bit different as far as the atmosphere in the clubhouse. Winning is fun. Losing [is not]."