Good Times Never Seemed So Good in Boston

It feels like it’s been years since the Yankees and Red Sox last played against each other, and it kind of has been. It’s been 76 days since the two teams last met, and that happened to be the day the Yankees erased an eight-run deficit after six innings at Fenway Park.

The Yankees have exactly half of their season left to play, and out of those 81 games, 16 of them will be against the Red Sox. And with so many games left against each other, that means that there are a lot of email exchanges left between Mike Hurley and me. With the Yankees in Boston for a four-game series this weekend I sent Hurley the mandatory Yankees-Red Sox email to let him know my presence in his city this weekend.

Keefe: So we meet again. I figured you were waiting for this email since the Yankees are in town. I can picture you checking your phone every time it vibrates to see if it’s an email for me. Actually your phone probably makes a ringing or beep noise when you get an email because you don’t seem like the type of person that would courteous enough to put it on vibrate.

The Yankees have a five-game lead on the division and a 7 1/2-game lead on the Red Sox (eight in the loss column). Despite going 1-2 against the Rays this week, the Yankees still managed to pick up another game on the Red Sox after they were swept in Oakland.

In December 2010 you were excited for a Red Sox-Phillies World Series in 2011, and instead the 2011 Red Sox, who were supposed to challenge the 1927 Yankees as the greatest team ever, didn’t even make the playoffs. When the team was falling apart in September and anonymous sources were snitching on the players and pitching staff and other anonymous sources (cough, Larry Lucchino, cough, cough) were trying to destroy Terry Francona’s reputation, I never thought things could possibly get better. But then 2012 happened.

John Lackey is out for the year and Carl Crawford hasn’t played a game. Jacoby Ellsbury has been injured for nearly the whole season and Josh Beckett was playing golf on his off day despite being unable to pitch due to injury. David Ortiz called Boston a “sh-thole” and then said he was embarrassed and humiliated about his contract status even though he makes $14.575 million to only hit. Daniel Bard is now blowing saves in Triple-A and the Red Sox’ closer, Andrew Bailey, hasn’t thrown a pitch this season while the guy they traded for him, Josh Reddick, looks like he could have been the right fielder of the future for the Red Sox.

It has been beautiful to watch and a glorious first half for the Red Sox. I guess my only question for you is did I leave anything out?

Hurley: God, you’re such an A-hole. When Ortiz said Boston was becoming a “sh-thole,” he must have known you were coming to visit.

But did you miss anything? Seriously? OK, here we go (I’m going with a bulleted list format here for simplicity’s sake:

– Daniel Nava bats leadoff.

– Darnell McDonald plays 38 games (enjoy the Darnell era in New York!).

– The Red Sox trade FOR Marlon Byrd. Then dump him. Then he gets busted for PEDs.

– Kevin Youkilis gets traded and goes something like 9-for-10 with a home run and a walk-off hit for the White Sox.

– Kelly Shoppach complains to Bobby Valentine about playing time. Kelly Shoppach!

– Adrian Gonzalez is tied for 146th in home runs. He has six in 324 at-bats. Here are people who have hit more home runs than Gonzalez, with their at-bat total in parentheses: Shelley Duncan (154), Brandon Inge (181), Andruw Jones (113), Todd Frazier (168), Justin Maxwell (121), Jonny Gomes (142), Will Middlebrooks (171), Mitch Moreland (158), Brandon Moss (78!), Scott Hairston (173), Cody Ross (189), Allen Craig (160).

– Nick Punto plays 46 games, hits .180.

– Scott Podsednik becomes a stabilizing force in the outfield. Seriously. Then he gets hurt and goes on the DL.

– Jon Lester goes 5-5 with a 4.33 ERA. His career numbers: 81-39, 3.61 ERA.

– Sox go 2-5 on a road trip to face juggernauts in Seattle and Oakland.

Other than that, it’s been a pretty good season. How are the Yankees doing?

Keefe: The Yankees? They’re doing good enough that if they split this weekend at Fenway, they will still be eight games ahead of the Red Sox in the loss column.

I’m mad at myself for forgetting so many important negative things about the Red Sox. I pride myself in trying to be the go-to guy for negative Red Sox storylines and I forgot so many, so I would like to apologize to everyone for that.

