Bobby V. and his bullpen


Bobby V. and his bullpen

Readers of this blog have come to know me as one of the citys foremost scholars in the field of Bobby Valentine apology. In other words, Im a Bobby V. apologist.

It wasnt always like this. In fact, way back in October and November, after Terry Francona got the boot and the entire world lost its mind, I was right there with the blood-beer-and-fried-chicken-seeking Zombies: I wanted nothing to do with Valentine. Why? Because he was Larry Lucchinos guy and Lucchino is the devil. A vote for Bobby felt like a vote for Larry, and I couldnt do it. So I assumed the worst, bought into the hype and strapped myself to the Dale Sveum bandwagon.

When Sveum signed on with the Cubs, and Valentine was clearly the man, I was angry. Again, I think that anger was more a product of Lucchino getting his way and what that meant for the future of the organization, but it was anger nonetheless. I wasn't happy with the hire.

Then, on the day of Valentines introductory press conference, I received three different texts from three different people. All three are good friends, HUGE Mets fans and guys whose opinion I respect in all matters of sports and life. Each text said basically the same thing:

Congrats on Bobby V. Im really jealous. He was my favorite manager weve ever had."

It happened all at once, and it really hit home. So at that point, I made a decision:

Screw Larry Lucchino. Screw everyone trying to run Valentine out of town before he even gets here. Screw anyone who thinks they know anything about this guy a guy who hasn't managed in the majors in a decade and spent nine of those 10 years on the other side of the world.

Just give him a clean slate, allow him to get comfortable, don't jump on EVERY SINGLE MISTAKE and see what happens.

It wasn't easy. Certainly Valentine made more than a few missteps over the last five months, but as the season continues to play out and he gets exceedingly comfortable in his new home, with his new team and under the enormous Boston microscope, the fog is starting to clear. Even the biggest Valentine haters are starting to look at what he's done to help keep the Sox together through endless controversies and non-stop injuries and have no choice but to give the man at least a little credit.

Their biggest concession?

He's done a great job with the bullpen.

Even in the face of their repeated badgering the players don't like him! He's an awful communicator! He's a clown! An attention whore! that's the one thing that the anti-Valentine crew has almost universally agreed upon.

The bullpen! It's been great. And Bobby V deserves all the accolades!

Of course, the irony is that, as Valentine apologist No. 1, I feel like he's getting too much credit for the bullpen. I mean, there's no question that the 'pen which was perceived to be one of THE major issues for this team, especially after Andrew Bailey got hurt and Mark Melancon proved useless has been an enormous surprise. The crew was at it again last night, collectively giving up only one hit, striking out three and walking none over three and one-third innings.

But really, even if Bobby V has done a solid job of managing the relievers and putting everyone in the best position to succeed, the bullpen is still a crap shoot. I mean, is it because of Bobby V that Vincente Padilla and Scott Atchinson have been so reliable? That Alfredo Aceves has been so versatile and comfortable in the closer's role? Of course not. The success of a major league bullpen runs along the same lines as the "it's a makemiss league" mantra that we fall back on in the NBA. It's like, yeah, you can make all the perfect moves you want, but the guys still need to get the job done. For instance, what happens if Valentine continues to employ the same strategy with his 'pen but Padilla and Atchinson suddenly come back to Earth? So now it's Valentine's fault? Now he doesn't know how to manage a bullpen?

You see what I mean?

It comes down to this: Instead of nitpicking a bunch of specifics reasons and ways that Bobby Valentine has been a good manager this season, let's just cut the crap, open the umbrella and say it once and for all: Bobby Valentine has been a good manager this season.

Has he been perfect? Hell no. No one's perfect anyway. But on top of that, I'm not sure how anyone could have inherited the situation he did, in the city he did it and not fall on his face more than a few times.

Valentine certainly has, but more importantly, he keeps getting up, and the Sox keep getting better. Maybe not as good as they were supposed to be, but better than they were yesterday.

And I'll give Bobby V. credit for that. Then again, maybe you have to consider the source.

Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.