Editor’s note: NESN.com is going to tell the story of the 2012 Red Sox in Bobby Valentine’s words. Each game day, we will select a Valentine quote that sums up the day for the Red Sox.
The Red Sox’ 2-1 loss to the Rays on Wednesday night was certainly a tight one, with strange plays and situations that could have gone the other way.
But, in a way, the game was typical of how the Red Sox have fared all season. As much as the team would like to feel good about a solid effort and say, “We’ll get ’em next time,” this is a crew that has never been certain that it’s true.
The Red Sox are a work in progress, from the pitching to the hitting to manager Bobby Valentine, who gains a little breathing room every time the Sox win only to lose it again as the team stumbles below .500.
Boston was certainly buoyed by its five-game winning streak coming into Wednesday’s game, with a quality start from each member of its rotation. But just as the team can look so good during such stretches, when the starters go deep into games and the offense clicks, the Red Sox can also look downright terrible on nights like Wednesday. The heart of the Red Sox order — David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez and Will Middlebrooks — went 0-for-11, and Clay Buchholz and Franklin Morales combined for three balks. The Red Sox now lead the league in balks.
“I have no idea,” Valentine said after the game. “I’ve never seen an epidemic of balks.”
There’s a lot the Red Sox have done this season that Valentine probably wasn’t expecting as part of his managing job, and he’s responded accordingly. Valentine has done less aggressive managing and more sitting on his heels, trying to steer a ship that has plenty of other forces pulling it in different directions. The fan base, the player personalities, the injuries, the uneven performances from every part of the team — Valentine is playing his hand as cautiously as he can until the Red Sox string something together. It’s a far cry from a manager once known for his unconventional ways.
Valentine gets looser every time the Red Sox pull off a few wins, but he was back to taking it cautiously in Wednesday night’s loss. Buchholz had patched together a decent start when he took a batted ball off his foot, and Valentine came out with the hook.
“I just wasn’t going to take chances after the one pitch I saw him throw,” Valentine said.
It’s a tight area the manager has to maneuver in right now, and the team seems to be following the lead of a man who has made his fair share of tentative moves. But whether Valentine needs more wins, is still getting used to managing again or feels like he doesn’t have a very long leash in Boston, a little aggression may do this team some good.
The season is now nearly a quarter of the way through, and there’s still work to be done. Whatever Valentine and the Sox have been doing so far hasn’t produced terrific results. Even if what has happened so far is building blocks, it’s not close to the level of greatness its fans, team and manager want.
Some nights, when the balks are plentiful and balls are hitting funny places, Valentine and Co. may not want to take any chances. But soon, it may be time to skip the conventional and try some crazy stuff.
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