Let’s take a deeper look at David Ortiz’s comments to USA Today though since you wrote and tweeted heavily about them on Thursday and since it’s a perfect Red Sox off-day story in Boston for the media to feast on a day before the Yankees arrive at Fenway. Seriously, can you think of better timing for this story to take over? I can’t.

Here is what David Ortiz said to USA Today about his contract.

“It was humiliating. There’s no reason a guy like me should go through that. All I was looking for was two years, at the same salary ($12.5 million). They ended up giving me $3 million more than that (actually $2.025 million), and look at my numbers this year. Tell me if they wouldn’t have been better off. And yet they don’t hesitate to sign other guys. It was embarrassing.”

“If you go crazy and give contracts to whoever comes along despite not knowing how they’re going to do, then you don’t give me my due consideration, even though I do my thing every year, [expletive] that. I’m going to be open to anything. My mentality is not going to be, ‘I like it here.’ It’s going to be, ‘Bring it to the table, and we’ll see what happens.’”

David Ortiz is making $14.575 million this season, and in case anyone forgot, he doesn’t play in the field. That means he makes $89,969.14 per game and $39,931.51 per day over a calendar year. I’m not sure what’s so humiliating about that.

Apparently Ortiz can predict the future by saying the team would be better off by giving him a two-year deal since he knows that he will have the same production next year. But the Red Sox offered him two years and $20 million and he turned it down and went to arbitration instead and settled on this deal with the Red Sox, according to a Ben Cherington email to USA Today.

This story will likely lead to the media asking Ortiz if he would play for the Yankees because people love stories like that (especially with the Yankees in Boston) even if the Yankees aren’t about to lock up their DH spot to an aging player when they need that spot for their already aging players. And while I don’t think Ortiz has any chance of playing in the Bronx, I would like to see him go somewhere other than Boston, so he can find out if there are any other “s-hit holes” that have MLB teams.

Hurley: I generally look at these little tirades as cutesy little David moments, the times when he goes absolutely nuts for no real, rational reason and it drives him to hit 35 homers and drive in 100 runs and nobody ends up really remembering. But this one, for whatever reason, really pissed me off.

It’s probably because it’s the second time in two weeks he’s gone out of his way to selfishly complain about himself and his contract. Two weeks ago, he said he wasn’t having much fun this year. Poor baby! He’s only making $23,737 for every plate appearance, meaning in one night he earns enough to pay off the college loans that will take you 40 years to pay off, but the guy is not having fun! I just feel bad for him!

And now he’s mad that the team didn’t give him a two-year deal for $26 million? Let’s see … exactly who was it that forced Ortiz to agree to arbitration? Oh it was his agent, who probably told Ortiz that he’d get nothing better on the free-agent market. And who signed his name on the bottom of a one-year contract that gave him a $2 million raise at the age of 36? That was Ortiz.

If he wasn’t happy about any of it, he could have rejected arbitration and become a free agent, or he could have gone into the arbitration hearing and awaited the ruling. Chances are he wouldn’t have gotten a $2 million raise, and as a result, he’ll now make more money in 2012 and 2013 than he initially wanted, and this upsets him greatly.

If he wants to talk disrespect, maybe he should call future Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero. The guy hit 29 homers with 115 RBIs when he was 35 years old (Ortiz hit 29 homers with 96 RBIs at the same age). What’d that get Vlad? A one-year deal with the Orioles for $7.6 million. Ortiz gets nearly twice that, and he’s upset.

He does have a point that the team wastes billions in bad contracts like J.D. Drew, Carl Crawford, John Lackey, etc. But whining about it like he deserves better, after he’s made just shy of $100 million since 2003, is ridiculous. He should be embarrassed and humiliated not for the way the Sox treated him but instead because he’s acting like such a spoiled baby.

Keefe: Whenever you have Red Sox fans saying that they are pissed at Ortiz you know things are going well. Now if only we can get you to write an entire email bashing Dave Roberts I will feel like I have won the war and I will no longer need to talk to you.

Getting up to Boston early in the week for the series has allowed me to catch Felger and Mazz on Comcast SportsNet New England and it has been filled with caller after caller saying that they are Red Sox fans since (insert some year from many decades ago) and they actually root for the Red Sox to lose. They hate the players on the team and they hate Bobby Valentine and they hate that the players are losers who whine all the time. This has all made me feel the type of joy that I have heard people only feel after the birth of one of their children.

