There it was, for all the Sunday morning shows to dissect, analyze and digest -- Bobby Valentine answering boos by touching the brim of his hat on his way back from making another unsavory pitching change.
What message was he sending? Could he be firing back at his critics? Was his hat falling off his head?
Or maybe Valentine was saying subtly the same thing he had after having to weather previous uncomfortable walks back to the dugout this season -- "I would boo myself, too."
Nothing more complicated than that. Just like it wasn't any big mystery what Valentine had to do during that Saturday debacle. Pitchers weren't getting outs, so he was forced to take them out. That's how it works. And even the one move that had some room for interpretation -- taking out starter Felix Doubront after 99 pitches -- could hardly be criticized with much gusto. The Red Sox were ahead 9-1 and, as the manager correctly pointed out, Doubront's fastball velocity had dropped by three mph.
Every other manager would have done what Valentine did Saturday. It's just that every other manager isn't Valentine.
A late-night Toronto radio show asked the question Sunday: Would the Boston fans ever accept Bobby Valentine? It's a good question. If the Red Sox won every game on their current road trip, putting their first five-game losing streak at home in six seasons behind them, what would the reception for the manager be like then? Put it this way, the boos aren't going to be pushed aside easily. But that is because, more so than with the case of any other manager, the imperfections will always be identified -- whether it's with the team he is managing or the words he is saying.
In his latest appearance on WHDH's Sports Xtra Sunday night, Valentine was explaining how he went around the clubhouse to each player in an effort to gauge the players' moods. Cody Ross was smiling. Check. David Ortiz seemed OK. Check. Dustin Pedroia? Well, according to Valentine he was taking things pretty hard, as he is known to do. But that partly stemmed from, according to the manager, lingering effects of 2011. Ugh! So close, yet so far away.
But enough already.
So, Valentine continues to offer up fodder for those trying to suggest he is the be-all, end-all for this Red Sox start. It's a lay-up for some, just like the beer and the chicken were in October. Symbolism. People love symbolism. You know what's not nearly as convenient to comprehend? The fact that one of the biggest problems is a pitcher who is no longer on the team.
Do yourself a favor and understand that there are a lot of reasons the Red Sox have found themselves in this predicament, but Valentine shouldn't top your checklist. Unfortunately for the manager, he has been forced to evolve, learn and adjust in an environment where everybody wants quick fixes. But if you are looking for top dogs when it comes to where this is all trickling down from, start with the players … Mark Melancon, for instance.
Melancon was one of the most well-meaning, best-intentioned players on the Red Sox before his demotion. It was well-documented how little sleep he got after each of his four outings with the Red Sox, a run that produced 11 runs, 10 hits and just six outs. And the righty has shown signs of life in Pawtucket, where he has allowed no runs and just two hits over 2 1/3 innings, striking out three and not walking a batter.
But if Melancon was the pitcher the Red Sox acquired him to be, there would be no Yankees comeback Saturday. If Melancon was the pitcher the Red Sox had banked on when shipping Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland to Houston for him, the bullpen doesn't have a major league-worst 8.44 ERA. If Melancon is the Melancon the Red Sox were banking on, Valentine would have been booed at least two fewer times.
Yes, at this point in time, one pitcher should be saddled with more of the blame for what is going on than Valentine. That doesn't mean Melancon won't come back and help, or that he should be Buckner-ized. But what the reality should do is offer a reminder that there are far more important issues for the Red Sox to deal with than the manager making verbal missteps.
And that isn't the only myth that needs to be busted …
DANIEL BARD TO THE BULLPEN WOULDN'T BE A PANIC MOVE
Believe it or not, the Red Sox have the pieces to fix things. The offense kept falling behind, but on Saturday it showed the ability to be the kind of threat (even without some key elements) that many anticipated. The starters? Other than Clay Buchholz's curious start, each has shown enough promise that suggests there will be far more good than bad.
And then there is the bullpen.
Alfredo Aceves could still be a legitimate closer, or, at the very least, a late-inning threat. Leading into his horror show of a performance Saturday, the righty had gone three straight outings without giving up a hit while watching his velocity reach levels he hadn't seen since his late teens. But what that Saturday outing, along with his first two appearances, offered were reminders that consistency isn't this group's strong suit right now. This isn't a Jonathan Papelbon-led bullpen, the kind of which never saw the now Philadelphia closer give up five runs in any appearance over the past six seasons.
So how do you fix it?
Unlike with a lineup, or even a starting rotation, uncovering a solution to late-inning relief woes in April is a tough task. Trades to fix such conundrums are almost never possible at this time of year. That's where Bard comes in.
The team said the righty will be available out of the bullpen for a few days but is still scheduled to make his next start on Friday. And, judging by his first two outings, Bard deserves to stay in the rotation. He appears to be on track to become exactly what the Red Sox had hoped, a legitimate top-to-middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.
Still, Bard also represents the only legitimate fix for the biggest problem the Red Sox are facing right now -- piecing together a bullpen. And when you have really only one solution to such a pivotal issue, you make the move, especially when there appears to be some sort of safety net in regards the starting rotation waiting in the form of Aaron Cook (3 starts, 1.35 ERA, 20 innings) and, slightly further down the road, Daisuke Matsuzaka.
NO NEED TO TURN TO RYAN LAVARNWAY QUITE YET
Offensively, one of the focal points has been the catching position. When your perceived starting catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, is hitting .206 with a .632 OPS, that will happen.
But here's the thing …
You know what Saltalamacchia was hitting after 36 plate appearances (what he has now) in 2011? Just .194. From May 1 until August 1 last season, the Red Sox backstop actually had the third-best OPS of any catcher in baseball (.888).
And while Lavarnway has kept progressing in Pawtucket, hitting .283 with a .830 OPS and two home runs after hitting safely in his last four games, there is no need to make the call for the 24-year-old quite yet. It should also be noted that the Red Sox' right-handed-hitting option at catcher, Kelly Shoppach, is also actually getting the job done, hitting .375 with a 1.149 OPS in 18 plate appearances. The result is a Sox team that ranks in the top half of the American League in terms of catching production, with a .255 average (7th), .352 OBP (6th), .468 slugging mark (5th) and .820 OPS (6th).
THE RED SOX COULD USE JACOBY ELLSBURY RIGHT NOW
Mike Aviles has done an admirable job in filling in at the leadoff spot while Ellsbury recovers from his shoulder subluxation. In seven games at the top spot, the shortstop has hit .345 with a .387 OPS. But despite getting on base in three of his seven opportunities to lead off a first inning, he has only scored once.
It is still better than Ellsbury did in his seven plate appearances in the first inning before getting hurt, not reaching base a single time, but that was undoubtedly going to change. And what moving the capable Aviles up in the order did was thin out the Sox' lineup, leading to little production in the early innings.
Right now, the Red Sox' No. 9 hitters are managing just a .128 batting average, worse than all but three National League teams.
The Red Sox are also 19th in the majors in scoring runs in the first six innings, but third from innings seven through nine. The problem with that dynamic is that it has led to a boatload of deficits. Just three times the Sox have held the lead after six innings.
THERE HAS BEEN ONE HUGE BRIGHT SPOT
David Ortiz has been one of the best hitters in baseball this season. Not just one of the best designated hitters. Not the top 36-year-old hitter. Not one of the best left-handed hitters. No, one of the best hitters in baseball.
He is only behind Matt Kemp and Josh Hamilton in OPS (1.166), is also third in batting average (.436) and slugging percentage (.691). And to top it all off, he is hitting an even .500 (9-for-18) against left-handed pitching.