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Blame shouldn't lie with Valentine

4/22/2012
Bobby Valentine has had a rough beginning to his managerial career in Boston. AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

BOSTON -- Most of the Red Sox players had scurried out of the Boston clubhouse by the time reporters arrived after Saturday's debacle. "I'm not talking today," David Ortiz said, before quietly exiting.

A few Red Sox players did stick around, from Mike Aviles to Jarrod Saltalamacchia to Felix Doubront, to talk about their historically horrific collapse. But most of the responsibility for answering questions had been left to Bobby Valentine. Seventeen days into his first season as manager of the Red Sox, his entrance into the packed press room felt a little like a condemned prisoner being marched in front of a firing squad. The pointed questions came at him from all directions, and he absorbed the full brunt of implication in each.

"I think we've hit bottom," he said. "If this isn't bottom, we'll find some new ends of the earth."

It became evident at Fenway on Saturday that so long as the Red Sox continue to play badly, Valentine will continue to answer for the sins of a franchise. The angry fans want to show their displeasure, and they can't boo owners John Henry and Tom Werner, who don't wear uniforms and don't appear on the field. They can't boo club president Larry Lucchino, nor general manager Ben Cherington. Theo Epstein is in Chicago now. Josh Beckett doesn't play every game, Carl Crawford isn't here yet. Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia have been spared.

So the fans booed Valentine, as he journeyed repeatedly to and from the dugout throughout Saturday's game. Alfredo Aceves surrendered the last of Boston's 9-0 lead on Saturday, when Nick Swisher clubbed a two-run double off the center field wall, and as Valentine emerged from the dugout to relieve the pseudo closer, the boos began. Valentine accepted the ball from Aceves, patted him on the backside as he walked off -- and the booing stopped.

Then, after Valentine handed the ball to a reliever and turned to walk to the dugout, the booing resumed. To review: One of the half-dozen pitchers who turned a 9-0 lead into a 15-9 loss was spared, but Valentine was booed. It's not business, it's personal.

Maybe throughout New England today, some of those same fans will peruse the box scores and understand that blaming Valentine for the state of the Red Sox is a little like screaming at a bank teller for the collapse of the financial markets in 2008. The Boston pitching is atrocious, and has been for a while now, with an ERA over six since the start of September 2011.

Aceves has an ERA of 24.00; Mark Melancon was sent to the minors earlier this week with an ERA close to 50; Justin Thomas' ERA is 7.71; Vicente Padilla's 9.82; Franklin Morales is one of the sturdier contributors, at 6.35.

The Red Sox had a 9-1 lead at the end of six innings, when Valentine made the decision to remove Doubront after 99 pitches. Valentine could have asked Doubront to at least start the seventh, but he felt that taking the young lefty out was "a no-brainer," he said. It's early in the season, Doubront was nearing the end of his day, anyhow; managers want young pitchers such as Doubront to feel good about themselves, and an ugly seventh inning could have muddled the day for him.

But the Red Sox crumbled after Doubront left, exposing Valentine to the question of why he took out the pitcher. If a manager can't count on his bullpen to hold an eight-run lead with nine outs to go, the problems go way beyond that one decision.

Henry, Lucchino and Cherington met with Valentine after the game, and Cherington told reporters that the discussion was held, in part, to make sure that everybody involved knew they were all in this situation together. Behind closed doors, there was presumably more to it than that. The Red Sox owners are known to be as anxious as some of the fans who booed Valentine, and as Valentine acknowledged before his meeting, everything will be considered.

Could they talk about moving Daniel Bard back to the bullpen? Sure. Could they call up Aaron Cook for the rotation? Of course. Could they discuss some options in the trade market? Absolutely.

But to steal a line appropriate for this week, this is like shifting the deck chairs on the Titanic. Moving Bard to the closer's role doesn't guarantee that Bard is going to succeed in that role, and it opens up a hole in the rotation -- and only Doubront has a lower ERA among the Red Sox's starters than Bard's 4.63. Some rival evaluators in the dining area wondered about whether Clay Buchholz's back is still bothering him, and preventing him from driving the ball down in the strike zone. Beckett pitched better the last two starts, but he is a long way from being the elite pitcher that he has been in the past. Jon Lester still struggles with early-inning pitch counts.

