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Skipper able to manage his emotions

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / April 6, 2012
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DETROIT - He’s been managing forever, it seems, but 10 years removed from his last major league job with the Mets, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine was a little nervous before Thursday’s 3-2 walkoff loss to the Tigers on Opening Day. He was a little drained afterward.

“I’m fine,’’ he said. “You hate to lose a game like that where there were a lot of things I liked. But for the first game there were a lot of things going on and I think we made all the right choices.’’

He said he woke up very early Thursday morning. His phone was buzzing with texts and voice mails from well-wishers.

He was asked about the emotions he felt when he finally got up to face the day.

“Got up so long ago that I can’t remember,’’ he kidded.

“To tell you the truth, I had the same feeling that, I think, most of the guys have. I talked to a lot of them at the hotel early, saw some of them here. It’s Opening Day and there’s only one Opening Day and it’s a very special day. The start of something new . . . I’m excited to be part of it.’’

Nervous?

“I hope so, you know? I knew it was time to stop playing when I got in the batter’s box and I couldn’t create a little adrenaline, a little feel. I hope I have that today,’’ he said.

Turns out the adrenaline did flow.

He faced the music of the postgame news conference and then went into his office and slumped down in his chair, going over the sequence of events.

He had to make a number of moves in his first game back in charge of a big league team.

Oh, not during the first eight innings, when 2011 Cy Young winner Justin Verlander was mowing down his lineup. But once Verlander was lifted, with Detroit holding a 2-0 lead heading into ninth inning and closer Jose Valverde (49 for 49 in save attempts last season) on the mound, Valentine went to work.

After a Dustin Pedroia double and an Adrian Gonzalez single, Valentine had Darnell McDonald pinch run for Gonzalez. David Ortiz’s sacrifice fly cut Boston’s deficit to 2-1.

With Kevin Youkilis at the plate against Valverde, who has a deliberate delivery, many may have wondered why McDonald wasn’t running. Was Valentine being conservative?

As it turns out, no.

McDonald had the green light but decided not to go. It may have been Opening Day nerves, or a player not wanting to make a big out in a key situation. After Valverde fanned Youkilis for the second out, McDonald stole second and then rode home on Ryan Sweeney’s triple.

Then there were Valentine’s pitching moves.

After Jon Lester gave him seven strong innings, Valentine went with Vicente Padilla to start the eighth with the Tigers leading, 1-0. This would normally be Alfredo Aceves’s role. Austin Jackson tripled off Padilla on a ball Sweeney turned the wrong way on in right field. Padilla was lifted for Franklin Morales, who gave up a sacrifice fly to Prince Fielder.

In the bottom of the ninth, Valentine went with setup man Mark Melancon.

Except for his last spring training outing, Melancon hadn’t given Valentine any reason to show faith in him. But this was precisely Melancon’s role.

He gave up a pair of singles and departed with one out as Valentine summoned Aceves.

“As soon as it got into a jeopardy situation, I wanted to try to close it out with Aceves,’’ Valentine said. “He’s the guy who’s going to be the closer. He’s got the stuff to get a ground ball and he got a ground ball.’’

There are two ways to look at this. One, it’s good that Aceves can induce a ground ball that would result in a double play that could get him out of the inning. On the other hand, he’s not a power, strikeout pitcher, and those ground balls can see their way through the infield.

Thursday, it was the latter.

Aceves hit Ramon Santiago in the left heel with a pitch to load the bases for Jackson, who hit a sharp grounder down the third base line to win the game.

Valentine said that even if he had a healthy Andrew Bailey, he would have brought in the relievers in the same sequence.

Thrown into the fire right off the bat, it seemed a long way now from the day he cried at his introductory news conference.

That’s when we first got a glimpse of the story-telling Valentine, the thoughtful Valentine, who had decided to take No. 25 in honor of Tony Conigliaro, his former Padres spring training roommate.

He settled in quickly, did all of the things a new manager is supposed to do. He visited players, watched their offseason workouts, and showed up at their charity events. He played the role of good-will ambassador and spread the good word throughout Red Sox Nation.

He went through spring training and watched as his closer (Bailey) injured his thumb and had surgery and his left fielder (Carl Crawford) wasn’t able to take a single swing.

And one may have wondered Thursday - could Crawford have reached a couple of balls Cody Ross let fall? Could Bailey have gotten out of the situation Aceves couldn’t?

In spring training, Valentine made it through his first controversies, including a reported rift between he and general manager Ben Cherington, his desire to keep Daniel Bard in the bullpen, and his feelings on where shortstop Jose Iglesias and catcher Ryan Lavarnway should play.

Bard wound up a starter. Iglesias and Lavarnway wound up at Pawtucket.

When the roster was finally set, he was given 13 pitchers because he had to insert his innings-eater, Aceves, as the closer.

“I hope I don’t have to use all 13 today,’’ he quipped before the game.

He used five. And the only player he left on the bench was Kelly Shoppach.

Valentine knows there won’t be many games like Thursday’s, but in terms of pushing the buttons, he pushed the right ones. The results weren’t what he had hoped.

Valentine knew facing Verlander would be challenging. He hoped Lester could match him. And he nearly did.

The other part Valentine enjoyed was the comeback against the best closer in baseball last season.

The long day was encouraging and disappointing.

Valentine will likely have to deal with bullpen issues all season, even if he gets gems from Lester, Josh Beckett, and Clay Buchholz.

If he wondered aloud whether he would feel the rush of adrenaline, he had the answer after a gut-wrenching, walkoff loss.

It bothered him to lose.

But even that agony did nothing to dampen the excitement he felt to be back managing a major league team.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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