The problem is winning cures everything. And while I would like to think that people in Boston are as miserable and pessimistic about their baseball team as they were pre-2004, which was the last strike-shortened season in which where there weren’t any playoffs or World Series, I know that if the Red Sox go on a run and start stringing together wins rather than losses against teams like the Mariners and A’s, Bostonians will be singing a different tune. It won’t matter to them that David Ortiz makes the money he does and participates in each game for only a matter of minutes each night or that Josh Beckett has no respect for the fans or the city and will do whatever the eff Josh Beckett wants to do because Theo Epstein handed him a ridiculous contract extension.

I would like to think that the division isn’t in play for the Red Sox, but I’m not stupid enough to say that, let alone in writing, and have it come back to bit me. But if the Red Sox can stay afloat they will be in play for that one-game playoff that we both love. And if they are in play for that will you change your feelings about the team and the new wild-card format?

Hurley: No. The new wild-card format is an atrocity of incredible proportions. It takes a 162-game season’s worth of effort and flushes it down the toilet in three hours. And you know what? If an underachieving team like the Red Sox sleepwalks through the whole season and ends up winning that one-game playoff against a team with five or six more wins, then my rage will only be tripled. That’s not what a 162-game season is for, and that’s not right.

But yeah, despite all the issues we’ve already talked about, the Sox remain a good weekend away from jumping into that wild-card spot (which is absurd). And they’re definitely good enough to do it, provided the starting pitching can become even halfway decent and Ellsbury can return at even 80 percent of what he was last year.

But the division? No way. I know Ken Rosenthal said if they get a starting pitcher and dump Kevin Youkilis and just “be patient” then they’d be able to win the division, but that’s really nuts. If it were just the Red Sox and Yankees that were competitive teams, maybe, but Tampa is there, and Baltimore and Toronto really aren’t bad. It’s going to be impossible for the Red Sox to leapfrog everyone, especially when they go 1-5 against Oakland.

And Dave Roberts is a saint. Watch your mouth.

Keefe: Let’s talk about what happened to Kevin Youkilis. If the Red Sox win one more game last September then they get to the one-game playoff against the Rays. If they win two more games they make the playoffs. If they do either of those things Terry Francona is still the manager and I think Kevin Youkilis is still the third baseman.

But like I once told you, the “if” game is for losers like Patriots fans who say, “If Wes Welker and Tom Brady connect then the Giants lose the Super Bowl” or “If Rob Gronkowski’s ankle is 100 percent then the Giants lose the Super Bowl.” We’ll keep the “ifs” for losers like Patriots fans. Thankfully neither of us are Patriots fans. (And there is my Giants Super Bowl reference that you say I always have to make in these emails.)

When Youkilis was removed for a pinch runner, Bobby Valentine stood in the dugout clapping and was motioning for the other guys on the team to join him on the top step. There was Adrian Gonzalez clapping for Youkilis as he gave his farewell to Fenway Park. One of the faces of the franchise and the change of culture to the Red Sox over the last eight years was leaving the game and the park and the team while the new faces of the team that has ruined everything Youkilis helped build watched him exit. I feel like a high school freshman English teacher getting all sappy about symbolism.

I understand playing time for Will Middlebrooks became a necessity and along with the finances of the situation it made sense for Youkilis to get moved, but the whole thing and the way it happened just has a stink to it. (Don’t get me wrong, I like the stink it has to it.) You knew that with a change of scenery the guy was going to perform again where he didn’t have to deal with Bobby Valentine’s BS and limited action. I have always hated Youkilis and still do, but I have always respected him and always wanted him on my team. I’m just glad the Red Sox decided differently.

Hurley: I thought the sendoff from the fans was an incredible moment. I’m as cold-hearted as it gets. Some people (believe it or not) even think I’m a real A-hole. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel the emotion of that one. Even a cynical bastard like me couldn’t pick it apart, because really, Youkilis deserved that kind of thank you from the fans, and it’s very rare that athletes have the chance to get it like that.

But watching Bob Valentine grandstand on the top step like he was convincing his buddy to get out there and take a curtain call? Puke-inducing. Give me a break.

