By Neil Keefe
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The Yankees have had inconsistent pitching and hitting to begin the season, and when you mix in some of Joe Girardi’s questionable lineup choices and managerial decisions, well you get a 7-6 record. But up north, Bostonians would trade their situation for a couple of games of Eduardo Nunez in the middle of the infield and a few too many pitching changes if it meant relieving them of the Bobby Valentine show.
With the rivalry resuming for the first time in 2012 there was only one thing to do, and that’s an email exchange with Mike Hurley of CBS Boston to find out just how bad things are in Boston with the Yankees arriving for the weekend.
Keefe: So, we meet again (via our email inboxes). The last time we talked was back at the beginning of March when we both shared our mutual disrespect and dislike for Bobby Valentine. I think it was the first time we agreed on anything since that time you finally admitted to me that Eli Manning is a better quarterback than Tom Brady.
When the Red Sox announced the hiring of Bobby Valentine, I had visions of the 2012 Red Sox being the September 2011 Red Sox on HGH, but you never really think things are going to go out of hand the way you hope. I imagined clubhouse chemistry issues and verbal abuse between the manager and his players in the media. I daydreamed about Ben Cherington and Valentine getting into a shouting match and then throwing haymakers at each other as they rolled around the ground like you see in the WorldStarHipHop fight videos, and most importantly I hoped for a lack of success on the field and losses mounting in the standings. My prayers, wishes and dreams have come true.
Bobby Valentine has been a disaster through 12 games as Red Sox manager. His team is 4-8 and he’s made questionable managerial decisions along with calling out his third baseman and one of the two players left from the 2004 World Series team (even if Kevin Youkilis was as much a part of that team as you were). He has been booed at Fenway Park and laughed at on TV, on the radio and in print. And now on Friday, he will see the Yankees for the first time as the manager of the Red Sox, but before the game starts, the organization will honor the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park by bringing back important figures in the team’s history. This includes Terry Francona.
There’s no doubt that the ovation for Francona will be the loudest thing at Fenway since Curt Schilling, Derek Lowe and Tim Wakefield walked from the dugout to the bullpen to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” for extra innings of Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS. And after Francona gets showered with cheers, applause, a standing ovation and “We want Terry” chants, there will be a baseball game to be played between two rivals, which will only magnify the job of Bobby Valentine. (The more I write about this, the bigger the smile on my face gets.)
The only thing that can help Bobby Valentine win over Boston is winning. No one cares about his personality or his postgame quotes or his baseball “geniuses.” People care about winning and so far he hasn’t shown anyone that he is capable of this through 12 games.
Will Bobby Valentine ever be loved in Boston? And how awkward is the scene on Friday at Fenway going to be with every Red Sox fan in attendance (and at home around New England) wishing Francona would put in a chew, put on a Red Sox hat and manage the game while Bobby V sits there and gives a half-hearted clap for the ex-manager?
Hurley: Hey. Neil. Good to see you.
We most certainly agreed that Bob Valentine (the man is 60, can we drop the “Bobby” baloney?) was a bad idea for Boston. He’s been out of the majors for a decade and he proved on a weekly basis last year on ESPN that he doesn’t follow baseball enough to be considered someone with expertise in the subject. Yet there he is, hired to run the team with the third-highest payroll, in a city with psychotic fans who were already mad as hell from the events of last September. The odds are staked against him to succeed here.
But like you said, winning would cure a lot of that. Unfortunately for Bob, four wins in 12 games isn’t quite going to cut it.
Sure, you could point to the suspect roster given to him ($173 million just doesn’t seem to go as far as it used to these days), but you have to look at his in-game management thus far. I believe he himself has lost two out of the last three games. He let Daniel Bard, a reliever making his second big league start, stay in the game after four straight balls to Carlos Pena. Guess what he did next?! He threw four straight balls to Evan Longoria to walk in a run. The Red Sox lost 1-0.
