Valentine Accuses Ortiz of Quitting

David Ortiz didn’t quit on the 2012 Red Sox, Bobby Valentine. He quit on you. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

After a horrific season in which the Boston Red Sox started bad, continued to be bad and then finished the season… bad … Bobby Valentine had a chance to walk away with some slight measure of dignity. He could’ve simply taken his firing like a man, then gone back to his gig on TV, which allows him to do what he does best: yell impotently analyze baseball.

Instead, Valentine chose to take one last pot-shot at the Red Sox. One last try at blaming the failures of his team on anybody but a manager hated by basically the entire state of Massachusetts, not to mention every one of his players and every Boston sports writer (though that last group tends to hate everybody).

So who did Valentine call out? David Ortiz. Valentine accused Ortiz of quitting on the Red Sox on an episode of Costas Tonight that aired Tuesday on NBC Sports Night.

It was a cowardly, baseless attack by a weak-willed snake-oil salesman of a “manager.” Red Sox fans would do well to ignore the criticism, anything else Valentine has said or might still say, and probably Valentine’s existence in general.

Would the Red Sox Re-Sign a Quitter?

Baseball, as the cliche goes, is a business. As such, looking at the deals a team makes, the money it spends, is the best way to understand said team’s true feelings.

If the Red Sox ownership really believed Ortiz quit on his team, then why are they trying to sign him to a new, two-year deal? Sure, “closing in” and “signed” can mean vastly different things in baseball language, but if the Red Sox really thought Ortiz bailed on an otherwise-promising season, why would they even bother with negotiations?

At the very least, they’d first test the DH market, then try to lowball Ortiz later.

Ortiz, after all, is a 36-year-old with bad knees, a clicking wrist, an already injured Achilles tendon and almost no fielding ability. Other teams wouldn’t exactly blow up his agent’s phone with new deals if the Red Sox chose to wait and see.

But instead, management went after him before the World Series even began. With $100 million in bad contracts handed over to the Dodgers (easily the best move of the year), John Henry & Co. decided to take care of Ortiz first.

If that doesn’t show loyalty and support, what does?

Youkilis Cut for Character Reasons?

As a stark contrast to Ortiz’s treatment by management, consider the fate of Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis also got hurt and missed considerable time last season, but instead of the Red Sox sticking with him, they traded him, and for not much in return.

So why did the Red Sox stick with Ortiz and not Youkilis? One possibility: Youkilis had become an issue in the clubhouse.

Many writers think Youkilis snitched to Bob Hohler about the drama behind the 2011 collapse. Neither Hohler nor anyone else has ever confirmed or dis-confirmed that speculation, so concluding definitively that the trade happened because Youkilis couldn’t be trusted is impossible.

Nevertheless, Youkils is three years younger than Ortiz, and when healthy, Youkilis brought more to the table (plays defense, can get on base, can hit from multiple spots on the lineup). So if the Red Sox didn’t nix Youkilis because of talent, perhaps they did so because of character.

Both Youkilis and Ortiz have had their characters questioned over the last year. But where Youkilis was traded, Ortiz looks to be coming back, and quickly.

Blame for 2012 lies elsewhere

Injuries notwithstanding, something absolutely derailed the 2012 Red Sox, and it’s named Bobby Valentine. Whereas Terry Francona got through to his players immediately, Valentine utterly failed to get his players on board.

A good skipper inspires loyalty in his players, even when fans and the press are screaming for the manager’s head. The 2005 White Sox defended Ozzie Guillen — another Billy Martin-esque blowhard whose mouth far exceeds his talent — because they loved playing for him.

Meanwhile, how many times during the media’s season-long barrage of criticism did any Red Sox players come to Valentine’s defense? Twice? Once? Never?

To be sure, such moments were few and far between. The rest of the time the Red Sox — Ortiz included — stayed silent because deep down, they hated Valentine as much the fans.

Ortiz didn’t quit on the Red Sox, Bobby V. He quit on you. And so did everyone else.

