McAdam: Pinch-hit move yet another strange one by Valentine

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McAdam: Pinch-hit move yet another strange one by Valentine

TORONTO - At a time of year when the games should be routine and otherwise unremarkable, just one more day crossed off a most forgettable Red Sox calendar, Sunday's 5-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays managed to somehow stand out.

The Sox and Jays were scoreless in the seventh when Pedro Ciriaco singled with two outs.

Shortstop Jose Iglesias, scheduled to hit next, took his place in the batter's box. With the count 1-and-2, Ciriaco broke for second, giving the Sox a runner in scoring position.

Then, much to just about everyone's surprise, Iglesias was called back from the batter's box and replaced by pinch-hitter Daniel Nava.

Nava then hit the first pitch back to pitcher Brandon Lyon, who threw Nava out and ended the inning.

"Just trying to get a run for Jon (Lester), obviously," explained Bobby Valentine when asked about the logic behind the move. "I told Daniel if he steals second, 'You got it.' Otherwise, I was all set to play defense. Nothing-nothing. Guy gets to second base, you want to take a shot at a base hit."

In May or June, sure. For a team fighting for a playoff spot, of course. But for a team that went into Sunday tied for fourth place, 14 games under .500?

And that doesn't begin to address the issue of Iglesias's confidence. If the Sox still view Iglesias as their shortstop of the future -- maybe even their shortstop of the near future - that seemed like a curious move.

Why damage Iglesias's confidence? More to the point, why not see how he handles such an opportunity?

"I was pinch-hit with the bases loaded and a 3-and-2 count on me," said Valentine. "It didn't ruin my confidence. I think he'll get over it. I talked to him. He said, 'whatever's best for the team.'"

Valentine continually cited the attempt to get a win for Lester, who has pitched better than his record would indicate. But remember, Valentine wasn't quite so solicitous of Lester's feelings when he left him in for 11 runs in four innings against this same Toronto lineup in July.

"It's tough," said Valentine of the balance that must be navigated between trying to win and trying to evaluate. "Jon's pitching such a good game. You get him a run there, he wins the ballgame. He's battling, too. It's not about one guy; it's about the whole group of guys.

"There's a good balance there. Guy's just pitched 100 pitches, trying to win a baseball game. There'll be plenty of time to evaluate. I don't think that's a make-or-break situation. He's got one hit so far. There will be a lot of opportunities to get some hits. It's not kindergarten here.

"You don't think it was the right decision? So what. I think it was the right thing to do to try to win a game for a guy (Lester) who's busting his butt out there."

For his part, Iglesias was diplomatic and deferential.

"The manager made a decision," he said. "He's trying to do the best for the team and I respect the decision. I was ready to hit. I put some good ABs together today. That's all I can do and whatever decision he made, I respect him."

Nava said he was told "to be ready" if Ciriaco reached scoring position.

"I think anyone who comes off the bench, you know you've got to be ready," he said. "I didn't know the exact details of when I could be going in, because you never know if you are. But for a guy who comes off the bench, it doesn't matter if it's a fresh count or in the middle of the at-bat -- you have to be ready."

Nava acknowledged he felt badly for Iglesias, pulled off the field in the middle of an at-bat ("Oh yeah, totally").

When the season is over, it's highly unlikely being lifted for a pinch-hitter mid at-bat will scar Iglesias for the rest of his career.

But when the season is over, would it have mattered if the Sox finish with 71 wins instead of 72? Or with 72 instead of 73?

Instead, it's likely to be remembered for what it was: a strange move made during a lousy year, one that didn't make much sense in the big picture.

Red Sox celebration quickly washes away walk-off loss

Red Sox celebration quickly washes away walk-off loss

NEW YORK -- It had the potential to be the most awkward celebration ever.

In the top of the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium, before their game was complete, the Red Sox became American League East champions, by virtue of one other division rival -- Baltimore -- coming back to beat another -- Toronto -- in the ninth inning.

That eliminated the Blue Jays from the division race, and made the Sox division champs.

But that ninth inning reversal of fortune was about to visit the Red Sox, too.

Craig Kimbrel faced four hitters and allowed a single and three straight walks, leading to a run. When, after 28 pitches, he couldn't get an out, he was lifted for Joe Kelly, who recorded one out, then yielded a walk-off grand slam to Mark Teixeira.

The Yankees celebrated wildly on the field, while the Red Sox trudged into the dugout, beset with mixed emotions.

Yes, they had just lost a game that seemed theirs. But they also had accomplished something that had taken 158 games.

What to do?

The Sox decided to drown their temporary sorrows in champagne.

"As soon as we got in here,'' said Jackie Bradley Jr., "we quickly got over it.''

From the top of the eighth until the start of the bottom of the ninth, the Red Sox seemed headed in a conventional celebration.

A two-run, bases-loaded double by Mookie Betts and a wild pitch -- the latter enabling David Ortiz to slide into home and dislodge the ball from former teammate Tommy Layne's glove --- had given the Sox a 3-0 lead.

Koji Uehara worked around a walk to post a scoreless walk and after the top of the ninth, the Sox called on Craig Kimbrel, who had successfully closed out all but two save opportunities all season.

But Kimbrel quickly allowed a leadoff single to Brett Gardner and then began pitching as though he forgot how to throw strikes. Three straight walks resulted in a run in and the bases loaded.

Joe Kelly got an out, but then Teixeira, for the second time this week, produced a game-winning homer in the ninth. On Monday, he had homered in Toronto to turn a Blue Jays win into a loss, and now, here he was again.

It may have been a rather meaningless victory for the Yankees -- who remain barely alive for the wild card -- but it did prevent them the indignity of watching the Red Sox celebrate on their lawn.

Instead, the Sox wore the shame of the walk-off -- at least until they reached their clubhouse, where the partying began in earnest.

It had taken clubhouse attendants less than five minutes to cover the floor and lockers with plastic protective sheets. In a matter of a few more minutes, the air was filled with a mix of beer and bubbly.

President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski wore a goggles and only socks on his feet.

As the spray reached every inch of the clubhouse, David Ortiz exclaimed: "I'm going to drown in this man.''

Defeat? What defeat?