Commentary

'I think we've hit bottom'

Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine hopes things can't get any worse

Updated: April 22, 2012, 6:07 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- He had joked that so far no one had tried to run him over when he was riding through town on his bike.

But that was before a game that will make anyone's short list of the ugliest losses in Red Sox history, a blown nine-run lead and a 15-9 loss to the Yankees that one quick-thinking tweeter from New York instantly dubbed "The Bobby Valentine's Day" Massacre.

Bobby Valentine, are you sure you really want this job?

[+] EnlargeNick Swisher
AP Photo/Michael DwyerNick Swisher and Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia watch Boston's lead evaporate in the seventh inning.

"Absolutely," he said. "This is my job. If they said it was going to be only for the good days, I probably wouldn't have come. Challenges are great."

Challenges are one thing. But Valentine is not so much facing a challenge as an invitation to be pilloried by a town with vast experience in expressing its displeasure, from hanging Quakers on the Common to garroting Grady Little even before he took off his uniform.

"I think we've hit bottom," Valentine said. "I told [the team] after the game, 'You have to sometimes hit bottom.' If this isn't bottom, we'll find some new ends to the earth, I guess."

This week began with Valentine's ill-timed remark questioning the commitment of one of the team's most respected stars, Kevin Youkilis, which prompted another star, Dustin Pedroia, to call out the manager for not keeping his thoughts in-house. That was followed by five straight losses at home, culminating in a party-spoiling defeat on Fenway's centennial and then a nationally televised implosion Saturday against the Yankees, leading to a postgame closed-door meeting with the team's owners.

His players were beyond mortified.

"It sucked," shortstop Mike Aviles said. "No other way to talk about it. The game sucked. That shouldn't happen.

"Hit bottom? In all honesty, I don't want to see if it gets any worse. Baseball hasn't been all that great right now for us."

They were also something less than stand-up in their response to the debacle, abdicating their leadership roles in favor of making a quick exit.

"I've got nothing for you guys," Dustin Pedroia said as he dressed and hurried out of the clubhouse.

David Ortiz was just as anxious to leave, followed in short order by Adrian Gonzalez. "Not talking today," Ortiz said as he put his hat on and walked away.

But Ortiz did offer one telling critique. "It's [expletive] embarrassing. Put it down like that."

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If there was any doubt as to who the vox populi hold responsible for the disgraceful start to a season of supposed renewal, it was erased in the eighth inning Saturday afternoon. Boos came cascading down on Valentine as he slowly walked to the mound to take out Alfredo Aceves, who had been summoned to protect a 9-8 lead in the eighth and had allowed all six batters he faced to reach base.

Aceves' retreat to the dugout went uncommented upon by the crowd of 37,839. But when Valentine made his way back, the boos accompanied his every step.

"I've been booed in a couple of countries, two different stadiums," he said. "I don't want to be booed. I want the good decisions. This didn't work out."

Valentine has called his own pitching decisions into question already several times this season -- including a couple of times this week, one when he left in Daniel Bard to walk home the only run of the game in a 1-0 Patriots Day loss to the Rays, another when he left Franklin Morales to try and work his way out of a jam against the Rangers that turned into a five-alarm fire.

But he also has been saddled with a pitching staff that ranks last in the majors, and a bullpen that so far has resembled a collection of overmatched mop-up men. The man he expected to be his closer, Andrew Bailey, had thumb surgery. Mark Melancon, ostensibly his setup man, pitched his way back to the minors after the Rangers took him deep three times in the span of four batters, one home run bashed farther than the one preceding it. One of his left-handed relievers, Justin Thomas, was expected to be inventory in Pawtucket, not pitching to guys wearing pinstripes.

That's just the pitching staff. Valentine is still waiting on Carl Crawford, who remains in Florida rehabbing, and has already lost MVP runner-up Jacoby Ellsbury to an injury that will sideline him for weeks, if not months.

Call in the cavalry? Sure, if that's what you want to call Ellsbury's latest replacement, Marlon Byrd and his .070 batting average.

"Despite what happened today," GM Ben Cherington said, "there's a lot of quality on this pitching staff, guys that can be successful and will be successful."

That statement is not going to gain a lot of traction with a team ERA of 6.68, the worst in the majors.

And Aceves? He was nowhere to be found after Saturday's game, and while he appeared to be constitutionally qualified to handle the crucible of closing, the results tell a far different story.

"A lot of good things happened out there," Valentine said, "and they won't be lost in the shuffle."

Yes, Felix Doubront pitched six terrific innings, and Ortiz reached base five times on four singles and a walk, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia had four hits, which was one more than he'd had coming into the game.

All good, yes. But all afterthoughts on a day of embarrassment on an epic scale.

"This is a psychological situation," Valentine said. "Last year was a toll. Losing Ellsbury was a toll. You've got to be tough.

"I think we're a tough team," he said. "We'll find out."

Just in case they're not, however, Valentine might consider wearing body armor the next time he decides to take a spin.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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