As far as the trade itself goes, they got next to nothing for him and had to pay most of his salary, which is what I expected. Teams knew the Sox were desperate to get rid of him, so they held all the leverage. It definitely won’t go in the Ben Cherington Hall of Fame, but he didn’t have too much to work with here. I do think Middlebrooks is ready to play every day (if his hammy heals) and I thought the Sox were playing with fire every single time they put Adrian Gonzalez in right field. He’s so slow, I’m pretty sure you could run faster than him on a Friday night at 2:30 a.m. And I’ve seen you on Friday nights at 2:30 a.m.

And frankly, I’m glad to see him do well with Chicago. He was a bit of a gruff person who didn’t always go out of his way to make himself seem like the nicest guy in the world, but he played the game hard and he (sorry, cliché time) played it the right way. He was the definition of a guy who never takes a second on the field for granted, and he was willing to play any position the manager asked. It’s too bad his Red Sox career ended unceremoniously, and it’s awful that Bob V gets to stick around while a World Series winner gets shipped to Chicago, but that’s how it works.

Keefe: Well, Youkilis did hit a walk-off single on Wednesday and then added a solo shot on Thursday that ended up being the game-winner. So at least you can say he was a homegrown player!

It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t dedicate one part of this email to the man known as Bobby Valentine (or Bob Valentine to you.)

He has a two-year deal. His team is currently tied for last place in the division. If the Yankees do what they are capable of doing this weekend at Fenway then the city of Boston will have Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with nothing to talk about other than what is wrong with the Red Sox and who should go and what needs to be done to fix the team. If Ray Allen re-signs with the Celtics and doesn’t do something crazy like sign with the Heat then they will really have nothing to talk about. (Unless Tim Thomas decides to join Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in the election process.) Not having CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte sucks, but not having them for this series to step on the Red Sox’ throat hurts even more.

So what are we to make of Bobby Valentine’s first semester as Red Sox manager? I want you to file it under “colossal failure” but I don’t think even you will do that since it’s not like he was given the ideal pieces to win. But this team with this payroll already got the most revered manager in the franchise’s history fired, so what’s stopping them from getting the ringleader of the circus booted?

Hurley: Bob V, as much as I’m not a fan, hasn’t been all that bad. He had a big adjustment period in April, when he was way too slow to pull guys out of games and seemed truly frightened to argue with umpires. Maybe in Japan you’re not allowed to argue, but here you’re technically not either, so I’m not sure he has an excuse. Either way, I thought he was awful in April and cost them a couple of wins.

Since then though, he’s kind of hit a groove. He played Middlebrooks, and that worked out in the form of 10 homers. He really worked the bullpen well, to the point where they were best in the league for a long stretch of the season, using guys like Scott Atchison and Matt Albers (in real life!). He hasn’t been afraid to “ride the hot hand,” and it’s worked out with people like Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who’s finally playing to his potential, and Daniel Nava, who was somehow playing like a real life major league outfielder for a while.

But like you said earlier with winning solving everything, losing can blow everything up. You can bet a last place finish will spell the premature end for Bob Valentine (for those not in the know, I refuse to refer to a man in his 60s as “Bobby”), and then we can have another four month-long managerial search to follow! Go Red Sox!

Keefe: Four games this weekend including a doubleheader on Saturday and pitching matchups of Hiroki Kuroda-Josh Beckett, Phil Hughes-Franklin Morales, Freddy Garcia-Felix Doubront and Ivan Nova-Jon Lester. I thought we might see some crazy lopsided matchups, but they actually ended up being about as good as can be without CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. Still these two teams leave the over/under of hours of baseball played this weekend at 18 and the total runs at 44. I’m taking the over on both, you?

And as much as I would like to see the Yankees go into Boston and sweep the four-game series the way they did at the Stadium in August 2009 and similar to the five-game sweep at Fenway in 2006, the Yankees really just need to split this weekend to prevent the Red Sox from gaining any ground and from ripping four more games off the schedule.

Hopefully when I talk to you on Monday you are avoiding me because the Red Sox are double-digit games back and you will be counting down the days until the Patriots’ Week 1 game.

Hurley: I can guarantee that no matter what happens, no matter how many hours of baseball is played, no matter how many runs are scored and no matter which team wins the series, I will be avoiding you on Monday. Enjoy the weekend, pal.