 

Kevin Youkilis Was Theo Epstein’s First Super-Prospect

More than anything he did in the Majors, Kevin Youkilis heralded the arrival of the Red Sox farm system as one that could create superstar after superstar. (ianonsports.wordpress.com/Sports Illustated)

Former Red Sox Kevin Youkilis wrote a letter to Red Sox Nation Sunday. Youkilis thanked his coaches, his teammates, his family and his fans for what he called the “honor and a privilege to play every home game of my career in Boston before a sold out Fenway Park.”

Classy move by a classy guy, no matter what anyone else may say about his character. But Youkilis brought so much more to the Red Sox than just class.

Youkilis Soared From Game 1

Youkilis’ arrival signaled the beginning of a new age in Red Sox history. From his first game on May 15, 2004 – a 4-0 win over the Blue Jays in which Youkilis batted 2-for-4 with a home run – Red Sox Nation knew they had someone special.

The Red Sox knew it too, putting him on both ALDS and World Series rosters that season. He only appeared in one postseason game, going hit-less in Game 2 of the ALDS, but Terry Francona had him stick around, just in case.

Youkilis played with the fire and grit Red Sox fans have always loved and identified with, making him an instant favorite. “Yoooouk” chants at Fenway Park filled became as commonplace as Fenway Franks or Wally the Green Monster.

Youkilis may never have been the most popular player on team – David Ortiz pretty much has that role locked down – but he was always a fan favorite.

Continue reading Kevin Youkilis Was Theo Epstein’s First Super-Prospect

Chen Out-Duels Beckett, Wins Series for Orioles

Endy Chavez knocks in the eventual game-winning run on a sixth-inning fielder's choice during Wednesday's Red Sox-Orioles game at Fenway Park. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Pitchers who lack a decent fastball rarely survive in the MLB, but there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing. Josh Beckett learned that the hard way Wednesday, losing a 2-1 pitchers’ duel to Baltimore starter Wei-Yin Chen at Fenway Park despite a pinpoint-accurate fastball.

With the loss, the Red Sox fell four games behind the Orioles, who’ve won their last seven games at Fenway, dating back to September 2011. The Red Sox lost a series for the first time since going 1-2 at Kansas City in early May.

Two-Run Sixth Spoils Beckett’s Outing

Beckett needed just 48 pitches to get through the first five innings, setting down the Orioles 1-2-3 four times. He retired the first nine hitters he faced, gave up just a lead-off single in the fourth, and quickly erased it on one of two Red Sox double plays.

Beckett relied heavily on his fastball, throwing just enough curveballs and cutters to keep the Orioles honest. This resulted in better than 71 percent accuracy and 22 first-pitch strikes to 27 batters, but Orioles hitters started looking for the fastball after their first at-bats.

Without much variation to Beckett’s pitch-selection, the Orioles strung together three consecutive singles to start the top of the sixth. The third, by second baseman Robert Andino, scored Wilson Betemit to tie the game 1-1. Right fielder Endy Chavez then drove in left fielder Ryan Flaherty with an RBI fielder’s choice to give the Orioles a 2-1 lead.

Beckett got out of the sixth with Boston’s second double play, then retired six of the next seven batters he faced. Had the Red Sox tied the game or retaken the lead, Beckett probably would’ve finished the game, having thrown just 92 pitches through eight innings.

Continue reading Chen Out-Duels Beckett, Wins Series for Orioles

Punto Powers Red Sox Past Blue Jays and Into Fourth Place

Nick Punto watches the flight of the ball after hitting a home run off Blue Jays pitcher Carlos Villanueva during the ninth inning of Saturday's baseball game in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)

Ask anyone – teammate, coach, manager, reporter – and he’ll tell you the same thing: Nick Punto is still finding his swing.

Punto found his swing Saturday at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, going 3-for-4 and falling a triple short of the cycle while driving in two and scoring two runs. The Red Sox beat the Blue Jays, 7-4, moving into sole possession of fourth place in the AL East.

Punto’s first hit came in a second-inning sequence of four consecutive Red Sox hits, beginning with a Ryan Sweeney single, off Blue Jays starter Kyle Drabek. After Will Middlebrooks drove in Jarrod Saltalamacchia and moved Sweeney to third with a single to right, Punto doubled to score Sweeney and make it 2-0 Red Sox.