Then on Wednesday, I saw a scene I’ve never before witnessed. I saw a reliever come into a 3-2 game and load the bases. The manager left him in the game, and he hit Craig Gentry in the foot. Craig Gentry is not a very good baseball player, and Morales couldn’t even get him out. But Valentine left him in! And Franklin Morales … served up a bomb to Mike Napoli. Because Valentine may have been sleeping in the dugout, a 3-2 deficit jumped to a 6-2 hole in a matter of minutes. It was truly some of the worst managing I’ve ever seen at this level.
As for Francona, he’ll get the reception and thanks he deserves and earned over his eight years in Boston, and that’s a good thing. I don’t think Valentine will feel too awkward though. I’m pretty sure he thinks he’s the man, no matter what.
Keefe: Over the weekend the Red Sox dominated the Rays in the first three games of the series, and had a three-game winning streak going and it looked like they were going to get back on track the way they did at the beginning of last year. Then Bob V went and opened his mouth and called out Youkilis for no real reason. Sure, Youkilis hasn’t been good this year, but who is Bob V, who has been in Boston for nine games at the time to go and call out Youkilis? And then to make matters worse, when called out about his callout, Bob V decides to cover up his comments with a terrible excuse saying that he was only answering a question, and was in fact sticking up for Youkilis and trying to “smooth” something over. What that something is, I’m not sure, but can I offer you some crazy pills?
Dustin Pedroia responded with some jabs at Bob basically saying that he has been around for nine games and this isn’t Japan a subtle shot that I enjoyed that made fun of Bob’s time managing in Japan while no team in Major League Baseball valued or wanted his services. So after winning three games, Bob V turned the clubhouse on him and the fans who will always back the players.
What I don’t get is why Bob V is everywhere. He’s on every sports media format and outlet up and down the coast. He’s everywhere! And since he is everywhere and always accessible to the media he says a lot of ridiculous and stupid things and then gets testy when people call him on it. But I guess I will just keep enjoying the ride and the circus as the Red Sox are 0-3 since his timely ripping of Youkilis.
Hurley: Pedroia’s response was just so fantastic. I can’t say enough about it. “Maybe in Japan or something, but over here, the U.S., we’re on a three-game winning streak.” The guy is just the best.
And Bob V’s backtracking was just disgraceful. He said he was just answering a question, as if that gave him free reign to question a player’s physical abilities and mental focus. And worst of all, he said his initial comments on Youkilis were just him “trying to smooth it over.” I don’t know exactly which world Valentine lives in, but it sounds like a nice place.
Keefe: Good old Bob Valentine. I’m glad there’s something that brings us together, and I’m glad that something is the leader of the sports team I hate most.
When I heard that Andrew Bailey was going to be out for months and that the Red Sox would go to an Alfredo Aceves-Mark Melancon tandem to try to finish off games, I sprinted down 6th Avenue and rolled around like Theo Fleury after his game-winner in the ’91 playoffs. Aceves?! Melancon?! Has anyone making decisions in Boston seen them pitch? I know that Aceves is a jack-of-all-trades that served as Ramiro Mendoza Part II in the Yankees’ World Series run in 2009, but his stuff isn’t exactly end-of-the-game stuff. (Yankees fans found this out in extra innings in Game 3 of the 2009 ALCS.) As for Melancon, he was traded to the Astros for the Ghost of Lance Berkman in 2010 (a year before Berkman saw a picture of himself and realized he was a slob and decided to recommit himself to the game and then won the World Series with the Cardinals) and he had success in the NL Central for a team that won 56 games and finished 40, yes 40 games back in the division. So there wasn’t a whole lot of something called “pressure” or “high-leverage situations” for Melancon.
Now to your credit, you were against the bullpen decisions when made, and rightfully so after we watched the Tigers rip the duo apart and then the Rangers went ahead and punched Melancon’s ticket to Pawtucket on Tuesday night with a reenactment of the 1999 Home Run Derby at Fenway. There’s a good chance the Red Sox are going to need big outs from some combination of Aceves and Vicente Padilla and Matt Albers and Scott Atchinson and Franklin Morales and Justin Thomas (?) and yes even the legendary Junichi Tazawa this weekend against the Yankees. (Typing those names was like playing through a blackjack heater while increasing my bets.) Is this the worst bullpen in Major League Baseball?
