David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Seeing Bobby Valentine sitting in his office before Tuesday night's game, tucked away in a corner of the Red Sox clubhouse, brought to mind Col. Nathan Jessup's line from "A Few Good Men" about eating breakfast 300 yards from 4,000 Cubans trained to kill him.
Swap Jessup for Valentine, and the Cubans for the 50 or so media members swarming a few feet away from the manager's desk, and you get the picture of what life is like in Red Sox Nation these days. For Valentine, it's a dangerous, volatile and mostly joyless existence.
Not unlike his final weeks in Flushing in 2002, when the spiraling Mets -- and an embarrassing news conference over players' marijuana use -- ultimately cost him his job.
The one saving grace for Valentine this time around, and a small consolation at that, is the chance to maybe take the Yankees down with him. His Red Sox did exactly that Tuesday night when Jacoby Ellsbury's RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning finished a 4-3 victory and dragged the Yankees into a first-place tie with the Orioles.
It was only the third walk-off victory this season for Boston, and first since July 19.
"We've seen a lot of walk-offs this year and we haven't celebrated enough of them, so I'm happy for the guys," Valentine said. "They're all smiling."
If these final three weeks truly are a farewell tour for Valentine, the coda to his one-and-done tenure in Boston, then what better way to say goodbye than by kicking a sizable dent in the Yankees' playoff bandwagon over his last six games against them?
"I told the guys before the game that the fans are still pulling for us and they want to see us play well," Valentine said. "The season's not over, and we owe it to them, and to the organization to give it everything we have."
Beating the Yankees might even make the rest of this September tolerable. Because Valentine probably looks forward to coming to Fenway Park as much as he would a barbecue in Steve Phillips' backyard.
To wit, Tuesday's pregame news conference kicked off with a radio reporter asking Valentine to make a case to the fans as to why he should still be manager next year.
"I feel bad for those fans," Valentine said. "I don't have to make a case for them, though. I've suffered with them."
Not enough, apparently, because the same reporter kept at it. What can you say to make them believe next year would be different with you as manager?
"I'm the best man for the job," Valentine replied.
After a few ticks of uncomfortable silence, Valentine provided some comic relief. And humor is not something doled out in Costco-size boxes around the Red Sox. Absurdity, yes. Levity, no. "Was that a tough question, by the way?" Valentine said, breaking into a wide, toothy grin. "That's the beginning of a press conference? That's a tough one."
Valentine should be accustomed to it. The Red Sox are in last place, the latest they have held at least a share of the AL East basement since 1997. Coming into the game, Boston had been 10-27 (.270) since Aug. 1 and had lost 11 of 12.
Despite a $175-million payroll to begin the season, the stripped-down Red Sox have a Filene's Basement look to them. That's not Valentine's fault. He was hired to be the anti-Francona, to blow up the beer-and-chicken fraternity, and with that mission statement, Valentine was bound to make more enemies than friends.
Having more losses than wins is the problem. As for his future in Boston, he was asked again if he'd like to know his fate sooner rather than later.
"Oh, much later," Valentine said. "Four or five years from now, I would say. At least."
More laughter. He's still sitting in the seat. A few feet away from everyone who wants him gone.