- Gordon Edes, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- Well, that kind of seals the deal, doesn't it?
No, we're not talking about the Boston Red Sox's 6-4 win Sunday afternoon over the Minnesota Twins, which spared them the embarrassment of being swept at home, though Veni, Vidi Vicente Padilla gave up two ninth-inning home runs as an encore to Joe Mauer's crusher off Alfredo Aceves the night before, proving that even guys who don't hate him can take him deep.
It was the somber postgame admission by David Ortiz that his strained Achilles tendon still hurts plenty, almost three weeks after he went on the disabled list, and it isn't getting better any time soon. Sure makes you wonder if there might have been benefit for Ortiz to remain in his protective boot a while longer, instead of entertaining the fiction of coming back when he was eligible to come off the disabled list.
But those kinds of mistakes don't happen around here, remember? (See Jacoby Ellsbury, fractured ribs; Dustin Pedroia, fractured foot.) And as long as we're speaking about Ellsbury, did you catch Bobby Valentine's explanation this weekend when asked about the discrepancy between the manager saying Ellsbury sat out Saturday with a "leg issue" when other reports said it was a groin issue? "He doesn't like to have [injury] things mentioned," Valentine said. Now isn't that rich?
Ortiz's return was supposed to serve as the catalyst to a grand stretch run designed to carry the Red Sox to postseason glory, in a repeat of what the St. Louis Cardinals did last season. The Cardinals were 8½ games out of the wild card on Sept. 5 with 21 games left and went 16-5 the rest of the way. Of course, the Cards needed an historic collapse by Atlanta to make it, just as the Tampa Bay Rays needed the Sox to implode. And with so much congestion in the standings, the Sox would need multiple car wrecks in front of them to slip by.
Besides, the alleged cavalry has made more appearances around here than in a John Wayne film festival, to negligible effect. All the Sox needed was Ellsbury back. Wait till Carl Crawford gets it going, and Clay Buchholz can swallow his food again. All those things have happened, and the Red Sox are still just one step ahead of the shoeshine, two steps away from the county line, just trying to keep the customers satisfied (sorry, Paul Simon). Which, in this case, means trying to keep a record sellout streak going when it's August and you're barely out of last place.
The Red Sox are 11-12 since the All-Star break, which is when Ellsbury and Crawford returned, and have been outscored 112-98 in that span. They are 12-18 since July 1, when they were five games over .500, their high-water mark on the season. They are 26-33 against teams in the American League with a winning record. That includes the Texas Rangers, who arrive here Monday night having beaten Boston in four out of five while outscoring the Sox by a 39-12 margin, which is the baseball equivalent of Team USA/Nigeria.
And now, no Ortiz for the foreseeable future, keeping Valentine's streak intact of not once submitting the lineup card he thought he'd have when the season began. Of the 18 games the Sox have played since Ortiz strained his Achilles running ahead of Adrian Gonzalez's home run, the Sox have scored three runs or fewer nine times.
With Ortiz out, only Gonzalez has put up big numbers since the team began July with high hopes. After his two hits, including a home run, and three RBIs on Sunday, Gonzalez is batting .396 in his past 28 games, with 5 home runs, 23 RBIs and 17 runs scored. No wonder the Los Angeles Dodgers asked about acquiring Gonzalez before the trading deadline, as we reported on Tuesday. And no wonder those talks gained no traction with the Red Sox.
Incredibly, 11 other Sox players entered play Sunday with an on-base percentage under .300 in that stretch, including the second baseman, shortstop, third baseman, left fielder, center fielder, right fielder and all three catchers. Nine players had a batting average of .250 or lower in that time.
Gives you pause that the Valentine apologists have it right, and that this team's ability was oversold, especially in light of the never-ending injuries. Water rises to its own level, and as the seldom-used Nick Punto noted Saturday, this team is playing very mediocre baseball.
There are no statistics, of course, that can measure the impact a manager has on performance. Well, there is one: a team's won-loss record, although some would argue (we're thinking of you here, Billy Beane) a manager has little impact on that (or otherwise why would Art "Moneyball" Howe be fired after a 103-win season?).
As we noted this weekend, that was the standard to which Red Sox owner John W. Henry held the coach of his Liverpool soccer team, and he was sacked.
It really doesn't matter what side of the Valentine divide you may reside. There should be little argument that the drumbeat of drama that has accompanied Bobby V.'s first season has not made for great clubhouse unity, nor made for an easy environment in which to play.
How much of a negative impact has it had? Future historians will be charged with sorting that one out, although teams in the past have shown a tendency not to wait for an answer if they thought they could still make the playoffs. In what may be some kind of record, Jimy Williams was fired in-season three times by teams that thought changing managers might propel them into October.
It worked for the Houston Astros in 2004, when they were a .500 team (44-44) under Jimy and went 48-26 under Phil Garner, eventually losing in the NLCS.
It worked for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1989, when they were 12-24 under Williams, then went 77-49 under Cito Gaston to win the division.
It didn't work for the Sox in 2001, when Dan Duquette fired Williams with the Sox 12 games over .500 (65-53) and replaced him with Joe [Pitchers' Pal] Kerrigan, who presided over a 17-26 disintegration, highlighted by Manny Ramirez jumping the team in Anaheim.
The Milwaukee Brewers were 16 games over .500 and a dozen games away from the end of the season in 2008 when they fired Ned Yost and replaced him with Dale Sveum. They got in, then lost the division series.
The Colorado Rockies were 18-28 under Clint Hurdle in 2009, then went 74-42 under Jim Tracy and shot into the playoffs.
The Florida Marlins were going nowhere in 2003 under Jeff Torborg (16-22); they went 75-49 under grandpa Jack McKeon and won a World Series.
The Sox, of course, can point to Morgan magic in 1988, when a team that was a game over .500 under John McNamara won 19 of 20 games when Walpole Joe took over. And for wince-inducing memory, there was 1978, when the Yankees sacked Billy Martin (52-42) and overtook the Sox under Bob Lemon (48-20).
Would the Sox contemplate such a drastic solution? Well, after Saturday night's shocking loss, Henry, who had been in London, paid a visit to Valentine in his office. The next afternoon, the team held its annual picnic.
Care for a burger, Bobby?
4hTony Lee, Special to ESPN.com