With Middlebrooks and Punto on second and third, Daniel Nava then hit a line drive at Colby Rasmus in center field. The ball hit Rasmus in the glove and fell to the turf, and both Middlebrooks and Punto scored, putting the Red Sox up 4-0.

The play could’ve easily been ruled an error, but instead it was a called a two-RBI single.

Punto also singled in the top of the seventh but advanced no farther than second base, then homered in the ninth to make it 7-4 Boston. Facing reliever Carlos Villanueva, Punto crushed a 2-0 fastball into the second deck overlooking right field for his first home run of the season.

Continue reading Punto Powers Red Sox Past Blue Jays and Into Fourth Place

Tigers Maul Red Sox Pitching, Avoid Sweep

Miguel Cabrera knocks in Quintin Berry in the fifth inning of Thursday's Red Sox-Tigers game at Fenway Park. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

With two inherited runners on and two outs in the top of the eighth, Matt Albers struck out left fielder Don Kelly looking to end the threat.

That was basically the only good thing the Boston Red Sox did on the mound all night.

The Detroit Tigers clubbed 14 hits off Josh Beckett and two relievers Thursday, beating the Red Sox, 7-3, and avoiding the sweep. The Red Sox remain in last place in the AL East, a game behind the Toronto Blue Jays, whom they’ll play on the road this weekend.

Flat Beckett Can’t Hold the Lead

Though Beckett pitched an eight-pitch, 1-2-3 first, his struggles began an inning later, with back-to-back one-out hits putting Tigers on second and third. Beckett got out of the second thanks to Ryan Sweeney, who covered a fair amount of ground to catch Jhonny Peralta‘s fly ball near Pesky’s Pole. Sweeney then threw a perfect one-hopper to Jarrod Saltamacchia, gunning down Delmon Young (3-5) at the plate to end the threat.

Saltalamacchia and Sweeney helped give Beckett a two-run lead in the bottom of the second, with Saltamacchia homering to center to lead off the inning. Sweeney then singled and scored from first on a double to the center field warning track by Scott Podsednik, who’s batting .444 in 12 games this season.

But Beckett immediately coughed up the lead, allowing three runs in the top of the third. Center fielder Quintin Berry (3-5) put the Tigers on the board with an RBI single with two men on, and Brennan Boesch tied the game with a sacrifice fly. Berry then stole second and went to third on a flyout, and Prince Fielder (2-4) singled to center to put the Tigers up 3-2.

Saltalacchia bailed out Beckett in the bottom of the third, following up a Kevin Youkilis double with a game-tying single, but Beckett just couldn’t regain the sharpness his pitches had in the first inning. Berry reached on an infield single to start the fifth, went to third on a stolen base and throwing error by Saltalamacchia, then scored on a single by Miguel Cabrera (2-5) to put the Tigers back up 4-3.

Continue reading Tigers Maul Red Sox Pitching, Avoid Sweep

Athletics’ Norberto Halts Red Sox Comeback in Ninth

Oakland Athletics second baseman Jemile Weeks drives in two in the fourth inning of Tuesday's game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Down two with two men on in the bottom of the ninth, Kevin Youkilis grabbed a batting helmet. The oft-injured Youkilis didn’t start Tuesday against the Oakland Athletics due to back stiffness, but no one left on the bench gave the Boston Red Sox a better chance of tying and possibly winning the game.

Unfortunately, Youkilis just couldn’t get loose enough to bat. The almost-comeback ended with the “almost” fully intact. The Athletics beat the Red Sox, 5-3.

Norberto Dominates in Two-Thirds Inning

Down 5-1 entering the ninth, the Red Sox finally broke through against reliever Grant Balfour. Cody Ross led off with a double, his third hit and second double of the game, and the Red Sox loaded the bases on Marlon Byrd‘s one-out single and Nick Punto‘s third walk of the game.

