Shrug off the (former) closer's late-game histrionics like the Yankees have been shrugging off the shirt-untucking of their step-in closer, Rafael Soriano, since he started winning games for them this season.
Alfredo Aceves was given the rope to act as strange as he wanted this year in Boston, a city that welcomes characters and craziness as long as the wins come along, too.
But the wins haven't come. And Aceves' eccentricities have gone from peculiar to compulsive. Instead of a fun-loving figure leading a band of merry misfits to a crown, ala Brian Wilson in San Francisco or even the troupe of Manny Ramirez, Kevin Millar and company that brought Boston its 2004 glory, Aceves has become a symbol of how a little bit of crazy can instead be a sign of serious things gone wrong if the victories don't follow.
Aceves was given every chance to succeed this season for the Red Sox, but he fumbled a few solid opportunities and then just took to looking foolish every time out down the stretch. Where he lies in the team's future is all but a foregone conclusion, if not for his considerable lack of execution than for his oddities, which are no longer endearing.
Aceves acting strange would be a great storyline if the team was chugging through the wins. Instead, it's brought substance to accusations that the whole team is off the rails, and that manager Bobby Valentine has perhaps lost the magic that once kept his funny-farm teams in place.
The latest act in the deteriorating show of Aceves charting his own path happened Saturday afternoon. The Red Sox were trying one more time to prove that they had the fight to, if not salvage their own season, at least wreck the closing stretch of the teams that have had no chemistry or winning problems this year. Boston led Baltimore for much of Saturday's game, then succumbed to a tie late, sending the game into extra innings.
At that point, every baseball fan knew the Orioles would win. Baltimore, after all, has now won 16 consecutive extra-inning games (the most in the major leagues since 1949). The Birds are 9-1 in games that have gone 12 innings or more, and Baltimore has built its above-water record on pulling out the tight games, many of them at the Red Sox' behest.
But even with Baltimore having all the odds to win, the Sox were still fighting — until Aceves came in and made it extra special, giving up the game-winners and making an event out of it.
In his own unique way, Aceves once again emblemized what has ruined the Red Sox this season. Much of the team is strong — full of talent and hitting and pitching. Much of the team has fire, and the will to win. But this year's Red Sox, who have perennially thrived on the crazy, have also had a little too much voodoo all season long. The stick that once stirred the pot to victory was now stirring the team to lunacy. The extra drama that once created passion and made Boston such a fun place to play was now making nightmares worse. The extra pressure wasn't pushing players on to greatness — it was causing screws to pop loose.
Aceves is an easy scapegoat, as he's had the most public displays of emotion and straight-up weirdness. But really, the problem of a little too much wackiness and not enough winning has been afflicting the entire Red Sox roster all year. While Boston has made the most of drama before, the need this year was to recover from a bad fall (pun intended), and stirring things up on several levels seems to have been the worst way to do that.
Still, when this season is wrapped up with a tidy bow after Oct. 3, the lingering memories should be of the crazy, not of the collapse. The crazy can be jettisoned from Fenway Park, with whatever rendition the Red Sox opt for next year having a better chance of providing the calm needed to pull together some wins.
That most likely means that Aceves used up his free pass this year. The likelihood of both him and Valentine returning is slim, and Aceves has done more to make his colorful nature a liability than an asset.
The shirt-ripping tirade last month was really the beginning of the end. Aceves had already started to put himself above the team as far back as spring training, when he pouted upon not winning a starting job. He got the consolation prize of being the closer, but he continued to draw attention through that as well, whether it be his underwhelming performances or his showdowns with his manager and teammates when things didn't go his way. Even when Andrew Bailey proved himself to be more reliable and less volatile, Aceves always acted as if his treatment was some kind of personal slight, pitching fits every time he didn't get his way.
Aceves had a history of behavioral problems that made him a wild card coming to Boston. The Yankees, who used him very effectively as a long setup man, grew tired of his antics and self-oriented training tactics. Aceves had run up a reputation of someone who was on his own schedule by the time he came to the Red Sox, and although he played good soldier for a bit, his self-first attitude emerged again early. Even innocent acts, like roping catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia into a pantomimed postgame routine after wins, gave the idea that one person's oddball behavior was above the entire team's outcomes.
In that way, another strange Aceves night should not be marked down as something to sigh at, but rather as a sign of what this season has been — and what next year doesn't have to be. Sometimes, crazy works at Fenway Park. Other times, especially when it's the players calling the crazy for their own benefits and the team disintegrating under many agendas, it does not. Boston has had plenty of the latter this year on many levels, but it now knows for sure that an even hand is the best way to go moving forward.
The decision to make with Aceves is easy. In 25 innings since Aug. 2, he has walked 11 batters and given up 29 hits and 25 earned runs. The other decision to make, with the Red Sox (68-85) as a whole, has been a near consensus by fans, management and anyone else: revamp and move on.
It took a crew of misfits to bring glory after an 86-year drought in 2004, but a championship contender now may need a more staid look. The next chapter? Pass on the characters that are only a boon to the Red Sox when things are going right. Instead, find some character to carry this team back to the consistency that can weather all wrongs.