September 26, 2012

On Baseball: At Fenway, a sense of desperation

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BOSTON - Walk around Fenway Park around 6 p.m. and you hear the constant sounds, something similar to crickets on a late night in the Maine woods.

Bobby Valentine
click image to enlarge

Take a look. A good look. Wednesday night is expected to be the final time that Bobby Valentine wears the Red Sox uniform at Fenway Park as the team’s manager.

The Associated Press

WEDNESDAY'S GAME

WHO: Red Sox (Lester 9-13) vs. Tampa Bay Rays (Cobb 9-9)

WHEN: 7:10 p.m.

WHERE: Fenway Park

TELEVISION: NESN

Tikkits, tikkits, tikkits here.

Maybe it's my imagination but the scalpers seem a little more desperate these days.

Fenway is no longer the place to be. The hard-to-get tickets can be had at a discount. The announced sellouts seem fabricated.

What has happened to your Boston Red Sox?

Wednesday night is the final home game of the 2012 season, and it is as meaningless a game as Boston has played in several years. Even the opponent, the thrifty Tampa Bay Rays, are almost out of contention.

But Tampa Bay, with its $64 million payroll at the start of the season, is a perennial underdog.

Boston's payroll was $175 million at the start of the season.

And for paying top dollar, how did the Red Sox perform this year?

Um, um

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment was shedding three multi-million-dollar contracts by trading Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford to Los Angeles (how's that working for you, Dodgers?).

As for the performance, you cannot talk up the record. This will be Boston's first losing season since 1997.

Did the Red Sox get the culture change that ownership wanted? Management hoped to negate the impression of an apathetic team that led to the collapse last September.

Remember those silly NESN promotions? They featured players stating emphatically that "every game matters, every play matters."

The owners had already brushed aside the most accomplished manager in Red Sox history, Terry Francona, and brought in Bobby Valentine to shake it up, so to speak.

But today, unless ownership drops a bombshell and keeps Valentine, this will be his last game at Fenway Park.

As stated before, ad nauseum, this 2012 season is not Valentine's fault. But he has not demonstrated that he can turn things around.

In 2012, everything the Red Sox did seemed to blow up, in terms of injuries or under-performance.

"Some things that were tried didn't work out as well as everyone had hoped," pitcher Daniel Bard said. "That goes for me as well."

Bard, 27, is one of the symbols of this Red Sox season -- beginning with promise and hope, but soon looking for solutions and not finding them.

Bard was supposed to play a role in the new and improved Red Sox in 2012. In his first two full seasons in Boston, in 2010 and 2011, Bard was a strong set-up reliever, featuring a 2.62 ERA with 150 strikeouts in 1472/3 innings.

This past spring Boston decided to make Bard a starter, a role he had in college and in his first pro season in 2007. That '07 year was a disaster for Bard and he was moved to the bullpen to correct his command.

It worked. But Boston figured Bard could now be more helpful as a starter. A rotation of Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, rookie Felix Doubront and Bard looked pretty solid.

"Came in with a different role. Working on a lot of different things all at once. Trying to add new pitches, add a windup, perfect my mechanics," Bard said.

Bard was 4-6 with a 5.30 ERA in 10 starts. That ERA is a little skewed by Bard's last start on June 3, a disastrous 12/3-inning effort (one hit, five runs, six walks, two hit batters). Bard was sent to the minors.

"I don't want to say I failed as a starter," Bard said. "I really think I wasn't given enough time to really prove myself.

"Give me a full season, I could have done something different. That's not the way it worked."

Going back to the bullpen did not work, either. Bard struggled in Pawtucket and has struggled here.

At least Bard knows he will begin 2013 as a reliever.

"That makes the most sense," Bard said, hoping for a fresh beginning next year.

Bard is not the only one. Everyone is looking for an improved -- and healthier -- season next year. This year's group, high-priced as it was, could not deliver.

But what can fans base their hope on for next year? Will we hear a "Every game REALLY matters this time" promotion on NESN?

Before we get to 2013, we have to rid ourselves of 2012. With the Red Sox simply playing out the season, they used a little memory-lane magic before Tuesday's game, recognizing the 2004 World Series team, complete with a mini-Duck Boat parade and highlights on the Fenway video board.

Remember those players who gelled into a team that defied history and pressure? Back then,the games did matter.

"That group of guys was not just a team but a unit," said Kevin Millar, here for the reunion. "You remember the tightness. We were not the best players -- we had a couple of superstars -- but it was the best unit."

So maybe this franchise can return to being the best, reclaim that magic and bring back the days when a ticket to Fenway was really worth something.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: ClearTheBases

 

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