BOSTON -- The Yankees are fighting to keep pace in a playoff race, running through seven pitchers Wednesday night while holding off the Red Sox 5-4 in Fenway Park to remain even with the Orioles in the American League East.
The Red Sox?
Oh, they're fighting, too. With umpires, and whatever it is you want to call what's going on between manager Bobby Valentine and pitcher Alfredo Aceves.
Outfielder Cody Ross, as mild-mannered as they come off the field, raised his bat over his head while turning toward plate umpire Alfonso Marquez, who had just called him out on strikes to end the eighth inning. That is rarely a good idea, which Ross evidently realized in the midst of his rage, as he quickly lowered his arms, although Valentine said he "pulled both of [his] hamstrings" acting as a human shield between umpire and player.
"Cody was really upset," Valentine said. "I was doing everything I could do to keep Cody away from [Marquez]. He should be upset. He was battling his butt off. Representing the tying run, called out, he was really upset. [He was] trying, trying hard."
Ross was ejected, of course. Valentine was ejected, too, after returning to the dugout. His offense? By his telling, for holding his hands apart by a foot or so to show Marquez by how much he thought he had missed the pitch. Marquez, of course, could have busied himself with some housekeeping between innings instead of peering into the Sox dugout but chose to lock eyes with the Sox manager. No way Valentine was going to win that stare-down.
For good measure, Marquez ran Jerry Royster, the third-base coach, as well, leaving Tim Bogar to serve as both acting manager and acting third-base coach in the ninth, double duty you usually see only in the minor leagues.
All three -- Ross, Valentine and Royster -- will be in line for fines, and it's eminently conceivable Ross could be suspended, given the appearance of menace. Whether it was intentional or not, Marquez took a step back when he saw Ross' bat overhead.
But for lasting consequences, Aceves' act might have been in a league of its own. Valentine went to the mound in the seventh to replace the reliever, who had gone Derek Jeter single, Curtis Granderson home run to the first two batters he faced, then gave up a two-out double to Nick Swisher.
Aceves did not hand the ball to the manager, as is customary. He gave it to catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Then he made like Ferdinand Magellan, exiting stage right and circumnavigating the mound to return to the dugout, the route evidently preferable to crossing paths with Valentine.
"I'm not addressing that stuff," Valentine said at first. "Heck, he faced two guys he handled pretty good ... in the past, and he gave up a single and home run. That wasn't what I expected."
But did Valentine believe he'd just been shown up?
"I'll have to look at it," he said. "Who cares if he showed me up? If I have to explain Aceves' actions, I'll wind up going across the river and work for Harvard."
Something like this was bound to happen, judging by the actions of both men since Aceves blew up at Valentine in the manager's office postgame after being skipped over to close Aug. 25, prefacing his confrontation by tearing off his jersey on the way in from the bullpen. Aceves was suspended for three days after that, and Valentine quickly made it clear he was no longer the team's closer, using him only because he had no one else one night in Anaheim, then bringing him back the next night in a mop-up role.
Aceves' pitching has been erratic for some time now, and his behavior has been catching up, although Valentine hardly wins points for not finding a way to effect a peaceful resolution. It's an open question whether anyone could have, which is why it will be interesting to see how GM Ben Cherington plays this one. If Cherington comes down hard on Aceves, that sends a signal his sympathies lie entirely with the manager. Dennis Eckersley, the Hall of Fame reliever-turned-TV analyst, was unsparing in his criticism of Aceves after the game.
If, however, Aceves' behavior goes unaddressed, it could be interpreted differently -- at the least, a sign that the Sox hope they can salvage something out of Aceves going forward.
For his part, Aceves acted surprised that his actions were even called into question.
"I didn't have the baseball with me, so what am I going to do?" Aceves said. "I'm going to go away from the field. What am I going to do?"
Then there was this exchange.
Is there friction between you and Bobby?
"That's what you say, so that's what you say."
No, we're asking.
"No, no, no, no."
So everything's good?
"Yeah, I'm good. Yes, thank you."
No, is everything good with you and Bobby?
"I'm good. Ask him if he's good. I don't know."
And you wonder why Harvard is looking good to Valentine?
ESPNBoston.com intern Bill Humphrey contributed to this report.