Daisuke Matsuzaka may or may not help when he rejoins the rotation in a month or so. The only sure thing is that Valentine will be the funnel for the displeasure of Red Sox fans every time he walks on the field. He tipped his cap after his last pitching change Saturday, in acknowledging the boos, but there will be no courtesies returned unless the pitching improves.

Valentine has crossed into the Joe Kerrigan Zone, writes Dan Shaughnessy. Cherington said he's very satisfied with Valentine. Blame the bullpen, not Bobby V, writes Steve Buckley. The Boston situation is in hell, writes Michael Silverman.
It was a total disaster, writes Peter Abraham.

The Red Sox's psyche may be damaged beyond repair, writes Bob Klapisch.

The Yankees scored two late touchdowns, writes David Waldstein. Freddy Garcia was terrible again, Anthony McCarron writes. The Yankees' rally can't hide New York's rotation mess.

Meanwhile: Michael Pineda had a setback.

From the Elias Sports Bureau:

The last time a team scored seven runs in consecutive innings in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry was on June 19, 2000, when the Yankees scored nine in the eighth and then seven in the ninth in a 22-1 win.

The Yankees' 15-9 win over the Red Sox marked the second time in the modern era that a team trailed by at least nine runs and ended up winning the game by at least six runs.

Humber's perfect game

• When Philip Humber faced the Orioles last week, the Baltimore dugout chatter was about how many breaking balls the right-hander was throwing -- slider after slider after slider. Good sliders, sharp sliders.

This was only a warm-up act to what the Mariners saw Saturday, as Humber threw the 21st perfect game in baseball history. Fifteen of the 27 outs Humber registered came on sliders.

More from ESPN Stats and Info on Humber's perfecto:

• Humber had the second-fewest career wins (11) in MLB history prior to his perfect game. It was only the seventh perfect game on the road, and the first since Roy Halladay in 2012.

• Plate umpire Brian Runge also called Jonathan Sanchez's no-hitter three seasons ago on July 10, 2009.

• The Mariners were last no-hit by Dwight Gooden of the Yankees on May 14, 1996.

How White Sox starter Philip Humber threw a perfect game against the Mariners:

• Humber threw 32 sliders, resulting in 15 outs and six strikeouts. In his two starts this season, opponents are 1-for-22 with nine strikeouts in at-bats ending with a Humber slider.

• Humber threw his slider 13.5 percent of the time the first time through the order, then 45.8 percent of the time the next two times through the order.

• Forty-seven of Humber's 96 pitches (48.9 percent) were sliders or curveballs, his second-highest percentage since the start of last season.

• His only game with a higher percentage of breaking balls was in his only other start this season. Opponents are 1-for-29 in at-bats ending with a Humber breaking ball this season.

• He did not go to a three-ball count in the first eight innings before going to two in the ninth. Both three-ball counts ended in strikeouts, including Humber's first career strikeout in an at-bat in which he fell behind 3-0.

Pitching coach Don Cooper convinced Humber to ditch his cutter and go with the slider.

Humber isn't sure what he is doing on the list of guys who have thrown perfect games, Mark Gonzales writes. A.J. Pierzynski had to track down the final strike.

Humber is thrilled that his stuff is headed to the Hall of Fame.

Mariners fans were on their feet, cheering, Steve Kelley writes.

Matt Kemp is absurdly hot right now: He's got nine homers already, and we're only 17 days into the season.

From ESPN Stats and Info:

Matt Kemp has hit as many home runs as the Reds and Padres and has hit more homers than the Astros, Phillies, Pirates and Cubs.

Kemp and Andre Ethier have combined for 43 RBIs this season. The two have recorded more RBIs than the Phillies (40) and Pirates (26) have as a team.

• The hits just keep on coming for the Diamondbacks, who have lost Daniel Hudson to a shoulder issue. They basically have had three of their best 10 players deal with injuries in the last week, and it's costing them: They've dropped five straight games.

