One of the many entertaining takeaways from Michael Lewis’s Moneyball was a little nugget of information about the Boston Red Sox’s Kevin Youkilis. He acquired the accurate nickname of the Greek God of Walks due to his propensity for getting on base (a key component to playing Moneyball successfully). But perhaps his new skipper in Beantown, one Bobby Valentine, should be the labelled the God of Talks after his remarks the other night questioning the third baseman’s commitment.
To be sure, Youkilis has suffered a sluggish start to the new season (he’s batting .176) though it’s widely known that hitters often take some time to get back into the groove every April. Still, it didn’t stop Bobby V from stating that “I don’t think he is physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason.”
The remark would have been a bold one surrounding such a beloved player even had it come from a skipper who’d been in charge for years rather than months. So it certainly seemed a puzzling tactic from a manager who, the feeling was, planned to put the pressure on himself rather than his team who, lest we forget (not that fans of the New York Yankees would ever allow it) had just about the worst collapse possible last September, blowing a nine-game lead and losing out on a wild card spot on arguably the wildest final day in regular season history.
But almost as soon as Valentine had opened his mouth, one of Youk’s teammates came to his defense. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia (and to give some perspective: if Youk is loved then Pedey is loved) entered the discussion with a couple of zingers (or perhaps lasers would be more appropriate) as brutal as anything he smacks around the ballpark. “I know Youk plays as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen in my life and I have his back and his teammates have his back,” Pedroia said, before going even further. “We know how hard he plays. I don’t really understand what Bobby’s trying to do, but that’s not the way we go about our stuff around here. I’m sure he’ll figure that out soon.”
The implication was crystal clear: do not mess with us. Soon enough, Valentine went into damage control mode, apologizing for any offense Youkilis may have taken. But the drama lingered a little longer with the player kept out of the lineup Monday against Tampa as a precaution because of a sore groin (by his own admission, Youkilis “slid a little funky” into home plate in Sunday’s win against the Rays).
Come Tuesday and Youk was raring to go. “We’ve all moved on,” he said. “We’re all ready to play Texas and we’re going to go out there and try to get a W against Texas.” Unfortunately for the Sox, the only capital letter doing the rounds last night was an L after they took an absolute shellacking from the Rangers, who hammered them 18-3. It was almost as bad as can be, though at least Josh Hamilton’s home run didn’t quite match the legendary 502-foot shot once hit by Ted Williams.
As for Youkilis, he was back in the lineup but struck out in each of his four at-bats. Valentine wisely didn’t comment but, somewhat ironically, said about the defeat that “I can’t describe this one,” which is a tactic many in Red Sox Nation wish he’d employed earlier in the week. The Sox are in last place in the AL East, star player Jacoby Ellsbury is on the DL (to say nothing of new closer Andrew Bailey going down before the season even started) and the vultures are circling. If they lose this series and the following home games over the weekend to the Yankees – who are the visitors as Fenway Park celebrates its 100th anniversary on Friday – then the crisis will be well and truly on. Speaking of the anniversary, Bobby V inadvertently let slip that the Sox will be wearing throwback uniforms on Friday night (There hadn’t been an official announcement yet). The verbal gaffes are becoming a variation on a theme all too familiar to the Nation – but this time, it could become known as Bobby Being Bobby.