Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz got their texts at 5:17 p.m. Josh Beckett had been informed earlier in the day. All three Red Sox pitchers were slated to attend Beckett's charity event at Jillian's, 'The Beckett Bowl,' and the team didn't want them blind-sided by the news upon arriving Monday night.
Bob McClure had been fired.
"I had no idea that this was going to happen," Lester said. "We'll usually find out about this stuff two days in advance, before anything happens. There's always sources and people spill the beans before it happens.
"I"m glad it happened the way it did for Mac. It's good that he found out from the right people and didn't have to worry about anything. I just figured they would evaluate everybody else at the end of the year, and then make their assessments from there and see what we need to do."
The fact is that the Red Sox are just getting a head-start.
Moments after Lester's analysis of the situation, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine explained that the decision to let McClure go wasn't because of any one blow-up, but had been percolating for some time. As Valentine said, "I think it's been around for a long time."
"Not at all," Valentine said of the idea that there was a specific issue that led to the firing of his pitching coach. "Bob's one of the greatest guys I've been around. I thought everything was trending in the right direction. There's just probably not enough season to let it get to where it needs to be."
So, if no one incident led to the firing, why with six weeks remaining in what is shaping up as a lost Red Sox season did the team let go of McClure? Welcome to the beginning of a six-week evaluation period, for players, for coaches, and for Valentine.
This was partially about eliminating the opportunity for excuses.
Some immediately jumped to the conclusion that the McClure firing was a good sign for Valentine. It was no secret that the manager had butted heads with the pitching coach at times throughout the season, a notion that was confirmed by McClure in a July 20 interview.
"Was there anything as far as us not seeing eye to eye? Oh yeah, sure," McClure said at the time. "But is it anything that can't be worked out? Of course, anything can be worked out. We're both trying all the time. To me, it's more just getting to know each other. The needs are from a pitching coach to what a manager needs."
It was also a dynamic that wasn't lost on the players, as well.
"I don't see that day-to-day stuff that they deal with," Lester said. "I see what goes on in the dugout. It is what it is in the dugout. When you're in the heat of the battle and the heat of the moment, not all the time are people perfectly supportive of each other. I don't know. I know that I've heard some things that have gone on, but until you're actually there and see what happens, you don't really know for sure. Everything is kind of speculation. You don't know how bad it is or how good it is unless you're actually in that room with those two guys or that group of guys.
"I know just from talking to him that yeah, that they had some disagreements, but I think that in any business [that happens]. I guess that's part of the nature of the beast of being a pitching coach in the big leagues."
The firing was also perceived as yet another reminder of how hamstrung Valentine had been all season due to a coaching staff made up of some pieces with whom he had little familiarity.
But those choosing to see this as a vote of confidence for Valentine, or affirmation regarding the manager's season-long coaching staff conundrum, are misguided. Neither is part of this equation.
First off, despite popular opinion, Valentine actually had a large say in the hiring of McClure. Yes, the 60-year-old was already on the team's payroll as a minor league instructor when hired as pitching coach. But at least two men with histories with the manager, Neil Allen and Brad Arnsberg, had been presented as candidates and it was McClure whom Valentine agreed to identify as his pitching coach.
As for assistant pitching coach Randy Niemann, who now takes over McClure's duties, he was asked for by Valentine, and delivered by the organization as another piece to the puzzle. Niemann is a coach who, for all intents and purposes, filled the spot on the coaching left behind by Rob Leary; he offered a member of the coaching staff who was familiar with Valentine's way of doing things.
And what about the notion the move means Valentine is now one step closer to getting a second year? Well, that may be the case, but the McClure move is going to have nothing to do with it. What this does is offer the manager the kind of dynamic to what he had hoped for as the final six weeks of the season peel away. Valentine wanted Niemann at his side in the dugout, not in the clubhouse charting pitches, as had been the case for the past two months since Major League Baseball informed the Red Sox they had too many coaches in the dugout.
No excuses heading into the final evaluation period.
"We have great respect for Bob," said Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington. "He’s a quality guy, a good coach. It just didn’t work out the way we’d hoped. Whenever it doesn’t work out, we have to look at ourselves first and ask what, if anything, we could have done differently to make it work better, so we’ll do that, but it just wasn’t working out. We felt like we needed to make a change. We felt like the right thing to do was to give everyone a fresh start and Bob will get a fresh start, and I fully expect him to get a good opportunity somewhere else."
It wasn't as if McClure was a bad pitching coach, just as it wasn't the case that Curt Young didn't know what he was doing. As Cherington suggested, it was just a bad fit.
Go back to spring training when you had Valentine extolling the virtues of a world without pitchers going from the wind-up, with McClure telling WEEI.com's Alex Speier, “Generating power. It’s why guys do it. There’s more fluidity, more rhythm, it’s less mechanical. Normally, the windup is so you can get all your body parts moving." Then came the kicker: "He wasn’t a pitcher,” added McClure, “so I don’t know if he’d understand that."
As for the instructional side of things, McClure actually seemed like a decent fit. He did things differently from what some were used to -- such as mandating the catchers run the pre-series pitchers' meetings -- but there appeared to be a healthy level of respect. But while (unlike Young) McClure's issues could be in part traced to a discomfort with the manager, the similarities in both scenarios were easily uncovered -- a lack of production from the players.
Red Sox starters are currently 26th in the major leagues in ERA (4.82), with the bullpen's ERA coming in at 3.28 (13th in the majors). And, as for recent events, the Sox starting pitchers have managed back-to-back quality starts just once this month in 18 appearances. But considering the experience level of the rotation's foundation, that reality should be on the pitchers, not the pitching coach.
"I feel like the team felt they had to make a move," Buchholz said. "Me and Mac have gotten along really well since the first day I met him. As a pitcher in the big leagues you know what you need to do to succeed. You need some guidance every now and again if you're coming out of your delivery. We've always had some good communication. But I just think with all the stuff that's been going on, and the way everything has been spun around, they felt like they had to make a move and that's the move they chose. … It was surprising to me, and I'm sure it surprised him, too. It's a little bit of a whirlwind, but as a team we have to find a way to get through it.
"I guess more or less I'm relieved that he doesn't have to worry about it anymore," Lester said. "It's surprising. You wouldn't think this late in the season that something like that would happen, but I guess it's the nature of the beast when [the team] is struggling."
When asked how McClure responded to the news, Valentine said, "As a pro. That's what he is."
Taking a step back, and forgetting about the need for the Red Sox to find a better organizational construct, this is one of those moves that is probably best for all involved. McClure had been forced to deal with a health problem regarding one of his young twins throughout the season from 1,500 miles away, and, as was the case with Young, there very well may be a position waiting for him with his former employer in Colorado.
Nobody is expecting Niemann to enter into the equation and perform a six-week miracle, and the Red Sox understand that four pitching coaches in three seasons isn't conducive to getting these pitchers on a roll. But what they do know is that the right fit has to be found -- pitching coach, manager, players. And this move -- in a six-week sample size -- is an opportunity for Valentine to make his case that he can deliver the most productive dynamic.
"We're just trying to do what's best for the organization at this time," Valentine said. "We're hoping the change is just what's needed."