CHICAGO - The new manager of the Red Sox entertained the old manager of the Red Sox in his office several hours before Sunday night’s series finale against the Cubs.
One year ago, Bobby Valentine sat alongside ESPN teammates Dan Shulman and Orel Hershiser, asking Terry Francona about the Red Sox. Valentine was the one trying to get information about the ball club. Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field, it was Francona asking Valentine about Andrew Miller, Ryan Kalish, and Adrian Gonzalez.
Strange world. One day you’re asking the Red Sox manager annoying questions; a year later you’re sitting behind the guy’s desk, filling out a lineup card, trying to be patient with broadcasters from “Sunday Night Baseball.’’
Asked about the bench vs. the booth, Valentine said, “The demands are different. Different time constraints.’’
But managing is more fun, right?
“Yeah,’’ he said, a little reluctantly. “It’s more of everything. That job, you can leave it. Pick it up at four o’clock. Doesn’t have to be a continuous work situation.’’
We would all agree that being a member of the media is infinitely easier than managing a big league team. It certainly offers better hours. Francona got to Wrigley just before 3 p.m. Sunday. When he managed, he’d sometimes take a cab to the ballpark at about 11 a.m. for a 7 p.m. start.
Valentine is the one on the clock now. He’s the one who decided it was time to keep the sagging Gonzalez (.260, 54 strikeouts, only 20 walks) out of the starting lineup. He’s the one who gave Franklin Morales his first start in three years when Josh Beckett went to the disabled list with a shoulder problem. Valentine was the one working with Carl Crawford on his throwing inside Wrigley’s ivy walls Sunday afternoon.
The new Sox skipper had a good night Sunday at Wrigley. He got a great effort out of emergency starter Morales (five innings, four hits, two runs). He pinch hit Jarrod Saltalamacchia (single to right in the seventh) at the perfect moment. He ordered a perfectly executed squeeze bunt by Daniel Nava. He got an RBI single from emergency center field call-up Kalish. He used six pitchers and 13 position players as the Sox beat the Cubs, 7-4, to vault back to .500.
Valentine has managed 66 games for the Sox and there hasn’t been an easy one yet. The Sox have been in fourth or fifth place for the entire season, and the .500 mark has been Boston baseball’s Kilimanjaro.
The new Sox manager finally seems to be building some allies in the clubhouse. He’s probably never going to be a favorite of Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis. Jon Lester gives him the stink eye every time he’s pulled from a game. But Gonzalez, Saltalamacchia, David Ortiz, and Alfredo Aceves seem to like playing for Valentine.
Bobby V’s done a masterful job figuring out his bullpen on the fly. No one knew what the Sox had among the relievers, and the fellows were brutal in April, but they have been one of the best bullpens in baseball since the first two weeks of the season. Bobby gets credit for bullpen building.
He’s shown an affinity for the bunt that we haven’t seen in a while. He’s complained a little too much about the umpires. He’s endured a hideous string of veteran players going to the disabled list. He’s integrated a number of young talents into the lineup. Sunday night it was Kalish taking the place of Ryan Sweeney.
“We sure as hell have had a lot of that experience this year,’’ said Valentine. “It’s part and parcel of building a winning culture. There’s enthusiasm and unknown qualities. It brings more excitement.’’
There might be even more excitement in store. Scott Podsednik left Sunday’s game in the fifth with a groin injury. Youkilis left after he got his big toe stepped on. In this spring of 2012, everybody hurts and Valentine has the task of finding nine healthy players night after night. He had to manage his butt off in the Wrigley finale.
Every manager’s least-favorite part of “Sunday Night Baseball’’ is the dreaded in-game interview favored by ESPN. Sunday night in the middle of the fourth, we had Bobby donning the headset and taking questions from Shulman. Some managers prefer to take their in-game poison from ESPN sideline reporter Buster Olney in the dugout. Valentine likes to communicate directly with the boys in the booth.
“He did it with the booth because he was in the booth last year,’’ said Shulman.
It was brief. Shulman tossed two softballs, one about Morales looking good, one about Pedroia hitting the ball hard.
Valentine’s answers were friendly and brief. When he wrapped up the Pedroia query with, “Tonight they are falling,’’ Shulman said, “Thanks, Bobby,’’ and that was the end of it.
The Red Sox are off Monday and open a nine-game homestand Tuesday night. They make their next appearance on “Sunday Night Baseball’’ July 8 at Fenway against the Yankees in the final game before the All-Star break.
Let’s hope we’re not still talking about .500 ball at the All-Star break.