Despite winning three straight against the Rays over the weekend, the Boston Red Sox are starting their Monday with a controversy created by manager Bobby Valentine.
So, congratulations all of you who had Patriots' Day as the date when Valentine would criticize one of his own players through the media, only to have the Red Sox clubhouse circle around the wounded.
You are now a winner.
For those of you who haven't yet heard the shot heard by Red Sox Nation — and what great timing, given Monday's local holiday that marks the Battles of Lexington and Concord — Valentine went on a local radio show and said Kevin Youkilis hasn't been his old self.
"I don't think he's as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason," Valentine said on WHDH's SportsXtra.
Is it true? Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. But all of us who have never donned a dugout disguise can agree this is way too early to be throwing something like that out there — even if Youk is off to a .200/.265/.233 start over eight games.
It's especially premature when you consider the 2011 season was punctuated by an unnamed source throwing ex-manager Terry Francona and the Red Sox rotation under the bus with the now-infamous fried chicken-and-beer chronicles. That's a tender clubhouse, one that isn't going to take kindly to a new manager questioning a player's resolve less than 10 games into a season.
(Perhaps we should at least give Valentine credit for not making the comment on the radio station in Yankees territory that he also works for?)
For his part, Youkilis — who is not in Monday's lineup because of a sore groin — said he couldn't understand why Valentine would say such a thing.
"I'm more confused than anything, because I think everyone knows I go out and play the game as hard as I can," Youkilis said via WEEI. "That's just my style of play. I never was blessed with the raw tools … so I've always had to use playing the game as hard and with full effort my whole life. I don't know any better, so that's just the way I play."
Teammate Dustin Pedroia was quick to come to Youkilis' defense while saying in no uncertain terms that the team won't tolerate Valentine conducting his business this way.
"I know that Youk plays as hard as anybody I've ever seen in my life,"Pedroia said (also via WEEI). "I have his back, and his teammates have his back. We know how hard he plays. I don't really understand what Bobby's trying to do. But that's really not the way we go about our stuff here. I'm sure he'll figure that out soon."
Immediately standing up to protect a teammate in the face of unfair criticism, even if it's coming from the man (ostensibly) in charge? Now that's a leader.
Pedroia brought up the possibility that perhaps Valentine's public ploy may have worked "in Japan." But Valentine didn't say anything about managing tips he may have picked up in Japan when he was asked about the Youkilis situation.
"Kevin came in this morning, I thought it was about his groin, he was going to tell me how his groin was, [if] it was sore after the game yesterday, so I was, 'How you doing, how's the groin?'
"He said, 'It's all right but what's going on? He told me people had called him and said I said things he didn't like, I totally apologized, I said, 'Jesus. The last thing in the world I want you to think that I'm criticizing you, I was just giving an answer to a question.' I don't know if he accepted my apology. It was very sincere."
Does that put this whole thing to bed? I'd venture to say that it doesn't and that it will be Pedroia who will need to declare the whole thing over when he next meets with the media. Given the respect that Pedroia has earned in that clubhouse with both the players and media — something Valentine has yet to accrue — perhaps it's the only way this story ends.
But make no mistake: Ballplayers have long memories and it isn't likely that the Red Sox will forget the new guy coming in and questioning one of the team's pillars right off the bat.
Valentine is going to want that comment back.
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