Bobby V: Yanks could miss playoffs

NEW YORK -- Bobby Valentine leaned back in his office chair early Sunday evening and clasped his hands behind his head. He was busy talking baseball, busy being Bobby V, busy measuring his 10½-game deficit in the American League East and deciding that one team inside Yankee Stadium might not make it to the playoffs.

The home team.

"Maybe they won't get in it," said the manager of the Boston Red Sox. "Who knows? Crazy things happen in this game."

The Yankees were 60-40 at the time, the best team in the American League and a team that had beaten 50-51 Boston six times in eight tries. Valentine had been asked if he wanted another postseason shot at the opponent that had eliminated him in the 2000 World Series, and the former Mets manager said beating the Yanks in October is never the goal.

Beating whatever team shows up in the other dugout, that's the goal.

And then Valentine raised the prospect of the Yanks falling apart, a bigger longshot than the prospect of Boston overcoming an absurd rash of injuries and rallying over the final two months to earn one of two available wild cards.

Valentine wasn't interested in talking about wild cards. When it was suggested Boston might be a liberated team in the postseason, a team feeling no pressure entering a sudden-death shootout, Valentine said, "But then again, we might win the division. Who knows?"

The division? The same division keeping the Red Sox in last place?

"Oh yeah," Valentine said.

Not the wild card?

"I haven't looked at it that way," he answered. "No, no. ... We play a lot of games against the Yankees."

Nine more games after Boston's 3-2 overtime victory Sunday night, after Bobby V got himself good and ejected in the 10th. He created something of a Lou Piniella scene, throwing his arms in the air and firing his chewed gum into the dugout dirt for punctuation. At least the manager didn't reach for the fake mustache of an ejection past.

Valentine went wild after plate umpire Brian O'Nora ruled Will Middlebrooks wasn't hit by a pitch in the 10th when, in fact, he was struck on the arm. On his night off Josh Beckett got tossed, too, for supporting a manager said to be as popular in Boston as Bucky Dent.

Beckett backed Bobby V. A Red Sox player actually landed in Valentine's corner. Within minutes and on cue, Pedro Ciriaco was hitting the go-ahead bloop and Boston was a .500 team again.

No, this isn't exactly the stuff of October 2004, but maybe it's the start of something special all the same.

"We're in it together," Valentine said. "I think we've been in a lot together this year. [Beckett] wanted this win as badly as I did. He shows that a lot. I guess it was on national TV, so it's even better."

A long day that started with Valentine riding his bike through Central Park for the first time and then taking his first batting practice swings in about 20 years -- he said he hit only two of a dozen pitches out of the infield -- ended with the manager one baby step closer to his faraway dream.

Never mind that the Red Sox have never made the postseason with a losing record after 101 games. Valentine is a blind believer in himself, in his players, just like he was in the middle of the 1999 season when a 27-28 record and a loss to the Yanks in the Bronx inspired Mets GM Steve Phillips to fire his manager's favored coaches.

"I believe in the next 55 games," Valentine said back then, "if we're not better, I shouldn't be the manager."

The Mets went 40-15 over those next 55 and made it to the 11th inning of Game 6 of the NLCS.

"But I knew that group," Valentine said Sunday, "a lot better than I know this group."

If Valentine found his scorched-earth approach to be a good fit with the Mets, a franchise forever fighting for scraps in its own marketplace, Boston hasn't agreed with him. He picked an unnecessary public fight with a made man, Kevin Youkilis, compelling another made man, Dustin Pedroia, to effectively tell Valentine he could take his act back to Japan. Meanwhile, the crippling injuries didn't help.

Valentine wasn't ever going to have an easy time cleaning the toxic waste in Terry Francona's clubhouse, a task still incomplete and one that didn't get any easier when Francona, now an ESPN analyst, pulled up a chair in the Boston clubhouse Saturday as his old players gathered around for some campfire tales.

Valentine joked about it in his pregame news conference ("Oh, I yelled at him as soon as he came into my office and said, 'Don't ever do that again,'" he said) and later told a reporter in his office, "I never read that book of protocol and I'd be the last one to go by the rules, right?"


Without Francona's help, Valentine sparked a needless brush fire over Carl Crawford's health and reminded everyone that, 162-game season or no 162-game season, there's never a dull moment in the alternate universe of Bobby V.

But Valentine isn't merely providing good value for your entertainment dollar. He still genuinely believes the Sox can make a dramatic run, and finish 2012 in a way Francona only wishes he finished 2011.

Valentine mentioned last season's Tampa Bay Rays, who were 9½ games out of the AL East lead after 101 games.

"And they made the playoffs with one wild card, in this division, so I mean this isn't just wild dreaming," Valentine said. "It tells you if you get your act together, you can do a lot of things in two months. We just have to get our act together.

"We've been a real disjointed group all year because of the injuries, different things that have gone on. … We need to put the past behind us and play the next 60 games the way we're capable of playing. If we do that, I think we'll be right in it to win it."

If the Red Sox don't win a playoff spot, Valentine could pay with his job. It would be a gross injustice, of course, firing a manager after one season defined by physical breakdowns and the leftover psychological scars from a collapse that unfolded on another man's watch.

"Life's not fair," Valentine said, and neither is the AL East.

The Red Sox are still a country mile behind the Yanks with all kinds of teams to hurdle in the divisional and wild-card races.

"But I have faith," Bobby V said before he won the rubber game of this series. "A miraculous comeback wouldn't play well here in New York, but it would be an interesting story."

Hours before Boston took another game from the Yanks, that was Valentine's story and he was sticking to it.