According to a Yahoo! Sports report by Jeff Passan, approximately half of the Red Sox squad had a meeting with ownership on July 27 to complain about manager Bobby Valentine and request his dismissal. The impetus for this request was, we’re told, Valentine leaving Jon Lester in too long in his previous start, thereby “embarrassing” Lester, who gave up 11 runs over 5 innings (he didn’t record an out in the fifth) to the Blue Jays.
I watched that game, and I just reviewed the game log. Lester was wretched from the start, but it was also clear that the bullpen wasn’t ready to pitch 7 or 8 innings, as they’d thrown 66 pitches the night before and the team was about to face the Rangers and the Yankees over the following week. So, Valentine was clearly going to squeeze as many innings out of Lester as he could, even if that meant victory got out of reach and Lester’s ERA continued to swell. So, after giving up 5 in the first and 4 in the second, Lester was nudged back onto the field for the third inning. And you know what? He pitched a scoreless third inning. Know what he did in the fourth? Another scoreless inning. And both innings ended with ground ball double plays—a sign that Lester had regained some control of his pitches. Were Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia mortified that Lester was still in the game through that successful fourth inning, or were they impressed that he’d turned things around and saved the bullpen from another inning of mop-up duty? I’m guessing it’s the latter. If not, they weren’t paying attention. Meanwhile, I think it was in the top of the second inning—when the Sox scored three runs to pull within two of the Jays—that Dustin Pedroia was seen having a firm chat with Lester, as if to say, ‘Hey, you need to step up and stop sulking, because we just got you back in the game. Snap out of it. We need innings from you.’
After giving up nine runs through the first two frames and then pitching two scoreless innings, Lester walked the lead-off batter in the fifth on seven pitches and gave up a home run to the next batter, which prompted Valentine to finally give him the hook. Lester went into that inning having thrown 85 pitches, and again, he’d done well in the third and fourth. So it’s not as though Valentine’s plan—to milk Lester for whatever he was worth and spare the bullpen from pitching seven innings—was insane, let alone disrespectful. Nor was it insane to ask Lester to pitch the fifth, given that he’d pitched well in the the third and fourth. And Lester could’ve had a successful fifth inning—but he didn’t. Isn’t that on him?
It’s beyond comical that some players were offended that Valentine made Jon Lester pitch four whole innings against Toronto on July 22 when he allowed 11 runs. This just in: The Sox had 20 games in the next 21 days. They had worn out the bullpen the night before. Maybe the idea of further wearing out the bullpen so a 5-8 pitcher wouldn’t have his lousy ERA go higher wasn’t a big concern at the time.
Indeed. Does anyone think it’s the manager’s job to predict the point at which a pitcher’s poor performance turns from bad to “embarrassing”? Does the manager deserve the blame when any pitcher gives up a two-run homer in the fifth inning of any ballgame, or was this just a problem because Lester’s self confidence was in tatters and he’d given up nine runs in the first two frames?
And why were we always so eager to praise Tim Wakefield for being an “innings eater” even when he knuckler wasn’t working—for essentially being willing to get shelled to spare the bullpen—whereas when Lester stinks we’re supposed to care about his ERA and ignore the bullpen’s workload?
I’m trying to think of an analogous scenario in normal, everyday life—the life that most of us lead, at salaries that pro baseball players would laugh at—wherein employees would feel okay about turning on their boss for having the audacity to ask employees to do their job. I can’t think of anything. But it’s even more ridiculous to think of these millionaires being so protective of each others’ egos when the entire context is a game. Why not just laugh it off instead of sulking, brooding, and conspiring to get another manager fired?
Granted, perhaps Jeff Passan’s report isn’t entirely accurate. Maybe Pedroia and other players at that meeting didn’t call for Valentine’s head. And maybe the impetus for the July 27 meeting wasn’t Valentine’s handling of Jon Lester. We may never really know, as the writers of these quarterly pot-stirrers don’t give up their sources, nor has Josh Beckett or anyone else been able to ferret out the “snitches” who talk to reporters about clubhouse issues.
But seriously, when is this team going to stop whining and stop making excuses? What’s embarrassing isn’t how the manager has handled his team; it’s how this team has handled itself.
Deep thought of the day: Which would be more satisfying, this Sox club making a dramatic comeback and getting back to the World Series, or watching this club get blown up and rebuilt? I’m thinking it’s the latter.