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Dan Shaughnessy

The smackdowns are getting worse

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / April 9, 2012
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DETROIT - Bring back Terry Francona?

Why not bring back Joe Kerrigan, Butch Hobson, Dave Lewis, and Pete Carroll while we’re at it?

Did Bobby Valentine have any idea what he was getting himself into?

After an Opening Day of excruciating pain, followed by a 10-0 Game 2 blowout, the Red Sox Sunday bookended their Lost Weekend in Motown with a defeat as hideous as any of those we lived through in 2011.

They wasted 12 runs and 18 hits. They wasted four spectacular innings of relief by Vicente Padilla. They wasted the emotional rescue of Bobby V’s counterculture lineup. They blew a three-run lead in the bottom of the ninth and a two-run lead in the bottom of the 11th. They lost, 13-12, when Alex Avila smashed a walkoff blast on a 2-and-2 pitch from Mark “Schiraldi Eyes’’ Melancon. It was as bad as it gets.

The Sox Monday night become the first team in baseball history confronted with a must-win game on April 9.

Yeesh. The fall of 2011 is starting to feel like the good old days.

Despite two more bullpen implosions and a second walkoff loss in three games, Bobby V put on a happy face when it was over.

“Guys played a hell of a game,’’ said the manager. “It was a game to be proud of. If I remember correctly, we were down, 4-0. We kept coming back. Great job. Great job. Franklin Morales pitched great. Mark was one pitch away.’’

If you’re still keeping track, the Red Sox now have lost 23 of their last 30 games. Last season’s 0-6 start has surrendered to this season’s 0-3 as they prepare for the Blue Jays Monday night at Rogers Centre.

Three games into the season, it’s clear the Red Sox have no closer. Jonathan Papelbon is with the Phillies, Andrew Bailey is on the disabled list for four months. Aceves (five batters, all have reached including Miguel Cabrera with a three-run bomb Sunday) is making Johnny “Way Back’’ Wasdin look like Dick Radatz. And poor Melancon (two games, two losses) has the look of a kid who might have trouble recovering. Melancon faced all the tough questions after surrendering the walkoff blast on a hanging curve. He said he’ll have trouble sleeping. It was hard not to feel sorry for him.

Sox management is another story. Allegedly committed to redemption after the greatest choke in baseball history, the Sox have started this season with what looks like a grossly subpar pitching staff. They have the third-highest payroll in baseball and they have no closer, a raft of suspect middle men, and two of their front three starters spit the bit in Detroit. Josh Beckett gave up five homers in 4 2/3 innings Saturday and Clay Buchholz was rocked for eight hits and seven runs in four innings Sunday.

How long before Valentine explodes? Is he keeping quiet because he knows what he has? Is there some recognition that he has been brought here as a bridge manager?

Valentine certainly did things his way Sunday.

Folks were stunned when they got to the ballpark Easter morning and saw the Sox lineup posted on the clubhouse wall. After watching the Sox score only two runs with 19 strikeouts in 18 innings, Bobby V decided it was time to get everybody’s attention. He had Nick Punto (career .169 average leading off) leading off. He had Darnell McDonald (career .213 vs. righthanders) batting sixth against righthander Max Scherzer. He had Kelly Shoppach (career .202 against righties) batting ninth. This no doubt had silos exploding outside the Lawrence, Kan., home of Bill James. If the owner is still paying attention to baseball, Valentine can expect a 4 a.m. e-mail in his in-box when he wakes up Monday in Toronto.

Unconventional as the lineup was, Valentine predicted, “I think we’ll be able to score some runs with it.’’

Clearly, the man is a genius. The Sox rattled 18 hits off eight Tigers pitchers. They spanked Scherzer for seven runs in 2 2/3 innings. It took Scherzer 80 pitches to record eight outs.

It needs to be said that there was something distinctly un-Francona-like about Valentine’s approach to the changes. He made no attempt to tell his players what was coming.

Asked if he informed his players before they left the park Saturday, Valentine said, “No. I didn’t know it [lineup] until this morning. I don’t know how they would have known.’’

Francona always told his players who was playing and who was sitting the night before games. In eight years, the only exception was a game against the Yankees in 2010 when Francona and his staff could not decide whether to go with David Ortiz or Mike Lowell the night before a game against lefty CC Sabathia. The 24-hour heads up was a security blanket for the players. And as we all know, the Red Sox veterans got very comfortable with this system - perhaps too comfortable.

Now the Linus blankie has been yanked away by Valentine. He didn’t bother to tell Kevin Youkilis that he would be sitting for the start of Sunday’s series finale. Struggling Youk (0 for 8, four strikeouts) found out just like the rest of us, when the lineup was posted on the clubhouse wall Sunday morning.

And still the Red Sox cannot get a win.

“It’s a long year,’’ said Adrian Gonzalez, who hit a majestic two-run homer. “Keep your head up, keep grinding. A couple of weeks from now, people won’t even remember this.’’

Away from the microphones and cameras, Gonzalez took a moment to walk to the other side of the clubhouse and console Melancon. The star first baseman put his arm around the young righty and whispered a few words into the kid’s ear.

This is as bad a start as the Red Sox could have had. If it keeps going this way, they’re going to need to take care of one another. It can be lonely down there at the bottom of the American League East. Right now the only company the Red Sox have is the winless New York Yankees.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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