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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Red Sox left hung out to dry against Texas

Justice: Sox hung out to dry against Texas

Red Sox left hung out to dry against Texas
BOSTON -- It's not that the Red Sox lost a game that should worry manager Bobby Valentine. One lousy loss is one lousy loss. Defeats come in all shapes and sizes, but in the end, they all count the same.

Jon Lester may pitch the next five years and not have a game this bad. Once the last of his seven earned runs scored, the Red Sox almost certainly knew how this one was going to end.

"I flat out stunk," Lester said.

Tuesday's final score, 18-3, against the Rangers, isn't really relevant to the players and coaches. It makes for great material in The Nation, but shouldn't matter to the people at the heart of the matter.

Who cares if there were a few boos and maybe some jeering and taunting, and a teensy bit of profanity directed at the home team? That's why baseball in Boston is special. It's a place where the fans care deeply. About every single pitch of every single game of every single season.

Believe me, there are players in a lot of places who would love to play where the ballpark is always packed and the passion runs deep. Those fans who stayed until the end Tuesday night had their fun, especially when the Red Sox pitching staff finally put an end to an eight-run rally by the Rangers in the eighth inning.

You can argue a standing ovation was almost clever. Anyway, it was still only one game no matter how loudly they booed.

As Red Sox left fielder Cody Ross said, "That's why baseball is such a great game. The beautiful part about it is we don't have to wait a week to play 'em. We get to play 'em tomorrow."

Still, when Valentine sorts through it all, he may be struck by one very bothersome thing. His team, a team of veterans, a team that has been through the wars together, had a bad case of the jitters.

Maybe there really was a carryover from his negative comments about Kevin Youkilis and the firestorm from his players that followed. If the Red Sox weren't an uptight team, it was certainly doing a good imitation of one.

Baseball is the strangest of games in that it requires both intensity and relaxation. Hurry up and slow down. At the same time.

The Red Sox were a lot of things Tuesday night, but relaxed wasn't one of them. There was Ross misplaying two balls in left field. There was Youkilis bobbling a routine grounder and striking out four times.

Shortstop Mike Aviles didn't come up with a ground ball that seemed to be within reach, and here, there and everywhere, the Sox didn't make the plays that they might make every other night this season.

And THAT'S what might have been on Valentine's mind when he left Fenway Park.

His challenge will be to keep the noise of the talk shows and columnists (present company excluded) in the hallway outside the home clubhouse. His other challenge will be in making sure his players are in the right frame of mind.

At this point, more work might not be the answer. Valentine will need to find a way to relieve the pressure and restore a sense of normalcy.

He could do it by calling off batting practice, locking the indoor cages and ordering his players to show up an hour before game time. He could do it by getting a terrific pitching performance from Josh Beckett, Wednesday's starter against the Rangers.

That's what James Shields did for the Rays on Monday. He took control of the game from the start and put an end to a three-game losing streak.

It's not about trust between the manager and player. Valentine can only get that back a day at a time, and here's guessing he probably will. He's too smart, too competent, and in the end, too decent of a man. His players may not like everything he says or does, but there's way more to like about him.

Beyond the players and the manager, the Red Sox have some significant challenges. First, will closer Andrew Bailey return by mid-season, and will he be effective?

Bailey's thumb injury forced Valentine to shuffle his bullpen roles, and at the moment, he's still trying to figure out how to line 'em all up.

Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is sidelined with a shoulder injury.

Carl Crawford will be back before Bailey, and the Red Sox are hoping he'll be the player he was for nine seasons in Tampa Bay, rather than the one he was in Boston in 2011.

Regardless, this should be a good team. Beckett, Lester and Clay Buchholz have the potential to reel off one quality start after another. There's still some offensive firepower, especially if Youkilis can get straightened out.

The Red Sox may not be as good as the Yankees, but they're still plenty good enough to get one of the American League's five playoff berths.

"We're not ever going to judge our season off a few games in April," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "It's a long season. We got off to a rough start last season and did pretty well until the end."

Four months from now, this one could be forgotten. Those 21 hits by the Rangers, those six home runs, will just be footnotes.

For one night, though, they were tough for The Nation to take, and Valentine seemed to be struggling with it all. When he was asked to sum up a bad night at the office, he didn't even try.

"I can't describe this one," he said.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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