By Jeff Wilson, McClatchy Newspapers –
FORT WORTH, Texas — The past week in Boston was supposed to be about the grandeur of the grand old ballpark, Fenway, and a celebration of the 100-year anniversary of its first game.
And what a party is was Friday afternoon, with more than 200 former players and managers in attendance. Johnny Pesky and Bobby Doerr returned as the centerpieces of the celebration and upstaged Carl Yastrzemski and Carlton Fisk.
But not Terry Francona.
Just as quickly as the Boston Pops finished a musical tribute and Pedro Martinez and Kevin Millar led a toast to the beloved facility on Yawkey Way, reality sunk back in.
Another Red Sox loss, their fourth straight, had fans clamoring for the days of fried chicken, beer and Francona, and wishing Bobby Valentine was back at ESPN.
Bristol, Conn., is probably much closer to Boston than Red Sox fans would want him. Maybe he could be sent back to I-20 and Bowen Road. Better yet, fans might be thinking, send him back to Japan.
Year One of Bobby V, albeit two weeks old, has gone as smoothly as Kim Kardashian’s 73-day marriage to Kris Humphries. And it doesn’t seem all that crazy to think that Bobby V won’t last any longer than the made-for-reality-TV couple did.
To fire a manager based on one bad week and 14 games normally would seem outrageous, but a disturbing trend has developed. In one week’s time, Bobby V alienated the clubhouse; lost 18-3 to the Rangers and mismanaged another game the next night; and lost to the hated Yankees on Fenway’s 100th birthday.
The one thing Valentine might be most guilty of, though, was a belief that he had a serious contender when he was hired away from the cozy confines of a broadcast booth.
The Red Sox aren’t a good team right now. Injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford and Andrew Bailey would disarm any team, but Boston has no quality depth behind them. Apparently, there are no prospects advanced enough to make a difference on the big league roster, either.
Boston isn’t as potent as in past seasons. Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and designated hitter David Ortiz are tough outs, and Ellsbury would be another.
But Cody Ross, Jason Repko, Mike Aviles, Darnell McDonald and Jarrod Saltalamacchia scare no opposing pitchers. The only thing scary about Crawford, at least based on his 2011 season, is his contract.
Youkilis was at the heart of an early-week controversy when Valentine said the popular third baseman was lacking passion. Youkilis could have defused the comments, but instead spoke to the media.
So did Pedroia, who essentially was speaking for the clubhouse when he said that Valentine’s criticism of a player in the media isn’t “really the way we go about our stuff here. I’m sure he’ll figure that out soon.”
Valentine apologized to Youkilis on Monday, and then didn’t pull Daniel Bard soon enough in a 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay in which Bard walked in the only run.
Then the Rangers came to town and scored their most runs ever at Fenway Park as the Red Sox bullpen coughed up eight runs in the eighth inning Tuesday. Valentine cost them a chance Wednesday when he stuck with struggling left-hander Franklin Morales against lefty-killer Mike Napoli with the game on the line in the eighth inning.
Valentine was booed heartily once he pulled the trigger on Morales, one batter and two runs too late. The boos had turned to chants for Francona on Friday.
That’s not how the 100-year bash should have ended. But reality and the Red Sox, as Bobby V is learning, stink right now.
Kemp on a tear
Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp has said that he wants to be baseball’s first 50-50 man, 50 homers and 50 steals, after going 39-40 but missing out on the National League MVP.
He’s doing his best early on to get to half of his goal, with an MLB-leading eight homers entering Saturday. But a triple crown seems more probable than 50-50 at this point.
Kemp also led in RBIs (20) and was second in batting average (.481). Steals? He had only one in three attempts.
About 30 minutes to the south, in Orange County, first baseman Albert Pujols entered Saturday still seeking his first homer of the season and first with Anaheim.
The drought hit 14 games Friday night, the longest stretch without a homer to start any of Pujols’ 12 big leagues seasons. He was one of four players with an MLB-leading seven doubles.
Owner Arte Moreno, though, didn’t spend $240 million on Pujols for warning-track power.
The leaders of the National League East after Friday’s game were the Washington Nationals, whose pitching staff through 15 games had helped overcome the loss of two key contributors.
Their rotation had an ERA of 1.94 to lead the majors. Phenom Stephen Strasburg (1.42) had only the third-best ERA among the starting five, behind Ross Detwiler (0.56) and Jordan Zimmermann (1.29)
Washington has a long way to go before it is established as a playoff contender. Atlanta, which had won nine of 10 entering Saturday, and Philadelphia remain the teams to beat in the NL East.