Sensing Balfour’s nervousness, the Fenway Park crowd did their best to rattle him, repeatedly chanting his name in a chorus of sing-song mockeries. The fans may very well have succeeded, because Balfour gave up a two-RBI single to Mike Aviles to cut the Athletics’ lead to 5-3.

Lefty Jordan Norberto relieved Balfour following Aviles’ hit, but without Youkilis the Red Sox went with Lars Anderson, who had only entered the game one inning prior. Andersen had yet to get a hit off a lefty in his career, and Norberto struck him out easily on four pitches.

Dustin Pedroia, who’d scored Boston’s only run through the first eight innings on an Adrian Gonzalez RBI ground out in the fourth, followed Anderson. Norberto got Pedroia to ground into an easy fielder’s choice at second base, ending the game and giving Norberto his first save of the season.

Continue reading Athletics’ Norberto Halts Red Sox Comeback in Ninth

With Bobby Valentine, Expect B.S. to Continue

New Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine really shouldn't be making this many off-the-field errors, but he has. Expect that to continue all season. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Bobby Valentine has badly misfired twice in his first few weeks, setting up a weekly appearance gig on an ESPN New York radio program, then questioning Kevin Youkilis’ attitude after just a nine-day evaluation Sunday. And when Valentine opted not to play Youkilis on Patriots Day, Fenway serenaded him with a chorus of boos loud enough to throw Sharon Cherop off her game.

For a guy whose managed for 25 years (including six in media-saturated New York) and worked in broadcasting for two more, Valentine’s inability to avoid PR blunders like this is stupefying.

A young guy managing for the first time? Sure, he might say a few things that get taken the wrong way. Same goes for a long-standing manager who never worked for a big-market team – the Boston press craves drama in a way the Kansas City press doesn’t, and an unfamiliar manager could easily shoot himself in the foot.

But Valentine is neither of those things. He knows how a manager gets treated by the press, he knows how big-market media work, and he knows what in the past has gotten him into trouble. If anyone ought to know better than to insult a beloved player like Youkilis, it’s Valentine.

Valentine isn’t the first manager to take a “cavalier” approach to the press, nor even the first in a major market. Rex Ryan has played games with the press every fall since 2009, and he’s said some way dumber stuff than Valentine.

But Jets fans have rarely booed Ryan the way Sox fans laid into Valentine Monday. It’s not because Jets fans are nicer than Red Sox fans – both are pretty damn nasty, compared with other fanbases (fans of the Milwaukee Brewers, for instance, or the Phoenix Coyotes). New York fans just get that Ryan mouths off to take pressure off his players.

Ryan’s players get that too, which explains the iron-forged loyalty with which they defend him. But on the Red Sox, no one feels that loyalty yet. They protected Terry Francona until he lost the team midway through the 2011 season, but they haven’t had enough time to build any reverence for Valentine.

Continue reading With Bobby Valentine, Expect B.S. to Continue

Red Sox Spring Training Update (Final Week): Bailey and Beckett Injure Thumbs

The Red Sox won their final two Spring Training games, but Andrew Bailey's thumb injury and impending surgery throws the entire bullpen into chaos. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)

Opening Day may be Thursday, but first the Boston Red Sox had to wrap up their final week of Spring Training. And while Boston won its final two games, finishing Spring Training with a respectable 16-11-4 record, thumb injuries to Josh Beckett and Andrew Bailey overshadowed the victories.

Beckett may yet make his first start, but Bailey will be out until the All-Star Break, further depleting a bullpen that looked less-than-impressive this spring.

But that’s an issue for another day. Let’s get on with the final Spring Training Update of 2012!

Red Sox 4, Nationals 2

Aaron Cook couldn’t pitch his way into the major league starting rotation, but he made a decent case to be the first man called up from Triple-A, holding Washington to just a run on two hits – one homer – and a walk with two strikeouts over five innings Monday. Cook’s final 1.88 ERA trailed only Beckett among the starters.

Down 1-0 in the bottom of the fourth, the Red Sox offense came to life. Adrian Gonzalez (2-2) led off with a single, took third on David Ortiz‘s double, then scored on Kevin Youkilis‘ ground. The Red Sox tacked on two more runs that inning on Darnell McDonald‘s RBI single and Mike Aviles‘ sacrifice fly.

