Red Sox may have turned it around in Bronx
NEW YORK -- When the story of the 2012 Red Sox's season is ultimately written, the tide may have turned this weekend, when their feisty little skipper returned to manage at Yankee Stadium.Bobby Valentine has worked on both sides of the world since he left the Mets at the end of the 2002 season, but because of the quirks of the schedule, this was the first time since then he's managed a Major League team in the Big Apple. "In Yankee Stadium? It's exciting. It's great to be here," he said after the Red Sox scored a run in the 10th inning to nip the Yankees, 3-2, on Sunday. "This is what you live for. Can you believe I got thrown out at the end of the game?" It was just a punctuation to the weekend. During the last two days, Valentine admitted to a kerfuffle over the playing time of Carl Crawford, received a texted apology from previous Boston manager Terry Francona for spending too much time in the Red Sox clubhouse and was tossed by home-plate umpire Brian O'Nora in the 10th inning on Sunday night for arguing a judgment call. And, oh yes, the Red Sox scored two in the ninth on Saturday to win, 8-6, after blowing a five-run lead, and won on Sunday after surrendering a 2-0 edge. They are still in last place, but they return to Fenway Park on Monday night to open a three-game set against the suddenly rampaging Tigers, trailing the Yankees by 9 1/2 games in the American League East. The Red Sox are also just four games back in the race for the two AL Wild Card spots. They have 60 games left to play and seemed dead on arrival on Friday night after a listless 10-3 loss to the now 60-41 Yankees. After the Friday night game, Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia called out his teammates for their lackluster play. "We're two games under .500. We're the Boston Red Sox, so if anyone's thrilled with where we're at, they better reevaluate because I don't like losing. I know everyone else doesn't like losing," Pedroia said. "We've got to play better now." The next two nights, they received game-winning hits from little known Pedro Ciriaco and the finishing touches out of the bullpen by Alfredo Aceves. Neither was even a glimmer in the Red Sox's plans when Valentine was ultimately hired to replace the deposed Francona, who departed after the Red Sox played 7-19 ball this past September and blew a playoff spot on the final day of the 2011 regular season. All seems to have been out of kilter in Red Sox Nation since then. That tumult now seems to be commonplace in the first-year regime of a man who, between MLB stints, won a title in Japan while managing the Chiba Lotte Marines and then was literally run out of the country by that club's ownership. "I would say this is pretty standard operational procedure, including the way the games were played," Valentine said about his Red Sox. "We have a lot of drama. "Do I thrive on all that drama? It is what is." The final act of the weekend played itself out in the 10th inning on Sunday, with a runner on first base and rookie Will Middlebrooks at the plate. Yes, the kid who made incumbent third baseman and since traded Kevin Youkilis expendable. Middlebrooks squared around to bunt against Yankees reliever David Robertson. The ball deflected off something -- the bat or his forearm -- before clipping O'Nora in the leg to knock him over. Valentine came out of the dugout to check on his player. In the confusion, O'Nora said the ball definitely deflected off Middlebrooks' bat and told him to remain at home plate. Valentine, always the contrarian, began arguing the call and became more and more animated as Middelbrooks showed the umpire his arm. "It was pretty red," Valentine said. "I mean, it wasn't a bee sting." When asked if O'Nora had even seen the play, Valentine said: "He heard it. That's what I took exception with. No one saw it. He just heard it. I'm not going to say anything that's going to get me fined any more." Asked if he'd ever dealt with an umpire who made a call based on what he heard rather than seen, Valentine said, "I remember [late Dodgers manager] Walt Alston arguing a play in which an umpire heard the ball hit off a concrete wall. He said, 'If you can hear that, you're blind.'" No matter, it was the third time this season Valentine has been ejected and the 40th time in his big league managing career. The entire incident caused such a brouhaha in the Red Sox dugout that Adrian Gonzalez could be seen jawing at the umps and Josh Beckett was also tossed -- by third-base umpire and crew chief Tom Hallion. Beckett's dismissal proved that even one of the dissident Red Sox veterans could have Valentine's back. That came as no surprise. "We're in it together and we've been in it a lot together," Valentine said. "They wanted this win as badly as I did. He shows that kind of passion a lot. I guess it was on national TV, so that was even better." Middlebrooks singled to left on the next pitch and the Red Sox were on their way to victory. Whether this all acts as a brake to a season on the brink is still to be determined.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.