Bobby V shuffles deck and wins again
With Pedroia out, Sox players and their manager are stepping up in creative ways
BOSTON -- It's one of those nightly problems, to poach a line from Mr. Shaughnessy, that causes silos to explode in Bill James' home state of Kansas.
Bobby Valentine doesn't have the luxury of a computer in the dugout. It's just the Red Sox manager and his bench coach, Tim Bogar, rapidly calculating all the permutations that go into deciding how four go into three and when.
What is advanced algebra for Valentine and Bogar, meanwhile, is a source of amusement for the people most affected -- Adrian Gonzalez, Will Middlebrooks, Kevin Youkilis and, on Wednesday night, outfielder Ryan Sweeney.
"We joke around and say, 'Who's the one who's going to play the Little League game today, six innings?" Gonzalez said after a 6-4 victory over the Tigers, Boston's 14th win in its past 19 games, made for a clubhouse that can keep smiling even at a time when it doesn't know when the Human Pacemaker, Dustin Pedroia, will resume ticking.
The formula is never the same from one night to the next, Valentine admitted, although in this case it could not have worked out more to Boston's favor. After giving Middlebrooks the night off Tuesday, Valentine inserted the kid back in the lineup, moved Youkilis over to first, Gonzalez to right and Sweeney to the bench.
The outcome? Middlebrooks and Youkilis both hit home runs and Gonzalez, after arriving a half-tick too late to catch a game-tying double in the seventh -- this, after Valentine had taken him out for defensive purposes with a lead after six Monday night -- delivered a tie-breaking double in the bottom of the inning.
David Ortiz also hit his 12th home run, he and Middlebrooks (No. 6) both delivering two-run shots off Tigers lefty Drew Smyly in the fourth to wipe out an early 3-1 Detroit advantage. Ortiz hit his into the center-field bleachers. Middlebrooks followed with a laser that just cleared the left-field wall and was calculated by the mad scientists in Bristol as being the fastest home run in the majors to leave the premises: 2.84 seconds.
"Hmm," Middlebrooks said when apprised of that fact. "Cool. I knew I hit it good, I just didn't know if I hit it high enough. I thought it would hit the top of the wall. I was thinking, 'Don't get thrown out at second.'"
Faster than a speeding bullet? It looked that way from the third-base coach's box.
"Jerry Royster said if it had been hit at him, he wouldn't have had time to blink," said Valentine.
Valentine and Bogar, meanwhile, spend much of the game jockeying for time to think.
"With Bogie there, we're talking through it from the third inning on," said Valentine, who in the dark ages of this season proclaimed managers can have slumps but has yet to acknowledge that they can also go on a roll in which everything they do seems to break in their favor.
"Matchup, the bullpen, the swings, what could happen, how it might develop ... we have guys prepared to make the move we want to make," he said.
Valentine decided with the Sox holding a 4-3 lead in the sixth that his bullpen, a bit on the tired side, might not be able to maintain that advantage. With fresher arms Monday night, he'd lifted Gonzalez after six. Wednesday night?
"We looked at each other in the sixth and said, 'Do we do it now?' I said, 'No, too early, he's going to get up again.'"
A faster outfielder than Gonzalez (say, Sweeney) might have reached Miguel Cabrera's two-out blooper down the right-field line in time to make an inning-ending catch. Gonzalez, a man of measured pace, arrived just ahead of the converging Nick Punto, who had sprinted out from second base.
"I took a couple peeks at [Punto] to see if he was going to get there," Gonzalez said. "When I realized he wasn't, that's when I went full steam ahead.
"I caught it at first, but when my elbow hit the ground, it popped out. I don't practice those too often."
Of course he doesn't. He's a first baseman! But Valentine was mighty glad that he'd kept Gonzalez in the lineup when Daniel Nava wrangled a two-out walk from Tigers reliever Octavio Dotel. Mike Aviles followed with a ground ball single, bringing Gonzalez to the plate one more time.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland countered with a lefty, Phil Coke, and Gonzalez -- with a sweeping swing -- launched a drive over the head of Tigers right-fielder Brennan Boesch, who appeared to give up on the ball, which landed in open country and bounced over the fence for a ground-rule double.
"He hit it over the fence on one hop," Valentine said. "That's enough. I should have pinch run for him."
A minor oversight. Sweeney was in right for the eighth, though it was the center fielder, Marlon Byrd, who made the diving catch to quell a potential Tiger uprising against lefty Andrew Miller after Miller had devoured the first two batters of the inning on strikes.
And for the final three outs, Valentine went Pavlovian. He sees ninth inning, he calls Alfredo Aceves, working for the fourth straight night.
Maybe Aceves' sturdy right arm will be ground beef come August. For now, he just goes with the program. Three up, three down, slap a few hands, call it a night. Thirteen saves for the man they call Ace.
"Aceves is like our pitching Pedroia," Valentine said. "Just wind him up, 'Are you OK?' 'I'm great.'"
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The Red Sox are not yet great, but they've been awfully good, now two games over .500 with a bullet and just 2½ games out of first place in the AL East. They hadn't taken this long to get over the break-even point since the 1996 team played into August before arriving there, and no team since the 1914 Sox had lost six straight times when they'd had a chance to climb into the plus column.
And, need we mention, they are now 2-0 since Pedroia was diagnosed with a torn adductor muscle in his right thumb. Pedroia was limited to stirring up the dugout all night long.
"We need him healthy," said Punto, who hopes that some regular playing time at second will give him the timing necessary to break out of a 6-for-47 funk playing piecemeal.
"We've got to get him healthy. He's one of those superstars who's very unique. He wants to play through all injuries," added Punto. "I don't know how bad he's hurting. I know he wants to be back on that field. We've just got to get him healthy."
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