Manager Bobby Valentine wasn’t around to see the Red Sox’ 8-6 victory over the Kansas City Royals Sunday at Fenway Park.
He was ejected in the bottom of the fifth inning after arguing an egregious out call on Dustin Pedroia by first base umpire Dan Bellino, who either got momentarily distracted or needs LASIK eye surgery immediately. Valentine missed new acquisition James Loney’s first hit as a Red Sox, a single up the middle that tied the game, 4-4, in the fifth; pitcher Pedro Beato picking up his first win in a Red Sox uniform; and Mark Melancon earning his first save with the Sox.
Nice milestones, but like Sunday’s victory, footnotes in a season that has passed the point of no return. The question is, has Valentine passed the point of no return with the Red Sox? Will they toss him out like Bellino or embrace him like the Fenway Faithful, who gave Valentine a hearty ovation as he exited the field?
Yes, the Fenway Faithful who lustily booed Valentine on Opening Day applauded him with zeal after he was ejected for the fifth time this season.
The day after The Deal, it was an ovation that felt like more than applauding a manager for confronting an umpire on a blatantly missed call. It felt like an aural olive branch, an acknowledgment that the right guys went to Los Angeles and the right guy stayed in the manager’s office.
After the game, Valentine feigned virtual ignorance of the crowd support.
“I was still steaming,” he said. “I think they got the team excited. They got on their feet and the team wanted to keep them on their feet. It was good.”
After cleansing their clubhouse with the Richter scale-rocking trade of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Red Sox have to use the rest of the season to determine — if they haven’t already — if Bobby V is part of what general manager Ben Cherington called the chance to “build the next great Red Sox team,” or is parting ways with Valentine the way to go.
The club has made it clear that it is committed to Valentine for the rest of this year, pledging not to fire him. But what would really make a statement would be if the Sox indicated they planned to have him in their dugout on Opening Day in 2013. If he’s their guy for next year, come out and say it. End all the speculation.
The last thing the Sox need is another offseason managerial melodrama that drags on like the Thirty Years’ War.
Valentine was asked if he expected to be back next year. He offered a terse, “Yes.” When pressed for what had given him an indication that would be case, he was not in much of a mood to elaborate, showing some of the feistiness he did with Bellino.
“I answered the question, ‘Yeah.’ I have a contract for next year that’s why, obviously,” he said.
Duly noted, Bobby.
The original idea of axing Valentine was tied to the reality that he was never going to get the most out of the roster he was handed. There was too much resistance and too much obstinacy. The team Valentine will be asked to manage next year will be different than the one that rebuked his critiques and went behind his back to ownership with complaints.
The transformative deal with the Dodgers has given Valentine something the Red Sox failed to — a mandate. The Sox turned out to be the rare team willing to dump the actors instead of the director.
Couple the trade with the team’s decision last week to fire pitching coach Bob McClure, who had clashed with Valentine during the season, and there is evidence that the Sox are trying to give Valentine the environment he needs to be judged on his managerial merits.
A more conspiratorial sort would say they’re paving the path for his return.
Sunday was one of those days when you could see it working with Valentine. A tired and shellshocked team that blew a six-run lead for the second time in four days on Saturday night didn’t roll over for the Royals after Felix Doubront, making his return to the mound, surrendered four runs in the fourth and a 2-0 Boston lead.
Pedro Ciriaco, one of Valentine’s finds, began the fireworks in the fifth with a home run over the Monster, part of a 3-for-5, two-run, two-RBI day for Ciriaco, who also legged out an RBI infield single in the seventh. The speedy infielder is defying the idea that his success (.360 average now in 42 games) is a fluke.
Identifying the untapped ability of players such as Ciriaco and pitcher Franklin Morales is one of the areas that Valentine deserves credit for. He gets the most out of unheralded players, which with a potential bridge year on deck might be a trait the Sox need in a manager.
The injuries — the Sox already have used 52 players this year, three more than all of last season — and underperformance of the pitching staff can’t be pinned on Valentine. Those are problems that would be difficult for any manager to overcome.
But Valentine has created his own issues with miscommunication and missteps with players. No roster turnover can remedy that.
Perhaps, Valentine’s ejection was a preview of next season.
“I didn’t try to get kicked out of there,” said Valentine. “I didn’t really get upset until I did get kicked out. I was just voicing an opinion. We all have them.”
We’re waiting for the Sox to voice theirs on Valentine in 2013.