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Sunday, April 8, 2012
Bobby V: 'Trying to figure out what to do'

By Gordon Edes



DETROIT -- Bobby Valentine played roulette with his lineup, and won.

Not sure what you call the game he played with his bullpen -- blind man's bluff, perhaps -- and he lost.

Alfredo Aceves gave up a three-run home run to Miguel Cabrera to tie the score in the ninth, and after the Red Sox scored two in the 11th to take a 12-10 lead, Mark Melancon gave up three runs, the last two on a walk-off home run by Tigers catcher Alex Avila as Detroit send the Sox to a 13-12 loss and 0-3 start to the season.

This is the first time ever the Red Sox have lost a game in which they twice held multiple-run leads in the ninth inning or later, according to Elias.

"Hanging curveball,'' said Melancon, who was waiting for reporters with an icepack on his shoulder. "It was a hanger and he hit it out.''

"It would have been nice to get a win. Just frustrating. Got down to the last strike, made one bad pitch, and that team is good enough to do that.''

Melancon was asked if the task becomes even more difficult trying to make a good impression on a new team.

"We've really jelled together and I don't feel like that was an issue at all,'' he said. "Just comes down to making good pitches and I didn't do that.''

Two walk-off losses in three games?

"They're obviously a good team, but we didn't get that [win] today, and that's on my shoulders. I need to stay aggressive and not let these affect me, and keep going ... if I can ever sleep.''

For the first time in 80 years (1933), the Red Sox have opened back-to-back seasons with an 0-3 record. Last season, they lost their first six.

And it is now open season on who the Sox closer will be.

"We're trying to figure out what to do,'' Valentine said of a bullpen configuration that lost its linchpin when Andrew Bailey underwent thumb surgery. "We'll keep it a work in progress. We're three games into this thing.''

Ignoring the numbers that suggested Nick Punto had no business batting leadoff (.169 career in that slot), Valentine sat Kevin Youkilis, dropped Jacoby Ellsbury to the 2-hole, and wrote Punto's name at the top of his lineup card.

“See if it gives us a little spark,'' Valentine said before the game. "He’s a sparky kind of player, battles everyone.’’

Punto responded with three hits and a sacrifice fly, breaking a 10-10 tie in the 11th with an RBI single. Dustin Pedroia singled home another run, and Valentine brought in Melancon to see if he could finish off the Tigers.

He couldn't. Melancon retired the first batter he faced, Brennan Boesch, on a roller to first, but Cabrera lined a single to right, and Prince Fielder slapped a ground ball through a vacated left side of the infield to put the tying runs on base. Cabrera took third on a wild pitch and scored on a sacrifice fly by Delmon Young to make it, 12-11.

Melancon then went to 2-and-2 on Avila to put Valentine within one strike of his first win as Sox manager.

It didn't come, as Avila lined the next pitch into the first rows of the right-field bleachers for the winner.

If the Red Sox decide to make a change at closer, it would not be the first time the Red Sox made such a move one weekend into the season.

Bobby Valentine
So far when Bobby Valentine has turned to his bullpen, he hasn't found much relief.
In 2006, Terry Francona was the one with the quick hook, replacing one-time World Series star Keith Foulke on the team’s opening trip to Texas with a brash kid by the name of Papelbon. That one worked out all right.

Valentine does not have such an obvious alternative to Aceves, but considering Aceves has yet to retire a batter in his first two appearances as closer, turning a tie game into a loss and an almost-certain win into extra innings, his hold on the job has to be tenuous at best.

What should have been an easy save -- a three-run lead, three outs to go -- turned into a seven-pitch catastrophe, as Aceves went single, single and monster three-run home run on his first delivery to Cabrera. The home run, Cabrera’s third in two games, tied the score at 10 and sent the game into extra innings.

In Thursday’s opener, Aceves entered with two on in the ninth, hit the first batter he faced, then gave up a winning single to Austin Jackson.

Granted, those were difficult circumstances. This was different, as the Sox took a 10-7 lead into the ninth behind four terrific innings of relief from Vicente Padilla and a tie-breaking two-run homer by Adrian Gonzalez, Boston’s first home run of the season.

It started with that man Jackson again, the Tigers’ center fielder reaching base for the 10th time this series with an opposite-field single to right. Boesch followed with a ground ball up the middle that a sprawling Pedroia gloved, but could not make a play on.

Aceves’s next pitch to Cabrera cut the heart of the plate and landed deep in the left-field bleachers, and Comerica Park was turned into an Easter Sunday revival meeting. Valentine made a long, slow walk to the mound to retrieve Aceves, bringing in left-hander Franklin Morales, who struck out Prince Fielder and retired Delmon Young and Avila.

Extra innings. Had the game ended in regulation, the storyline would have been straightforward:

Rejiggered lineup, resuscitated bats, revelatory reliever.

Valentine, paying no heed to prior track records, installed Punto as his leadoff man and gave Darnell McDonald a start against a right-hander while sitting Youkilis.

Carmine may have short-circuited, but the Sox offense, held to a total of two runs the first two games, lit up the scoreboard with 17 hits, including three apiece by David Ortiz and Mike Aviles, and their first home run of the season, the blast by Gonzalez that broke a 7-7 tie in the sixth.

The man who made that lead stand up was one Vicente Padilla, the much-traveled Nicaraguan whom the Sox took a flyer on this winter, much like the Yankees did with Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon last season.

Padilla was an early candidate for the starting rotation until he tweaked a hamstring, but on Sunday afternoon, in his longest relief outing in 11 years, he held the Tigers scoreless on two hits over four innings.

Padilla, who has a well-earned reputation for using opposing hitters for target practice, also exercised great restraint after Tigers reliever Phil Coke drilled Gonzalez with a pitch, one pitch after his first delivery went behind Gonzalez’s head, in the eighth.

Plate umpire Dan Iassogna issued warnings to both benches, and Padilla came out for the bottom of the inning and stuck to business, setting down the Tigers in order.

Coke hit Gonzalez in apparent retaliation for Red Sox reliever Matt Albers hitting Fielder in the calf in the seventh inning Saturday, after Fielder homered in his previous two at-bats.

Punto drove in two runs with a sacrifice fly and infield hit, McDonald walked, singled and scored twice, and catcher Kelly Shoppach twice was hit by a pitch and scored a run.

Aviles, hitless in six trips to open the season, doubled home two runs in the second and singled home another in Boston’s five-run third against Tigers starter Max Scherzer.

Ellsbury, who had been hitless in his first eight at-bats, singled home a run in that inning and later doubled and scored in the sixth.

But Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz, making his first start since last June 16 because of a stress fracture in his lower back, struggled mightily, giving up four runs in the first, another in the second and two more in the fourth. His yield of seven runs on eight hits and two walks made it two games in a row in which the Sox starter gave up seven runs without pitching five innings. Josh Beckett gave up five home runs in 4 2/3 innings Saturday.