Hurley: I think you’re being a little unfair to Mark Melancon. The guy’s ERA is only 49.50. It could be much worse. Who cares that he’s only retired six of the 18 batters he’s faced this year for a 6.00 WHIP? What if his ERA was 64.50 and he had only retired six out of 25 batters? That would be worse, wouldn’t it?
I don’t dislike Aceves as a closer. He doesn’t have electric stuff, per se, but he works fast, throws hard and pitches to weak contact. I anticipate he’ll be 85 percent as effective as Jonathan Papelbon was, so all things considered, he’s not that bad.
The rest of the bullpen, however, is. I refer to Scott Atchison as “Everyone’s Uncle Scott,” because he could sit down at everyone’s family dinner and just look like someone’s uncle instead of a professional athlete, or just “A Guy,” because he just looks like any guy. That guy, who was DFA’d in January, has pitched four times already. That tells you all you need to know about the state of the Red Sox bullpen.
(I’m pretty sure they just made up a person named “Justin Thomas” when the season started, kind of like a David Webb-Jason Bourne situation. They found a carpenter or something in Fort Myers and asked if he was free to travel to Detroit. “Son, you’re a major league reliever now.” He’s also pitched four times and has a 7.36 ERA.)
I can’t say with any degree of certainty right now that it’s the worst bullpen in the majors, but I can see it’s the absolute worst among teams that actually spend money to build rosters. That’s for certain.
Keefe: I thought things were bad, but I think you just made me realize they’re much worse. I don’t even think we’re going to have to talk about the Yankees at all in this email exchange because there’s just so many great qualities about the Red Sox right now that we might be able to save Mark Teixeira’s “bad luck” and Joe Girardi’s over-managing for another day.
Let’s make our way to the Red Sox rotation where Jon Lester pitched well twice and then got rocked, Josh Beckett might be turning back the clock to 2010 (or hopefully 2006), Clay Buchholz has been OK and Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard have been alright in their first two starts as part of a rotation full-time for the first time. We could actually make the case I think that Doubront has been the Red Sox’ best pitcher to this point, but he might not hold the belt for too long because I have an Avicii-like feeling that the slumping middle of the Yankees order is going to come alive against him this weekend.
Starting pitching is the one area where I can’t really talk so much since CC Sabathia has been his usual April self, Hiroki Kuroda has been A.J. Burnett-esque, Phil Hughes has been pitcher he has been since the second half of 2010, Freddy Garcia is close to retiring to a beach home in Florida and playing golf and fishing everyday and that leaves Ivan Nova who is 2-0 and has been the best starter. Meanwhile Bartolo Colon is 3-1 for the A’s, making just $2 million and shut out the Angels for eight innings on Wednesday by throwing 38 consecutive strikes at one point. Who would have thought I would be longing for the return of Bartolo Colon to the Bronx?
At least the Yankees have Michael Pineda and Andy Pettitte on their way to stabilize this shaky rotation though we can’t say the same for your team. But I guess you shouldn’t worry too much about your rotation since Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was referred to as the best No. 5 starter in the history of baseball last year by a Boston outlet could return this season. Did the sweet sounds of “Sweet Caroline” just get a little sweeter for you?
Hurley: GOOD TIMES NEVER SEEMED SO GOOD!
Let me just tell you that I spent Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Fenway this week. It was 16-2 in the middle of the eighth on Tuesday, and there were only about 4,000 people left in Fenway Park. I’d estimate that 3,000 of them stayed just to sing that godforsaken song and then leave. Do these people have iTunes? Or a CD player? Go home and listen to Neil Diamond. You don’t have to pay $80 for a ticket and another $80 on Bud Light to sing the damn song.
Sorry about that. But you brought it up.
I love Freddy Garcia for being totally pissed about Andy Pettitte’s return, as if one good season out of nowhere earned Garcia a rotation spot over a five-time World Series legend.
As far as the Red Sox rotation goes, I think it’s far too early to say anything too positive or negative about anyone. Bard has been a pleasant surprise, I’d say, and Doubront’s start hasn’t been entirely surprising. I think he’s capable of putting together a few good starts, but by the end of the year, he’ll probably have just as many stinkers.
