August 22, 2012

On Baseball: Angels remind us of what once was for Red Sox

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BOSTON — Managers for the Red Sox and Angels spoke before the game, and it brought back glorious memories of the past decade.

Mike Trout, Erick Aybar
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Center fielder Mike Trout, left, and shortstop Erick Aybar laugh as they celebrate a victory for the Los Angeles Angels at Fenway Park. Trout, with 139 hits, has the most for a rookie through 100 games since Tony Oliva had 144 in 1964.

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But this time, Mike Scioscia of the Los Angeles Angels wasn't talking about how to pitch to David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. And Boston's first-year manager, Bobby Valentine, didn't utter the words "playoff rotation."

No, these days the Angels and Red Sox are falling from contenders to pretenders.

Scioscia has made numerous playoff paths through Fenway, losing in three games in 2004, finished by an Ortiz home run in the 10th inning.

Then came 2007 and another Red Sox sweep, this one finished in Anaheim, Calif., with a 9-1 rout.

Jed Lowrie hit the walkoff RBI single in the ninth inning to clinch the series in 2008.

The playoffs of 2009 featured the beginning of the end for Boston – another three-game sweep, with the Red Sox on the losing end (the Angels then lost to the Yankees in the ALCS).

Back then those playoff teams featured balance. Now both clubs need pitching. The Angels are ninth in the American League in ERA (4.21), the Red Sox 11th (4.30).

"There's not one cure-all," Scioscia said. "We're starting to see some progress We're seeing some guys hopefully showing signs of getting back on track – and we need it."

Progress hopefully showing signs

He sounds a lot like Valentine, who has been talking for months about his team going on a run.

On Tuesday, Valentine was also talking about pitching, specifically the dismissal of Red Sox pitching coach Bob McClure. Both men had previously said they need to improve communication (i.e., they wouldn't talk to each other; not an ideal dynamic between manager and pitching coach).

"Obviously, coming into a new situation, there were adjustments that he and I were making as the year went on," Valentine said, explaining that those adjustments were "getting to know each other."

Apparently the adjustments did not go far enough. Now Randy Niemann, who has a history of working with Valentine, takes over as pitching coach.

"We thought just maybe a little different voice in the clubhouse would make a little difference," Valentine said.

Valentine went on to say that McClure was both his and Ben Cherington's choice for pitching coach before the season. But Valentine, as he often does, qualified that, saying, "I don't think he was on the first list (of candidates) we were running out of time and he was the best candidate out there."

A ringing endorsement? Boston's skipper continues to talk around one of this team's dysfunctions – confusion over who is making decisions and how are they being communicated.

"You set up a network for communications. There have been some breakdowns," Valentine said. "From whatever, from Ben to wherever it goes, to the training room, through my office however we want it to be set up. There have been a few glitches.

"There's always problems getting the word out properly.

"I'd like to really appraise it and figure it out sometime and give you a great answer."

Sounds like a smooth operation.

Remember when Valentine came to Portland in January for the annual Sea Dogs Hot Stove Banquet?

Valentine spoke of players needing to motivate themselves, but also providing a situation where they could do just that.

"I'm hoping the guys are in an environment from the first day of spring training to the end of the season that will help them self-start and self-motivate," Valentine said at the time.

"I'll be there to turn up the volume or turn it down, or do whatever I think might be able to help them be as good as they can possibly be."

Boston had hopes for this year under Valentine. Surely these Red Sox were going to come out full throttle, making up for last September's collapse.

Instead, Boston needs a September miracle. The Red Sox entered Tuesday's game in sixth place in the wild-card race, with Seattle a half-game behind them.

When the Mariners are breathing down your neck, it's time to reassess and make changes.

Maybe that's what the Red Sox are doing by dismissing McClure. Maybe its a sign that the front office will back Valentine.

Maybe the communication will improve now that the manager has a pitching coach who will talk to him.

More improvements are obviously needed. Better pitching would help.

While 2012 looks like Year 3 without a postseason game in Boston, there are still positives to note.

On Tuesday, the Red Sox celebrated the life of Johnny Pesky with a pregame ceremony. All the Boston players wore Pesky's No. 6.

And on radio station WEEI, and on NESN, the annual Jimmy Fund radio-telethon is taking place. Instead of hearing fans and talking heads scream about this team, we hear stories of courage and hope (just as we do with the Maine Children's Cancer Program).

So we have a reminder that there are facets to Red Sox baseball that can be applauded.

But for the performance on the field, in the dugout and in the general manager's office, please hold your applause.

 

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: ClearTheBases

 

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