Commentary

April turns into Valentine's massacre

Beleaguered Bobby V hopes Yankees' epic comeback is rock bottom for Red Sox

Updated: April 22, 2012, 1:08 AM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

BOSTON -- Hours before the New York Yankees scored 15 unanswered runs, reducing Boston's 9-0 lead to a practical joke, Bobby Valentine was standing near the batting cage and pointing at the scoreboard in left, where the American League East standings confirmed that his Red Sox were in last, dead last.

"Look at that thing," he said. "We're three games out of first in the loss column, and this is supposed to be a [expletive] disaster."

As it turned out, Valentine had no idea what an early regular-season disaster looked like. Yes, the 4-9 start, the "We want Tito" chants, and the Kevin Youkilis mess had created an imperfect storm that was sucking the life out of Bobby V for Vibrant, leaving him to appear slow, hesitant, even overmatched.

[+] EnlargeBobby Valentine
AP Photo/Michael DwyerBobby Valentine's trips to the mound at Fenway have become walks of shame.

But then the final three innings of Saturday happened, the longest April innings of Valentine's professional life. Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher led a mad procession of Yankees crashing balls over the wall and against the wall, and the Fox cameras caught the Boston manager mouthing the word "Wow" and pressing his hands over his disbelieving eyes and rubbing them down his face.

"It happened quickly," he would say, "and it was hard to believe."

Hard to believe and harder to absorb.

"I think we've hit bottom," Valentine told his players after a Week 3 loss that felt more like a Game 3 loss in the ALCS.

"You have to sometimes hit bottom," Valentine would say in his postgame news conference. "If this isn't the bottom, then we'll find some new ends to the Earth, I guess."

The Red Sox were four games back in the loss column Saturday night, four that felt like 40. The crowd gave it to Valentine every time he rescued one of his pathetic relievers in this newfangled Boston Massacre, loudly booing the manager of the worst pitching staff in baseball, a staff that started the day with a 6.10 ERA and ended it at 6.68.

Valentine had waited his entire career for this job, weathering his firings in Texas, Queens and Japan. It wasn't supposed to sound so ugly so soon.

"I've been booed in a couple of countries," he said, "a few different stadiums. I don't want to be booed."

Before the game, Valentine said he spared himself some face time with disapproving Mets fans when his pitchers went south.

"You never saw me go to the mound at Shea," he said. "I never took the pitcher out because that's the way I believe it should be done."

But why would this enemy of the people feed himself to the Boston masses rather than offer a human sacrifice in the form of Bob McClure, pitching coach?

"Because Bob doesn't like to do that," Valentine said.

He should've made Bob do that Saturday, even Friday, when the Yankees celebrated Fenway Park's 100th birthday by hitting five home runs and by inspiring the crowd to chant for Terry Francona in the ninth. Valentine was told he appeared to stagger to the mound rather than march with a purposeful step.

Suddenly Francona's successor lifted his right pant leg to show his red sock bulging from the watermelon-sized lump on his shin, the result of his 1973 collision with the Anaheim Stadium wall, the one that shattered his leg.

"I ride a bike because I have a crooked leg," he said. "I don't walk well and I don't walk straight. If someone's going to judge me by my walk, I'm going to say they are rather foolish. ... I hate to limp and I hate to look like an old man, so I do it slowly."

Valentine turns 62 next month, and if this keeps up he'll age faster than the portrait of Dorian Gray. He lifted Felix Doubront after six innings and 99 pitches, figuring a 9-1 lead was the right time to save his young lefty for another day.

"It seemed to be a no-brainer," Valentine said.

And then Vicente Padilla and Alfredo Aceves and their fellow relievers surrendered an ungodly blur of homers, grand slams, doubles and walks. The visiting team scored seven in the seventh and seven more in the eighth, sending 23 men to the plate in two innings.

During pitching changes, with the fans raging against him, Valentine emphatically clapped his hands and patted his departing relievers on the rump, his version of whistling through a graveyard.

Afterward he looked like he'd seen a ghost. "It's overwhelming, yeah," he conceded.

Valentine had explained earlier that he enjoyed going out on the town, and riding his bike in his helmet and glasses, and feeling what he called "the heartbeat" of the fan base. "No one's yelled at me when I'm on my bike," Valentine said, "or tried to run me over."

But his is not a charmed New England life. Valentine isn't everybody's all-American out of Stamford's Rippowam High, the student council president, the ballroom dancing champ, the first-round pick of the Dodgers, the running back recruited to replace O.J. Simpson at USC.

Valentine isn't the first longshot who took the Mets to the World Series, or the first foreign manager to win it all in Japan, either.

"I'm just the new guy here," he said.

"It's not totally enjoyable because there's so many things that I'm still a little uncomfortable with. There's so many things I don't know about. It's a new lineup. I never had this lineup in spring training, and it's a new bullpen, too. And I'm doing a major league season that I haven't done in a while, against competition that I haven't seen in a while.

"It's a little unsettling, that's all."

Valentine called the Francona chants "a bit of an annoyance," but found it appropriate for Red Sox fans "to show appreciation for a guy who won them two world championships."

Only the chants and jeers aren't likely to be silenced in the near future, not with his bullpen in tatters and his outfield missing Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford.

"This is a psychological situation," Valentine said, referring to the residual impact of the 2011 collapse on Francona's watch.

So the boss who didn't want Valentine, GM Ben Cherington, met with the manager and the bigger boss who did want him, Larry Lucchino, with owner John Henry in tow. Cherington emerged from the postgame meeting to say Valentine is "doing the best he can with the roster he has," a roster that won't be significantly upgraded by the incoming Marlon Byrd, a bone thrown from Chicago by Theo Epstein.

Life was far easier in spring training, when Valentine could make fun of Derek Jeter's flip play and A-Rod's fight with Jason Varitek. With Francona scheduled to be in the ESPN booth Sunday night, and with CC Sabathia scheduled to pitch for the sweep, Valentine could use a rainout.

That and a guarantee his Red Sox have indeed hit bottom.

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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