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Dan Shaughnessy

Bobby Valentine’s style receives first big test

Kevin Youkilis, (left) who did not play yesterday, watched late-inning action from the dugout. Manager Bobby Valentine is visible at far right.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Kevin Youkilis, (left) who did not play yesterday, watched late-inning action from the dugout. Manager Bobby Valentine is visible at far right.

The most telling comment came from de facto Red Sox captain Dustin Pedroia:

“That’s not the way we go about our stuff around here,’’ said the 2008 American League Most Valuable Player.

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Maybe it is now.

Bobby Valentine found himself in the middle of a firestorm early Marathon Monday when Kevin Youkilis walked into his office and asked him what was going on. Why, the third baseman wanted to know, would his new manager publicly question his commitment? Without even talking with him?

Valentine apologized to Youkilis, then tried to explain himself to the media, sounding hopelessly naive for a 61-year-old man who’s been around professional baseball for more than 40 years, a man with his own radio and TV show, a man who worked for ESPN for the last three years.

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All in all, it was another chapter in As The Nation Turns. Don’t say we didn’t warn you that it was going to be like this with Bobby V at the wheel.

It all started Sunday night when WHDH’s Joe Amorosino aired a clip of Valentine discussing Youkilis on “Sports Xtra.’’

“I don’t think he’s as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason,’’ said Valentine. “But [Saturday] it seemed, you know, he’s seeing the ball well, got those two walks, got his on-base percentage up higher than his batting average, which is always a good thing, and he’ll move on from there.’’

Youkilis is hitting only .200 with eight strikeouts, no homers, and only three RBIs in his first 30 at-bats. He was benched in the third game of the season after starting off 0 for 8 with four strikeouts in the first two games in Detroit. He’s 33 years old, missed more than 100 games with injuries the last two years (sports hernia at the end of 2011), did not play well in the field last season, and was homerless in spring training this year. He’s feuded with teammates; Manny Ramirez slapped him in the dugout in 2008, and Youk was critical of Jacoby Ellsbury not sticking around the team when Ellsbury played only 18 games because of broken ribs in 2010. But no one ever has questioned Youk’s commitment.

“I’m more confused than anything because everyone knows I go out and play the game as hard as I can,’’ Youkilis said Monday morning. “It’s just my style of play. I was never blessed with the raw tools and I’ve always had to use playing the game hard and with full effort my whole life.’’

Youkilis has been limited by a groin injury lately and was not in the lineup for Monday’s series finale with the Rays. Valentine said he was surprised when Youkilis came into his office asking what was going on regarding the manager’s Sunday remark.

“When he told me that people called him and told him that I said things that he didn’t like, I totally apologized,’’ Valentine said. “I said the last thing in the world I want you to think is that I’m doing anything to criticize you. I was giving an answer to a question and I should’ve been more specific and said your physical was about your swing and your emotional was not being happy when you don’t hit a ball off the wall.

“I didn’t want him to think that this was anything but an answer to a question that seemed to be jabbing at him. I was just trying to smooth it over and I guess that I didn’t.’’

Really? Bobby V was trying to “smooth it over’’ for Youk? Remind me to use that one next time Deion Sanders or John Calipari thinks I’m ripping them.

“You got it all wrong, Prime Time. I was just trying to smooth things over when I called you the biggest fraud in sports.’’ “You, too, coach Cal. All that stuff about snake oil sales and bags of cash changing hands? I was just trying to smooth things over.’’ Valentine is a beauty. We’re 10 games into the season and he’s making it clear that there’s a new sheriff on Yawkey Way. If he’s going to go down, he’s going to do it on his terms. He’s not afraid to get into a dustup with morning radio jocktalkers on the club’s flagship station. He’s not going to suck up to Curt Schilling or anybody else. He’s not going to kiss his players’ behinds. He’s not going to enable them, protect them, or hold their hands. He’s going to call them out occasionally.

Sox fans issued their opinion on the new skipper early Monday afternoon when Valentine went too long with starter Daniel Bard in a 1-0 loss. The manager stuck with his young righty, watching him walk home the only run of the game on four straight balls to Evan Longoria. That came on the heels of a four-pitch walk to Carlos Pena.

After the walk pushed across the only run of the day, Valentine finally came out and pulled his starter. Bobby V got the Don Zimmer treatment when he walked back toward his dugout. It was a startling rebuke for a guy just 10 games into his tenure.

“They felt what I thought - I should have taken him out earlier,’’ Valentine said. “They’re good fans and they know what’s going on.’’

General manager Ben Cherington did not go easy on his manager.

“I was surprised to see that quote,’’ said Cherington. “Bobby hadn’t seen the same player on the field we’ve all seen in the past and he acknowledged that, but the way he expressed that was not the best way of expressing it. I think Bobby wishes he’d expressed the sentiment to Kevin first.’’

Behind closed doors, Cherington’s got to be saying, “This stuff never would have happened if Dale Sveum was our manager.’’

Look out below, people. If the Sox go south, we’ll point to this as a day when the manager started to lose the clubhouse. Youkilis may not be the most popular of players, but all of his teammates know he plays hard and now they have to be wondering who’ll be the next one in Bobby V’s crosshairs.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.
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