Beckett and Lester will be fine, and the glorious return of Daisuke could actually be a boost. Saying that with a straight face, though, tells you how suspect the situation is to begin with.
I don’t really remember what question you asked or if you even asked one, so I hope that works for you. I’m going to go listen to Neil Diamond on repeat. BUM BUM BAHHH!!!
Keefe: “Where it began? I can’t begin to knowin’ but then I know it’s growing strong.”
I didn’t really ask a question. I just sort of said that the Red Sox aren’t very good and you just confirmed it.
I’m glad you have finally come around on what Fenway Park has become. I know you probably already felt the way you currently do about Fenway, but I think this is the first time it’s been said publicly or documented and I’m glad to be a part of it.
Freddy Garcia is a weird case. He did pitch well for the Yankees last season, but against the league’s best teams he struggled and then he failed in his postseason start in Game 2 of the ALDS, which was supposed to be Game 3. Now this year he has gotten lit up by the Orioles thanks to five wild pitches, but got bailed out by the Yankees offense before getting beat up by the Twins. So after two awful performances against two of the worst offenses in the league, I’m expecting a disaster at Fenway on Saturday, and I’m relieved to have a wedding to attend, so that I don’t have to see Garcia give CPR to the Red Sox’ season. Actually the wedding is at 2 p.m. and gets over at 10 p.m., so when you factor in the game starting at 4 p.m. and being a FOX game, I should be home in time for the third inning.
Is there any doubt that the Yankees are going to revive the Red Sox this weekend? I don’t think there should be. Last season when the teams met the Red Sox were 0-6, but they beat up on Phil Hughes on a Friday afternoon and then Josh Beckett dominated on Sunday Night Baseball. In 2010, the Red Sox opened the season with a win over the Yankees thanks to Joe Girardi’s decision to have Chan Ho Park pitch in the seventh inning to Dustin Pedroia. And who could forget when the Red Sox started the year 8-0 against the Yankees winning in just about every way possible to win a baseball game? At 4-8, I fully expect the Red Sox to find themselves this weekend despite not having either Lester or Beckett scheduled to pitch.
This brings up another point: Is possibly moving Lester up to pitch on Sunday night since he only threw 80 pitches on Tuesday against the Rangers a panic move by Valentine?
“Was in the spring, and spring became the summer, who’d have believed you’d come along?”
Hurley: SWEEETTT CAARRROOOLLLIIINNEEE!!
Maybe we haven’t discussed it publicly before, but Fenway’s been that way for a while now. Part of it is that it just comes from winning, but the other part is that going to Fenway and being a part of that whole “scene” has become a phenomenon. There was a woman in a row in front of me on Wednesday night who spent the entire game playing Draw Something on her phone. Her seat cost $94. And she probably bragged to everyone the following day that she went to the game. I can’t explain it, and as someone who just loves watching baseball, it’s devastating to witness. There are plenty of good fans left, but it’s just become more difficult for them to get into the park to actually see baseball.
I don’t think moving Lester up to Sunday would be necessarily a panic move. For one, you always want your ace going against the Yankees, but you also have special circumstances surrounding it. Bard was stretched a little too long on Monday (thanks to Bob V.), and Lester barely made it to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, so you’ve got a slightly overworked Bard in his first year as a starter and a greatly underworked Lester. It’s something that just sort of makes sense, so I wouldn’t look at it as a panic move.
You might see a close series this weekend, like you say, but I fear you’re not fully understanding the state of the Red Sox’ lineup without Jacoby Ellsbury. Cody Ross batted cleanup on Wednesday. Jason Repko has made two starts this week. Nick Punto was used as a pinch hitter. Darnell McDonald is hitting .083. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is hitting .080. Even Kevin Youkilis is hitting .184.
The short version of that is that there’s no reason to believe the Yankees won’t win two out of three this weekend at least. But hey, at least we’re both heading in with opposite expectations. It’s nice that we not agree about everything.
Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilKeefe