The obligations of a bad team in the last week of the season

Elsa - Getty Images

The Red Sox turned some heads when they fielded a lineup that turned some stomachs. Did they have an obligation to play their best players?

Kerfuffle! There's a kerfuffle! It has to do with the lineup the Red Sox fielded against the Yankees on Monday.

Well, it's not a kerfuffle between the Orioles and Red Sox, like I was hoping. And not between Buck Showalter and Bobby Valentine, like I was really hoping. But between … well, people on the Internet, probably. But they're always angry with each other. And I couldn't really find a good sample of people who were irate about this.

I guess the kerfuffle was downgraded to a not-thrilled. From the Boston Globe:

According to a major league source, Orioles folks weren’t thrilled to see the Red Sox lineup Monday night. Dustin Pedroia was out with a jammed left finger and Jacoby Ellsbury, who has been nursing a lat strain, also was held out against Sabathia.

The lineup on Monday:

1. Pedro Ciriaco - 2B
2. Daniel Nava - LF
3. Cody Ross - RF
4. Mauro Gomez - 1B
5. Ryan Lavarnway - DH
6. Jarrod Saltalamacchia - C
7. Danny Valencia - 3B
8. Che-Hsuan Lin - CF
9. Jose Iglesias - SS

There was exactly one player in the lineup with whom I wasn't familiar -- Mauro Gomez. I could still say, "Wow, they finally upgraded from James Loney!", but I didn't know Gomez or his minor-league track record. The other eight, I knew.

How many of them should be in a major-league lineup is another story, though. Cody Ross, for sure. Saltalamacchia could start for more than a few teams. Other than that, the lineup really was amazing. Look at the lineup for the third-to-last game for the Red Sox last year. Compare the two. Good gravy.

But, and I'll go out on a limb here, the Red Sox weren't fielding that lineup because they're jerks. Bobby Valentine wasn't chortling at the Orioles' misfortune when he penciled in Gomez hitting cleanup.They were fielding that lineup because they're in a bad way. Dustin Pedroia wasn't at an Aerosmith show; he has a broken finger. The reason to risk further injury to Jacoby Ellsbury is … to help a division rival, I guess? That's not exactly compelling. The rest of the roster is stopgaps and stopgaps to the stopgaps. There are also youngish players whom the Sox want to evaluate, like Iglesias.

If the Globe claims that Orioles folks were mad, that didn't include Adam Jones:

"We don't care."

I was dying for a kerfuffle, dammit. At least a ballyhoo, pother, or some bobbery. I wanted unwritten rules to be violated, with managers throwing unpublished books at each other in the press. Instead, we have nothing.

So this is an attempt to write some unwritten rules down. Here are the obligations of a bottom-feeding team when it comes to their September and October lineups:

1. The team that's out of contention can play anyone they damn well want, including, but not limited to, situations where they want to evaluate a prospect, evaluate a potential bench player for next season, field a wretched veteran so they can reach the magical "nine fielders" benchmark, or rest an ailing or tired player.

2. The only thing members of the opposing team are allowed to do is privately grumble "Aw, dammit, (team). Why do you suck so bad?" under their breath.

Those are the unwritten rules, alright, even if I just made them up. The Red Sox are doing what they feel are in the best interests of their organization. They're watching Iglesias hit and Lin field; they're checking out Ciriaco at second to see if he can be a utility option there, and they're playing Valencia because the Orioles and MLB would really be not thrilled if they took the field without a third baseman.

After discovering there wasn't anyone from the Orioles who was explicitly quoted in the Globe piece, I almost shelved this idea. But then I wanted to find out if there was anyone who was seriously upset at the Red Sox, who legitimately felt they should have pushed Ellsbury through his lat strain or run a broken-fingered Laser Show out there. Hell, Pedroia played on Tuesday.

He'll start with Flaubert, and he'll move on to Mallarmé when they're ready. And to be fair to Valentine, he thought that sitting Pedroia gave him the best chance to win:

According to Valentine, he made the decision Monday because he didn't like Ellsbury's at-bats against Orioles left-hander Joe Saunders, and thought rookie Che-Hsuan Lin had a better chance against lefty CC Sabathia.

Valentine pointed out -- correctly, that Lin had two of the four Red Sox hits against Sabathia.

"So my hunch was right," Valentine said. "I thought I was playing the team that gave us the best chance to win."

Mmm-hmmm, that's some sweet hunching, Bobby. But I'm dying to hear from someone who was really upset at the Red Sox, or anyone who'd be upset with a rival team in a similar situation. Are you out there? Do you exist? Or was this something of an invented story, with the "not thrilled" substituting for #2 in the unwritten rules up there?

Note: Red Sox fans are not eligible for this study, as I'm pretty sure they weren't thrilled with that lineup, either. But you can use this place to complain if you want. I don't mind.

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