From Williams to Yaz to Fisk to Clemens to Vaughn, the Boston
Red Sox have been a team defined, for better or worse, by a line
of elder statesmen that traces back half a century. Times have
changed. When he took over as Boston's general manager in 1994,
Dan Duquette should have replaced the clubhouse door with a
turnstile. This year, characteristically, the Red Sox ran 49
players in and out of Fenway's cramped clubhouse. So it was that
on Sunday night 32-year-old John Valentin, the third baseman who
has been a fixture in the Red Sox infield since way back in '93,
was asked how it felt to be the senior member in length of
service on his team. "Yeah, I know I've been here the longest,"
said a laughing Valentin, who's the only current Boston player
remaining from Duquette's first Opening Day roster, "but I don't
know if it's a good thing."
Before the Red Sox, behind a dominating six-inning, no-hit,
eight-strikeout relief performance from ace Pedro Martinez,
shockingly came all the way back from a two-games-to-none
deficit to beat the Cleveland Indians 12-8 at Jacobs Field in
the decisive fifth game of their American League Division Series
on Monday night, you would have had an easier time finding a cup
of red chowder in Back Bay than a Boston fan who disagreed with
Valentin's assessment of his status. When the Red Sox were
introduced to the Fenway faithful before Game 3 last Saturday,
Valentin was heartily booed--and the bellowing fans had
different reasons for doing so. Some were no doubt upset that
Valentin, who was hampered down the stretch by tendinitis in his
left knee and played only seven games after Aug. 31, hit just
.253 this season and had his lowest home run total (12) since
1994. Others surely blamed Valentin for Boston's 3-2 loss in
Game 1, when his throw on what should have been an easy
inning-ending ground ball hit by Manny Ramirez was bounced to
first base. The next Cleveland batter, Jim Thome, belted a
game-tying, two-run homer. Still others, enamored of the
September play of Valentin's replacement, rookie Wilton Veras,
may have been miffed that Valentin even had a spot on the
By his fifth at bat on Saturday, however, the spectators' mood
had changed--as had the status of Valentin, who yo-yoed from
goat to hero throughout the series. After going hitless with
three strikeouts in his first 10 at bats, Valentin snapped out
of his funk late in Game 3, hammering a home run and a double
while driving in three runs to help Boston win 9-3 and avoid
being swept. In the field, he made a couple of nice stops; on
one he threw out Indians' second baseman Roberto Alomar after
making a backhanded stab of a ball hit down the line in the
third inning. But he also committed another costly throwing
error, a carbon copy of his Game 1 miscue, which allowed the
Indians to score the tying run in the seventh inning. Then in
the bottom of the seventh Valentin broke open the game with his
bases-loaded double. "I've been busy," he said with a shrug
He was even busier on Sunday. Valentin's two-run home run in the
first inning of Game 4 started an onslaught that didn't stop
until Boston had won 23-7, setting major league postseason
records for runs and hits (24). He wound up going 4 for 5 with a
second dinger and a big league postseason-record-tying seven
RBIs (a feat matched the next night by teammate Troy O'Leary).
In the clinching victory on Monday, Valentin drove in two more
runs and scored the game-winner. Valentin's comeback from
early-series somnambulism mirrored that of the Red Sox: They
became only the second team to roar back from an 0-2 deficit in
a five-game series since the playoffs expanded in 1995 and just
the fourth in major league history.
With shortstop Nomar Garciaparra nursing a bruised wrist,
Valentin became an unexpectedly important factor in Boston's
showdown with New York. What little success he had at the plate
this year seemed to come against Yankees pitching; in eight
games he hit .303 with a homer and eight RBIs. Including his
Division Series heroics, Valentin, a notoriously bad
early-season hitter, is a career .347 batter in the postseason.
While he's the dean of the Boston clubhouse, Valentin is so
understated that a team trainer should check him for a pulse.
He's the antithesis of such outspoken and intense former team
leaders as Roger Clemens and Mo Vaughn, and he speaks sotto voce
whether he's discussing his defensive gems or heroic at bats. His
analysis of the Red Sox' offensive gorging in Game 4: "It was
just one of those things. We came out and played hard."
"We've got baseball players," was Boston manager Jimy Williams's
typical answer last weekend when asked to describe the Sox.
"Maybe we don't have that great orator in our clubhouse, that
speaker, but we've got a lot of speak when we're on the field."
Behind Martinez, Williams was facing the prospect of taking on
the defending world champion Yankees with a rotation composed of
bionic righthanders Bret Saberhagen and Ramon Martinez, who are
working with surgically repaired shoulders, and lefthander Kent
Mercker, who didn't survive the second inning against Cleveland
in his Division Series start. On offense the Red Sox went into
the League Championship Series with a DH tandem--righty Butch
Huskey and lefty Brian Daubach--that was a combined 7 for 48
against New York this season and 5 for 21 with eight strikeouts
in the Division Series.
