Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Valentine's honor roll call
By Gordon Edes ESPNBoston.com
BALTIMORE -- You know the music they play at the Oscars when winners use their acceptance speech to thank everyone they've ever known since first drawing a breath?
Close your eyes Wednesday afternoon, and you could almost hear the orchestra in the visiting manager's office of Camden Yards. The Boston Red Sox had just ended a 20-games-in-20-days stretch with a 6-5 win over the Baltimore Orioles in the rubber game of their three-game set, and a grateful Bobby Valentine didn't want anyone to be left out as he passed around the credit.
There was the "amazing group of fabulous professionals" who carried on through a maze of challenges that in the right hands might make a great MMO video game. Injuries, travel, viruses, plagues, pestilence and a motley assortment of Orioles, Royals, Indians, Mariners, Rays and Phillies, all overcome by the Sox, who return home with a .500 record (22-22).
Scott Podsednik and Kelly Shoppach highlighted the Sox's unlikely cast of heroes Wednesday.
There was the bottom third of Valentine's 35th lineup in 44 games, comprised of a catcher grumpy at not playing, an outfielder whose 15 minutes of fame had already passed the expiration date, and another outfielder who was afraid he had come to the end of the line as an Iron Pig.
Kelly Shoppach was the grumpy one. Daniel Nava was yesterday's news. Scott Podsednik was the ex-Lehigh Valley Iron Pig and the newest player imported to play center field, the sixth used by the Sox to start a game this season. The three came into Wednesday's game with a total of two home runs this season. Shoppach and Nava had one apiece; Podsednik last started in the big leagues on Sept. 9, 2010.
All three went deep Wednesday. Nava was first, a solo drive in the sixth. He has morphed into an island of stability in left field, starting all 14 games there since his call-up May 10. He has 14 hits, 10 walks and two home runs. His on-base percentage is .491. He's slugging .600. "He's been great," Valentine said. "Can you imagine if we'd had to play musical chairs with him?"
Two batters later, with Podsednik aboard on a single, Shoppach left the yard. Then, in the eighth, Podsednik, a slap hitter who had reached double figures in home runs (12) only once in 10 big league seasons, hit a home run off reliever Darren O'Day that proved to be the deciding run.
"The top part of the lineup has been doing so much work the past 20 days, they really were a little under water, I think," Valentine said. "But [hitting coach] Dave Magadan has done such a fabulous job, he said, 'Hey, let's leave it to those guys to do something,' and they did."
Do something? These guys did something no bottom third of a Sox lineup had done in nearly 10 seasons. According to home run guru David Vincent, the last time hitters occupying the seventh, eighth and ninth spots in the order all homered in the same game was in 2003, also in Baltimore, when Trot Nixon, Bill Mueller and Doug Mirabelli connected. The difference this time is that neither Nava nor Podsednik were on the Sox roster when this trip started.
The 36-year-old Podsednik said he found out when he arrived at the ballpark Wednesday morning that he was playing, which these days counts as advance notice, with Valentine routinely having to await medical updates before filling out his lineup card.
"I wasn't surprised," Podsednik said. "I just got into preparation mode and got myself prepared as much as I could to try to do something."
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Meanwhile, Valentine revealed, Shoppach came into his office Tuesday afternoon demanding to know why he wasn't playing. The manager had already decided to give Jarrod Saltalamacchia Wednesday off, which with an off-day Thursday will give him a good 48 hours of R and R.
"He left angry," Valentine said of Shoppach. "I like him playing when he's angry, I guess. Shop played against a right-hander (Jake Arrieta) and proved he could do it.
"And he milked Daniel [Bard] through those innings. There wasn't an at-bat that was an easy one."
Valentine was just getting started, passing out the bouquets. Two more hits apiece for Kevin Youkilis and Will Middlebrooks. Another tough catch by the accidental right-fielder, Adrian Gonzalez. More yeomen work from the bullpen, most notably from Alfredo Aceves, who recorded four outs for his 11th save.
And a terrific diving catch by right fielder Che-Hsuan Lin, who had entered the game as a pinch runner in the seventh and replaced Gonzalez in right in the bottom of the inning.
"When you're moving people around and figuring out the right time to do it, I figured with the lead -- and the coaches were right there with me -- let's try to go now," Valentine said. "That was a fabulous play. [Lin] came from nowhere, and the ball was slicing away from him. He saved the game."
Podsednik had played alongside Lin briefly in Pawtucket. "I was fooled on the swing because he got jammed," said Podsednik, who initially broke back when Wilson Betemit hit a ball bent on a safe landing in right-center field. "I've seen just a little bit of Lin's game, but I'm very impressed with his defense. He's an incredible defender. He made arguably the game-saving catch."
OK, did Valentine miss anybody? Just in case, he offered a one-size-fits-all shout-out.
"Team effort," he said. "Don't leave anyone out -- and the coaches -- if you have some space."
Not to worry, Bobby. We've got cyberspace. Still room if you think of anyone else.