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Marty Noble

Strapped by injuries, Valentine's lineup not viable

Noble: Valetine's lineup strapped by Sox injuries

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Strapped by injuries, Valentine's lineup not viable

MLB.com Columnist

Marty Noble

NEW YORK -- Chances are Bobby Valentine wasn't the manager who first theorized: "It isn't the best team that wins, it's the team that plays best." But he often has used the phrase to dismiss an opponent's perceived advantage. It's the sort of phrasing Valentine would prefer, phrasing that suggests he's letting us all in on a big league secret. Moreover, he enjoys putting the onus on some factor other than players' talent, say the players' attitude or, perhaps the influence of the manager.

Managers do have impact, of course. If they didn't, the concept of college of coaches (see Cubs, 1961) might have caught on, or Sparky Anderson and Earl Weaver wouldn't have plaques in the Hall, the No. 6's of Bobby Cox and Joe Torre wouldn't have been put in mothballs awaiting their retirements, and the 1969 Mets, '82 Cardinals, '86 Mets, '87 Twins, '88 Dodgers, '90 Reds, '02 Angels, '04 Red Sox, '06 and '11 Cardinals wouldn't have won World Series.

And if managers didn't have impact, Valentine might have more than a modicum of security in his current position.

When he worked for the Mets, Valentine routinely said managers generally affect the outcomes of five or six games per season. He never spoke in specifics in that regard. But he was certain he was worth more than half dozen W's. He always kept the self-evaluation glass half-full. Now half-empty would be something to strive for.

Few folks have found fault with his teaching or in-game decision-making. He was routinely a page or inning ahead of the guy in the other dugout. Indeed, that baseball-intellectual advantage has been one of the factors in the wide-spread dislike of Valentine among his managerial colleagues. They've been jealous.

* * * *

Valentine couldn't support the premise of the theory Monday night when he brought his broken-beyond-repair Red Sox to Yankee Stadium. The lineup he posted was no more able to play the part of "the team that plays best" than Lady Bird could have played Larry Bird. The Sox didn't qualify as even a unreasonable facsimile of big league competition. Their lineup included Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Cody Ross, Clay Buchholz and six others hardly guaranteed spots on the 25-man roster on Opening Day next year when the Sox again (or still) are the visiting team at the Stadium.

Intrasquad games in Fort Myers, Fla., come February will feature more recognizable names and considerably more talent than Valentine put on the field Monday. It was his doing, but hardly his fault. Big Papi and Little Pedroia were injured, on-premises spectators. Will Middlebrooks was injured and off-premises. And the hopes of March were in Los Angeles.

Valentine decided not to play Jacoby Ellsbury because the center fielder "hasn't played [much] in a long time. We've got the left-hander out there [the Yankees' CC Sabathia] and a big outfield."

So the Sox started a lineup bound to irk Orioles manager Buck Showalter when he sees it. It was almost apropos that after the Yankees had buried Buchholz and Alfredo Aceves in the second inning that the scoreboard read as it would had the Sox actually forfeited -- 9-0. That they outscored the Yankees, 2-1, in the final seven innings won't be any kind of salve for the Orioles.

Valentine didn't sidestep the issue of fielding a strapped team before the game.

"We'll put our best foot forward," he said. "I don't know how tough it's going to be until I see the competition. CC's been throwing the ball well, and I know we're going to have guys in there who are trying to hit it. We'll see."

Sabathia pitched deeper into the game -- eight innings but only 103 pitches -- and spoiled the Sox's chance to be spoilers.

After the Sox had endured their 91st defeat, Valentine appeared weary and exasperated.

"Is there a part of you that is uncomfortable being forced to field a team so strapped for a series so important to one team?" was a question directed to him during the post-mortems.

"My guys give their all every time they go out there," he said. "When they wear that uniform, they know they have a responsibility to play hard. And I like their effort."

That's manager-speak for "I'd rather not answer."

But is there a degree of discomfort for the manager?

"You play the cards you have," he said. "And that is what we have right now."

That didn't answer the question either.

These wholly Sox hardly were enough to challenge a Yankees team that had won 14 of its previous 20 games and seven of its previous eight home games. Buchholz didn't miss many of the 13 bats he opposed. Eight-story tenements in the Bronx have fewer clotheslines than he surrendered.

A well-pitched game could have reinforced the theory Valentine enjoys quoting. But this was not a Red Sox-Yankees game that will be discussed beyond the season's end. On the eve of the 34th anniversary of the Bucky Dent Game, so much was missing; they didn't even exceed three hours. This was the Celtics without the Lakers or Sam without Diane or JFK without Jackie. Or Jackie without the O.

We can imagine what the two teams might have provided if the Sox's record were reversed, 91-69, and their batting order had a backbone. The Yankees won, so they went home happy. They couldn't have gone home particularly proud.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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