The Red Sox went up 4-1 in the bottom of the sixth on Jason Repko‘s RBI double – more than enough runs for their surprisingly effective relievers. Led by perfect innings from Vicente Padilla (hold) and Franklin Morales (save), the bullpen allowed just one run on three hits and no walks over the final four innings.

Continue reading Red Sox Spring Training Update (Final Week): Bailey and Beckett Injure Thumbs

Red Sox Spring Training Update (3/26-4/1): Boston Sets Rotation, Infield

Cody Ross watches his home run in Tuesday's spring training game against the Tampa Bay Rays. (BostonHerald.com/Christopher Evans)

Opening Day is less than a week away. Who’ll be starting Thursday in Detroit became a lot clearer this week, when the Red Sox hammered out their infield and starting rotation. They optioned both Jose Iglesias (.200 BA, five RBIs in nine games) and Lars Anderson (.343 AVG, eight RBIs in 18 games) to Pawtucket Tuesday, then announced Sunday that Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront would complete their starting rotation.

Only the outfield remains unsettled, but Cody Ross will certainly be on the roster. Ross went 5-12 this week, homering four times, scoring five runs and driving in 10. He also won this week’s Spring Training Player of the Week award!

Ross played a big part in Boston’s 4-1-1 week. Who else helped out? Here’s the update from the final full week of Spring Training (delayed a day due to my NCAA championship preview).

Red Sox 6, Phillies 0

It seems Jon Lester can still dominate after all. Lester submitted the best start of the Spring, striking out 10 Philadelphia hitters while giving up just two hits and hitting a batter in seven scoreless innings. He threw six 1-2-3 innings.

Boston’s offense, meanwhile, banged out 11 hits Monday, including three home runs. Dustin Pedroia‘s first-inning home run made it 1-0, then Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled in the second and scored on a throwing error two batters later.

The Red Sox went up 5-0 in the fifth on David Ortiz‘s RBI single, followed by Ross’ third preseason home run. Non-roster infielder Mauro Gomez homered in the top of the ninth to make it 6-0.

Matt Albers struck out one in a perfect eighth inning.

Continue reading Red Sox Spring Training Update (3/26-4/1): Boston Sets Rotation, Infield

Red Sox Spring Training Update (3/12-18): Ciriaco Continues to Shine

The Red Sox are either celebrating Pedro Ciriaco's walk-off extra-innings home run against the Marlins Monday or him retaining his "Spring Training Player of the Week" title. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox)

Non-roster shortstop Pedro Ciriaco gave the Boston Red Sox some pretty good reasons to keep on the squad come opening day. After winning SoB’s inaugural “Spring Training Player of the Week,” Ciriaco followed it up by batting .538 with two doubles and a home run in six games this week. He scored four runs and drove in five.

The Red Sox as a team matched last week’s success, once again going 4-2-1. How’d they get there? Here’s this week’s Red Sox Spring Training Update.

Red Sox 5, Marlins 3 (10)

After Nate Spears bunted his way to first with one down in the bottom of tenth Monday, Ciriaco drilled a 1-0 home run to left, giving the Red Sox their first walk-off win in preseason.

Prior to Ciriaco, the Red Sox had gone up 1-0 in the second on a triple from Mike Aviles (2-3) and an RBI double from Nick Punto. As two likely major leaguers, this sequence is particularly encouraging. The Red Sox added two in the third on an RBI single from Cody Ross and a sacrifice fly from Kelly Shoppach.

Josh Beckett started and went four innings, giving up an earned run on a hit, two walks and three strikeouts. He also hit two batters. Scott Atchison blew a 3-2 lead in the ninth by giving up an RBI sacrifice fly, setting up Ciriaco’s game-ender.

Non-roster pitcher Jesse Carlson gave up a hit and struck out one in a scoreless tenth for the win.

Continue reading Red Sox Spring Training Update (3/12-18): Ciriaco Continues to Shine