• The Royals have fallen, and they can't get up: That's nine straight losses and counting for Kansas City, as Blair Kerkhoff writes. Never saw this coming. And more bad news for the Royals: Greg Holland was placed on the disabled list.

By The Numbers, from ESPN Stats and Info

1.7: Percent of people who owned Humber in ESPN.com fantasy leagues entering Saturday.

13: MLB-record games for Mark Teixeira with a home run from each side of the plate after he pulled the feat Saturday.

21: Perfect games in MLB history after Humber's outing at Seattle.

92.5: Justin Verlander's average fastball velocity Saturday, matching his lowest since 2009.

99.5: Speed of the fastball Edwin Encarnacion hit for a home run Saturday off Kelvin Herrera, the fastest pitch to be hit for a home run since June 26, 2010.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. After breaking a losing streak, the Cubs announced the trade of Marlon Byrd to the Red Sox.

2. Randy Wells was summoned from Triple-A.

3. Terry Foster thinks it's time for the Tigers to get rid of Brandon Inge.

4. Daniel Schlereth was sent to Triple-A.

5. Johnny Damon is getting ready to return.

6. There have been no recent talks between the Phillies and Cole Hamels; he will eventually reach a point where he's so close to free agency that he may inevitably decide to test the market, rather than simply accept a Philadelphia offer. The market baseline for Hamels was set by the Matt Cain contract, at five years and $112.5 million, but agents who don't represent the left-hander are certain he could get a six-year deal in free agency from the Cubs, Dodgers or some other team.

Dings and dents

1. Relievers have a better shot after their second elbow surgery, John Shea writes.

2. Rest and recovery have impacted the Rockies' lineup, and will continue to do so, Troy Renck writes.

3. Ryan Zimmerman expects to be back in the Washington lineup Tuesday.

4. Cliff Lee landed on the disabled list.

Saturday's games

1. The Brewers' offense finally broke out.

2. Carl Pavano pitched well, but lost.

3. Jered Weaver was The Man for the Angels.

4. After the Giants' game ended, Buster Posey argued.

5. The Athletics couldn't stop all of the Cleveland baserunners.

6. A Padres lefty outdueled a superstar. The Padres were able to grind out some runs, Bill Center writes.

7. The Colorado bullpen got roughed up.

8. Drew Hutchison made his debut, and the Jays won.

9. Justin Verlander cooled off the Rangers and gave the Tigers a big pick-me-up, John Lowe writes. Not one of his strikeouts Saturday came on fastballs. Earlier in the day, Rick Porcello had an ugly pitching line -- but if you watched the highlights, it wasn't as if he was giving up rockets. He had some bad luck, and some poor defense behind him.

10. The game got away from Mike Leake in a hurry.

11. Jason Kipnis had a really good day.

12. The Cardinals got shut down by an old pro.

13. The Braves are rolling: Tommy Hanson's victory Saturday was Atlanta's 10th in its last 11 games.

14. James Shields was in control again, Gary Shelton writes. B.J. Upton got his first hits and RBIs of the season.

15. The Texas offense is rolling, but Adrian Beltre got hurt.

16. Jake Arrieta had a bad inning.

17. The Mets pulled it out, crazily.

18. The Nationals keep finding a way, this time with Ian Desmond ending all matters.

19. A.J. Burnett is back, and he was terrific.

20. The sixth inning took down Kyle Weiland.

21. The Marlins made a bunch of defensive mistakes.

Other stuff

Stephen Strasburg's fastball took down an umpire.

Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals is a throwback, because he doesn't wear batting gloves.

Ivan Rodriguez will always be a jewel for the Rangers, writes Randy Galloway.

• A Cubs rookie has been pushing for more playing time.

• The Giants' rotation is rounding into shape, Henry Schulman writes.

• Oakland's 1972 champions were honored.

J.P. Arencibia has had some give-and-take on Twitter.

Albert Pujols remains powerless, writes Jeff Miller.

• It's become clear that what is bothering Francisco Liriano now is his head.

• Fans are upset about tattered seat cushions in the L.A. area ballparks.

And today will be better than yesterday.