Not much of a rivalry yet for Bobby Valentine

Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine watches his

Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine watches his team play the Oakland Athletics at O.co Coliseum. (July 3, 2012) (Credit: Getty Images)

After close to 20 minutes in front of a microphone and no fewer than six questions about Ichiro Suzuki, Bobby Valentine was relieved to hear that Friday's pregame news conference was over.

"Thank God," Valentine said, making no attempt to hide his exasperation. "I was feeling like this was never going to end."

Yeah, it's been that kind of season for Valentine, whose New York homecoming irritated him from the jump and only got worse from there. By the time it was over, after Curtis Granderson's eighth-inning grand slam iced the Yankees' 10-3 victory, the Red Sox's deficit in the AL East had grown to 11½ games.

"It's pretty disappointing," said Cody Ross, who could be dealt if Boston goes bust this weekend. "We know we're better than this. We have a ton of talent."

So do the Yankees, and they're getting a much better return on their investment. Valentine insists that his Sox aren't finished. What choice does he have, really? But the unbridled optimism he shoveled after Friday's loss, which was Boston's sixth in seven games, felt forced.

"We'll get on a streak," Valentine said. "We haven't got our big streak yet. That's the good news."

And the reason for that? "I just believe," he said.

While Boston has labored to stay afloat despite 22 players landing on the disabled list this season -- the most since the 1999 Rays -- the Yankees have stayed the course in the wake of significant DL stints by such luminaries as Mariano Rivera, Brett Gardner, CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and now Alex Rodriguez.

When Nick Swisher got hurt last week and the Yankees learned that Gardner had been lost to season-ending surgery, Brian Cashman's response was to swing a trade for Ichiro, stealing him from the other Safeco clubhouse during his team's visit to Seattle.

It has all seemed so effortless for the AL East-leading Yankees, who should get Joba Chamberlain back next week and get Pettitte back Sept. 1. With Red Sox Nation fretting over the struggles of Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, who are a combined 10-17, Joe Girardi's club is operating as if it were on autopilot.

"This group has been through it before here, where they've lost people for a substantial period of time and have been able to overcome it," Girardi said. "And that's what you're asking them, to do it again."

The Red Sox haven't exuded that same level of confidence. Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford are back but David Ortiz is a no-go for this series with a right Achilles strain. Ortiz was hitting .316 with 23 home runs and wasn't happy to be missing a few shots at the Stadium's short porch. "Let's not talk about it," he said.

Other than Ichiro, there wasn't much else to discuss. What usually shapes up as a blood feud has been reduced to polite sparring.

The infusion of Valentine into this combustible mix was supposed to be an annoyance for the Yankees, a former Mets nemesis throwing darts from a different perch.

Instead, Valentine has been relegated to putting out fires in his own clubhouse rather than starting them around the AL East. He's not quite as effective at that, and it's unclear if the Red Sox are capable of rallying.

"I still believe in us," Dustin Pedroia said. "We have to. I feel it's only a matter of time."

But time is running out, and getting within reach of the Yankees doesn't seem realistic. They can't even get their rivals' attention. Of all the questions asked of Girardi before Friday's game, only one involved the Red Sox. Was he surprised to see Boston in last place?

"The important thing is what happens in the next 64 or 65 games," Girardi said. "Not really what's happened to this point, and that's the way we look at it, too. Can they make a run and get hot? Can we get hot again and distance ourselves from the other teams?"

The smart money is on the latter.

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