Tuesday, April 24, 2012
A club in chaos? Not so, says Aviles
By Gordon Edes ESPNBoston.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- There have been too many tales from the crypt, some taller than others.
Maybe, Red Sox shortstop Mike Aviles suggested after Monday night's dramatic 6-5 win over the Minnesota Twins, the Sox will soon be portrayed less like the dysfunctional participants in a virtual reality show and more like what he believes they are: a confident group of winning baseball players.
Mike Aviles said a report of a spring confrontation between Red Sox players and manager Bobby Valentine was not true.
"You know what, I think the fans and the media seem more preoccupied, I guess, with how things are than we are because we have faith in ourselves," said Aviles, who started three double plays Monday night and also caught Ryan Doumit's flare into short center field with the go-ahead run on third in the eighth inning.
"We have faith in our pitching staff, defense and offense," he said. "We know what kind of talent is in this locker room and we know we're going to turn it around. Yes, it's 15 games, but 15 games into a 162-game schedule aren't much. We could go off now and nobody will even remember those 15 games. That's just how baseball is. It's kind of weird, but that's how it is."
Aviles found himself cast as a central character in one of the weirder accounts of trouble in Sox paradise when New York Daily News columnist Bill Madden, author of an acclaimed biography of George Steinbrenner, contended in his Sunday column that manager Bobby Valentine had triggered a "near player revolt" in the first week of spring training by his treatment of Aviles during an infield drill. Valentine backed down and apologized to Aviles, Madden wrote, citing a source who described the entire incident to him.
Never happened, Aviles said Monday night.
"I have no idea where it came from," he said. "Complete news to me. In all honesty, the way things are going as bad as they were, I think people are making things up, trying to start things. If that really happened, why not write it back then?
"I don't know who his sources were but it wasn't me. If it involved me I'd be the first to tell you about it, but it didn't happen. Me and Bobby talked about it. I was like, 'Maybe somebody took something different, but I don't know what they're talking about.'"
Valentine was more pointedly dismissive.
"It goes from the sublime to ridiculous, doesn't it, around here," Valentine said. "Those New York writers. If we're going to do a full disclosure, which we better do, at the team party that I threw, I spilled a Coke on one of the players' wives and I apologized."
Just a week ago a comment Valentine insists was unintentionally hurtful to third baseman Kevin Youkilis created a stir that also drew in second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
It was that incident, Madden said on Tuesday, that prompted him to write about the alleged dustup between Aviles and Valentine.
"I think they're all circling the wagons right now," Madden said when asked about the denials. "I sure as hell didn't make this up out of whole cloth and neither did my source. It happened.
"I didn't write this because of any opinion or feelings one way or another toward Bobby. I wrote it to point out the fact that he had problems, or potential problems, with the clubhouse from the very beginning. The players are just now getting used to the culture shock of going from Tito [Francona] to Bobby."
So, just how are things in the Sox clubhouse these days?
"Good," Aviles insisted. "We know things will get better."
Similar sentiments were echoed in a clubhouse where only two days earlier David Ortiz had called the team's play "[expletive] embarrassing" as he made a quick exit.
"It's huge for us to be resilient, to come back and win that game right there," said Cody Ross, who on Monday night hit game-tying and game-winning home runs, the latter in the ninth inning to break a 5-all deadlock.
"It's big for our team, big for our bullpen."
The Sox had taken a 3-0 lead early, Aviles leading off with a single, hustling to third on a base hit by Pedroia and scoring on an infield out by Adrian Gonzalez in the first inning, and the suddenly hot Jarrod Saltalamacchia hitting a two-run home run in the third.
But that lead vanished when Jon Lester was hit with a four-spot in the fourth, when he gave up a two-run double to Doumit and a two-run home run to Danny Valencia in consecutive at-bats, both times with two strikes on the hitter.
When Jamey Carroll turned a remarkable double play on Ortiz to kill a Sox rally in the sixth, more misery seemingly beckoned.
"When David hit that ball and they turned a double play, as hot as he was, and they make a spectacular play to turn a double play, that usually ends the game," Valentine said afterward. "That usually sends a team home. It didn't send us home, and that's what I'm most proud of."
An inning later, Saltalamacchia singled and Ross hit one into the second deck off Twins starter Jason Marquis to tie the score.
Lester, meanwhile, went from being on the verge of making an early exit -- after walking Joe Mauer with two out in the fifth he was at 93 pitches -- to hitting a remarkable rhythm, needing just 19 more pitches to set down the next seven Twins in order, taking him through the seventh.
"Other than that one inning, he was spectacular," Valentine said. "The sixth and seventh might have been his best two innings."
More peril beckoned in the eighth when Carroll shot a ball down the right-field line that eluded right-fielder Ryan Sweeney, the ball kicking away from Sweeney in the corner. Sweeney, who had not been charged with an error in 221 consecutive games, was saddled with a dubious one here, Carroll credited with a single and advancing to third on a two-base error.
"He hit it down the line and it had a weird spin," Sweeney said. "There's a break between the pad [on the wall] and the dirt which is concrete. I put my foot down, my glove down, it had spin on it and it just hit the wall and bounced out. It didn't even touch my glove.
"My last error was in Detroit. It was a foul ball and I overran it. It was raining. That one didn't touch my glove, either. I'm just glad the run didn't score."
But instead of capitulating, the Red Sod held fast, Valentine calling on reliever-for-a-night Daniel Bard to strand Carroll where he was, with Aviles running down Doumit's flare into short center for the final out of the inning.
"Doumit swung the bat pretty well today," Aviles said, "but as soon as he got jammed a little bit I took off to try and get it, because I didn't want a little bloop to beat us. Especially since we had a pretty good game today and I wanted to keep it that way."
Bard kept it tied, Ross gave the Sox the lead when he took Matt Capps deep the opposite way for his fifth home run of the season, and Alfredo Aceves closed it out in a ninth inning whose tension Valentine tried to break when he asked Aceves, "Are you trying to kill me?" after Trevor Plouffe came up short on a bid for a game-winning home run.
"This was a good win," Valentine said. "We'll have a lot of good wins. I haven't seen this team do anything but play hard and play to the end of the game. They did it again today."