I'm having a hard time deciding how I feel about the one-man whirlwind soap opera that is Alfredo Aceves, Boston Red Sox pitcher.
On the one hand, Aceves has turned into the most amusing heel in baseball over the past few months. He has all the ingredients: He's a reasonably valuable relief pitcher who throws four pitches well enough to use in a major league game, meaning he can make spot starts if need be; he's making only $2.65 million this year, so he's a good value that the already light Boston bullpen can't afford to lose, and since the middle of last season he's been apparently incapable of going more than two days in the Sox clubhouse without stumbling into a fight with someone.
Used to be that was Bobby Valentine, Boston's disastrous managerial hire who replaced Terry Francona (now with the Cleveland Indians); Aceves was not one of the malcontents that GM Ben Cherington shipped off to the Los Angeles Dodgers following some rather overhyped mutinous text messaging. This was rather odd considering Aceves and Valentine got off on the wrong foot in camp last year after Aceves thought he'd earned a spot in the rotation but Valentine put him in the pen, promoting Daniel Bard, a guy with one and a half major league pitches on a good day, to the back of his Opening Day staff. But then Andrew Bailey got hurt, Valentine was able to placate Aceves with the closer's job, and that seemed to be the end of that.
Fast forward four months -- and a whole lot more losses -- to Aug 23, two days before all of the supposed terrible influences on the Sox clubhouse were sent packing to the opposite league and coast. Aceves comes into a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim with an 11-9 lead and proceeds to give up three runs to blow the save and possibly the game. No problem says Cody Ross, leading off the bottom of the ninth with a solo shot to tie the game. Aceves comes out for the 10th and the second pitch out of his hand goes off Kendrys Morales's bat and into the short porch in right field. He lets Erick Aybar reach base on a single three pitches later and at that point Bobby V has not only seen enough of Alfredo Aceves but has Craig Breslow warm enough to come into the game and replace him. Breslow promptly gives up a double to Vernon Wells, scoring Aybar and giving the Angels 14 runs. Dustin Pedroia would single in Pedro Ciriaco in the bottom of the 10th to bring the Sox within one, but they would fall 14-13.
So here's the quote that Aceves gives the Boston Globe's Peter Abraham after that game:
Aceves said the Red Sox were playing "[expletive], [expletive] baseball," and refused to take blame for the 14-13 loss.
"I missed a couple of pitches, yeah," Aceves said. "It's not about that [why] we lost the game. There were like 25 runs."
That's an awesome quote. I love that quote, expletives and all. His math's a bit off -- there were either 14 or 27 runs, depending on whether runs scored by the Sox somehow figure into him blowing a three out save -- but I think it's great. The problem is that I think it's great because Aceves took a technically true sentiment -- that there was some additional blame to go around the staff for wasting a 13-run outing beyond him and his five runs allowed in the ninth and tenth -- and phrased it in the worst, most selfish and intentionally incendiary way possible. It's definitely the kind of quote that makes the papers … and once it's there, it infuriates the fans, your teammate and your manager.
Now there aren't any real written instructions on how you fire your closer, and Aceves should have expected his comments to at least earn him an unofficial night or two off. But if you know the guy was angry with the way the team was been playing even before last night's debacle and likely isn't much happier less than 24 hours removed from it, the reasonable thing to do is probably to sit him down and tell him you're going to make a change. Well, who knows? Maybe that's not the reasonable thing to do. Maybe you won't decide to give Andrew Bailey his job back until the end of the eighth the night after the blown save, so before the game there's nothing to talk about. Maybe you're Bobby Valentine, it's 2012, and for some reason everything's got to have drama.
Andrew Bailey goes in and gets a tidy 1-2-3 save on 12 pitches and Aceves goes straight to Valentine's office after the game. Again the manager has a chance to repair this relationship, and again he passes on this chance -- the talk turns into a shouting match and Aceves slams the door behind him. But Valentine -- or perhaps someone else in the front office, but almost certainly with Valentine's consent -- doesn't just sit him a couple days to let him cool his head and then work him back in as the setup man. No, the very next day, the same day the team sends their starting first baseman, left fielder, veteran rotation anchor and Nick Punto to Los Angeles because Bobby V can't handle them in the clubhouse and the front office can no longer stomach the deals to which they're signed, the Sox take the additional step of suspending Aceves for three games for "conduct detrimental to the team."
Honestly, the Sox should have just seen if the Dodgers would take him as well if that's how they were going to play it. Aceves' relationship with Valentine was almost comically beyond repair from that point on; with only a month left in the season and all of the other clubhouse cancers thousands of miles away, the simmering feud between Aceves and Valentine became really the only interesting thing happening as far as that team was concerned outside of seeing how Jose Iglesias handled shortstop in the bigs. Things "flared up" again in the middle of September when Aceves handed catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia the baseball instead of Valentine when leaving the mound and avoided him on his way back to the clubhouse, which led the beat reporters for CBS Boston and the Globe to do all kinds of additional digging into Aceves's one-man disgruntled rebellion in the Sox clubhouse -- ticking off Pedroia here, giving Valentine grief for patting him on the butt there, being a general glowering menace to society. He also had a garbage month on the mound, which didn't help matters.
Aceves was obviously able to outlast Valentine, who has vanished from baseball for the time being. But if his silly no-effort mound session this week is any indication he's still not entirely sure he trusts the man calling the shots. Aceves never worked with Farrell when he was Boston's pitching coach; he arrived the same offseason Farrell left to manage the Blue Jays. And Aceves's "test" did a lot to break up the monotony of the first few days of spring training before the games begin and all the sportswriters of the world are forced write about things like, say, non-roster invitees.
But there's a point where even someone like me, who finds the petty aggravations Aceves delivers upon his team and its fans amusing in the extreme, recognizes that enough is enough. Aceves won; he's still in Boston, Valentine isn't. By rights John Farrell should be the kind of guy Aceves gets along with, seeing as Farrell was both a pitcher and a pitching coach; at the very least, he probably can figure out a better way to fire a closer. There's been some rumbling that Boston should start shopping Aceves around, but I don't think this incident warrants it -- as long as it's the only one. Farrell handled it well, sending his pitching coach out to make sure nothing was wrong with Aceves and then refraining from taking any potshots at the pitcher afterwards with reporters, something Valentine wasn't able to resist by the end of his time in Boston. There's no real reason why this has to be anything more than a slight bump in the road.
But it'd be more entertaining if it was.