All of which means Valentin, who grew up in the New York City
area, had best stay hot if Boston is to get back to the World
Series. "It's a big series. I mean, they're the Yankees," he
says. "We'll have to play well."
Red Sox fans hope his bat will be more eloquent.
THE SCOUT'S VIEW
Jose Offerman 2B
Switch-hitter is very good from left side. Will take a walk and
hit the ball to all fields, especially left at Fenway. Tough to
strike out. Throw him hard stuff on the hands. Excellent base
runner. Not as bad defensively as reputation.
John Valentin 3B
Mr. Streak. When he's hot, it doesn't matter what you throw him;
when he's cold, you can tell him what's coming, and he won't hit
it. Lazy footwork on defense causes poor throws.
Brian Daubach DH
Likes the ball over the plate, so pound him in with sliders and
fastballs. Will chase the ball up and away. Adequate defensively.
Nomar Garciaparra SS
When healthy, he's the catalyst. The Yogi Berra of today: He
hits more pitches out of the strike zone than anyone--and hits
them hard. Great range defensively.
Troy O'Leary LF
Has power to all fields. Another lefthanded batter who takes
advantage of leftfield at Fenway. Can get him out with hard
stuff away. Made himself into an adequate defensive player.
Mike Stanley 1B
Loves the fastball, and he'll chase the high one. Breaking stuff
gives him trouble.
Jason Varitek C
Switch-hitter who's more powerful from the left side. Likes the
ball down and in. Will chase the ball up. Defensively, he moves
his feet well and throws well.
Darren Lewis CF
Very good outfielder in center or right. Plays little ball well,
bunting and moving runners. You can knock the bat out of his
hands with fastballs.
Trot Nixon RF
Average player who improved plate coverage this year. Struggles
with high fastballs because he doesn't have the bat speed to
catch up to them. Average fielder.
INF Lou Merloni is a good utility guy, though the more you play
him, the less you like him. Sometimes chases the ball up, trying
to hit it out. OF-DH Butch Huskey loves fastballs out over the
plate and will crush them. No reason to throw him one. You can
get him out with everything else. OF Damon Buford is a good
fielder who runs well. At bat, will chase fastballs up and
sliders away. INF-OF Donnie Sadler, the fastest Red Sox player,
is an asset as a pinch runner in late innings. Hits the ball in
the air way too much. C Scott Hatteberg is a good receiver, and
pitchers like throwing to him. A bit of power from the left side
but hasn't played enough to be a real threat.
Pedro Martinez, RHP If healthy, the best pitcher in baseball.
Adds and subtracts speed to his fastball with unbelievable
movement. Nasty slider, nasty curveball. You have to go after
him early in the count and pray for a fastball. Will throw any
pitch on any count.
Bret Saberhagen, RHP He can be as good as anybody, health
permitting. Superb control. Gets lefthanders off the plate by
running his fastball back over the inside corner. Works fast and
throws strikes. Guys like playing behind him.
Ramon Martinez, RHP Has improved with more innings since
returning in September from long rehab, but still not enough to
be consistent with all his pitches. Fastball between 88 and 93
mph. Sinks the ball and has a pretty good slider. Best chance to
beat him is with one big inning.
Kent Mercker, LHP Fastball is back up between 90 and 92 mph.
Best pitch is a changeup. Breaking ball is O.K. Questionable how
effective he can be against New York's lefthanded hitters.
RH Rod Beck is getting by on reputation. Fastball between 87 and
89 mph. O.K. slider. Loves the splitter and will throw it on 3
and 2 with bases loaded. Hitters should take pitches early in
the count and make him come into the strike zone. RH Derek Lowe
has been the key to the Boston bullpen all year. Hard sinker at
90 to 93 mph. Good curveball. Developed a changeup during
season. Gets in trouble when he gets his sinker up. LH Rheal
Cormier is a situational guy. Cuts fastball, has O.K. slider and
will throw two-seam sinking fastball. RH John Wasdin can be
pitching well, then suddenly give up long ball on fastball,
breaking ball or splitter. Knuckleballing RH Tim Wakefield could
be a key if a starter gets knocked out early. Has also closed.
RH Rich Garces throws fastball only 88 to 90 mph, but it's tough
to pick up his pitch. Runs a four-seamer up and sinks two-seamer.
HOW TO BEAT THEM
New York should simply go after Boston's softer pitchers. The
Yankees have too many offensive weapons for the Red Sox to hold
them down. But if Pedro Martinez's back holds up, it could be a
whole different series.