NEW YORK — In a year where the Red Sox have had a few public kerfuffles, Eduardo Nunez handled the latest with as much backbone and aplomb as anyone.
Not bad for a guy who’s been on the team for a month.
Nunez attempted to bunt in the first inning against Sabathia on Thursday night, when the Sox dropped the opener of a four-game series against the Yankees, 6-2.
CC Sabathia, who has a bum knee, didn’t take kindly to dropping one down and ripped the Sox in his postgame comments at Yankee Stadium.
“I'm an old man,” Sabathia told reporters, including MLB.com's Bryan Hoch. “They should want to go out and kick my butt. I just feel like they took the weak road."
Baseball purists who dislike the game’s hazy codes can spend all the time they want on this subject. But for the Red Sox, Sabathia’s comments are not about unwritten rules.
A pitcher who has dominated the Sox this year suggested his prey is weak. Sabathia, whether intending to or not, engaged on a psychological level, and publicly. He's also 4-0 with a 1.04 ERA against the Sox this season.
But Nunez held his ground.
“If I have to do it twice, I have to do it,” Nunez said. “And if I have to bunt four times in a row, I’ll do it. I don’t care if he’s mad.”
Nunez said he did apologize to Sabathia, but that wasn’t exactly an admission of guilt. The apology seemed more of a clarification: he’s not trying to get Sabathia hurt. He’s trying to win a baseball game.
“I cannot change my game,” Nunez said. “We know he has a bad knee. That’s not my problem.”
The best volley the Sox have now would be to hold first place. But there’s something to be said for not letting other people push you around in the public arena.
David Price seems to have some appreciation for that general concept, making it his task to be a media enforcer this year — even if his approach has been misguided.
But between Price and the Baltimore beanballs, the Sox haven't come away looking great in these moments this year. Dustin Pedroia said he loved Manny Machado. It didn’t take long for Machado to curse out every member of the Red Sox and say he has no respect for the team.
Sabathia, once told of Nunez’s respond on Thursday night, doubled down.
“I’m out there early every day,” Sabathia said, via Newsday’s Erik Boland. “If they have something to say, we can meet in center field.”
Nunez already had something to say. There isn’t much more he should need to say. The Yankees already got into a huge fight with the Tigers recently. No one needs that.
What the Red Sox needed was a firm, reasonable message. For once, in a public exchange of words, they got that.