Ellsbury and Ross by Kelly O’Connor (sittingstill.net)

Last week we took at look at the Bottom 5 Moments from 2012, if you missed that you can check it out here. This week, thankfully, we’re back with a (somewhat) more positive look at the previous 12 months. Even in a season that saw the Sox manage only 69 wins to their 93 losses there were a few bright spots here and there.

5) July 19 — Cody Ross’ Walk-Off vs. the White Sox (Video) — Chicago rookie left-hander Jose Quintana had stifled the Red Sox offense throwing eight shutout innings, but Matt Thornton allowed two base runners to start out the 9th, before closer Addison Reed came in to attempt to close out the 1-0 game. Instead, Ross (fresh off of a 3 HR game the night before) turned on a 1-1 pitch and sent it high into the Boston night eventually landing in the Monster Seats. Cue The Standells, the blue Gatorade bath, the helmet toss, and the home plate mosh pit. Fenway walk-offs never, ever get old.

4) May 2 — Will Middlebrooks’ Arrival — Not since Dustin Pedroia had I been as excited about the arrival of a homegrown Red Sox prospect. As many of you did, I continually tracked Will’s statistics and progress, watching as he made the jump from A to AA to AAA and eventually from Willie to Will. I saw him play for Pawtucket a few times early in April and there was no doubt that he was ready to join the big league club and make a contribution. When Youkilis began to fight through a nagging back injury, trying desperately to stay off of the DL, it was as if he knew that if he gave that spot up it wasn’t going to come back to him. If that was Youkilis’ fear, it was certainly legitimate.

The team lost 6 of Will’s first 7 games, but even with that slow start, went on to finish with a 43-32 record in the 75 games that he played in, a .573 winning percentage. In the games that he didn’t play in the team went 26-61 (.298). So when Middlebrooks suited up Boston played like a 93 win team, and when he didn’t they were on a 48 win pace. That makes him a +45 WAR player, right? Well, at the very least it makes him an exciting third baseman of the future, and one of the highlights of 2012.

Youkilis by Kelly O’Connor (sittingstill.net)

3) June 24Kevin Youkilis’ Farewell Moment (Video) — Listen, you and I both know that Youkilis hit a fly ball into right centerfield that Jason Heyward or Michael Bourn should have caught for a fairly routine out. However with enough time (and hopefully this is happening already) we’ll come to tell ourselves that Youkilis ripped the ball past the lunging outfielders and the old veteran legged out a hustling triple, wrapping up his Red Sox career in a cloud of dust and a blaze of glory. That’s how I am choosing to remember it, at least, and I think that you should do the same.

The interesting thing was that at the time we didn’t really know for sure if Youkilis was gone until we saw his reaction and his interaction with Nick Punto. I had one eye on the game and one eye on my Twitter feed waiting for a credible source to say that he had definitely been moved. Youk popped up on third, dusted himself off, and looked towards the dugout. As Punto came out to take his place on base the two shared a hug that confirmed what we all were wondering: the Youkilis Era was over. His hug with Pedroia at the top of the dugout steps is a Red Sox memory that I will never forget.

2) May 26 — Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s Walk Off Against the Rays (Video) — Down 2-1 and facing the suddenly dominant (15/15 in save opportunities to that point) Rays Closer, Fernando Rodney, Valentine called on pinch hitter Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Salty rewarded that call by drilling a low and inside, 0-1, 96 mph fastball over the Sox bullpen in right field to flip the script and give the Sox a 3-2 win.

What made this game feel so big, besides the fact that it was a Saturday night game on FOX, was that it came the day after the benches had cleared with the same two teams. It came less than 24 hours after Joe Maddon copied a thesaurus on Twitter and whined in a way that even Taylor Swift thought came off as a bit immature. (I’m not going to lie, I can’t stand that guy. He makes me wish there was some kind of justifiable way to bean the opposing manager. Just once, it’s all I ask for. I feel like Vicente Padilla might be the kind of guy that could have taken care of that. Maybe we could be Ugueth Urbina back for this role now that he’s out of prison. Too soon?) Only Maddon has the kind of pompous arrogance required to imply that every time his pitchers hit a guy it’s a harmless accident, but any time a batter of his gets plunked it’s as a direct result of vitriolic malice.

As the ball flew out of the park I cheered for Salty, but mostly I took that opportunity to yell out my true inner feelings for Joe and his ridiculous, absurd, idiotic, incompetent, and cowardly tweet.

1B) October 4 Bobby Valentine’s Firing — Is it mean to include this day in the Top 5? Possibly. Is it accurate? It sure is in my book. After a Twitter conversation with Gus Ramsey (a former Coordinating Producer on Baseball Tonight who had worked with Bobby on the show) I came away determined to give Bobby the benefit of the doubt. He told me that he had never met anyone in his life who knew the game of baseball like Bobby. He said the veteran players would respect him, and the young players would play hard for him.

Pedroia and Valentine by Kelly O’Connor (sittingstill.net)

My benefit of the doubt lasted all the way until April 16th when he questioned the effort and integrity of Kevin Youkilis saying, “I don’t think he’s as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason.” That was it for me. I had him on an admittedly short leash, and no, Youkilis was not exactly destroying the American League up to that point, but as de facto team Captain Dustin Pedroia quickly reminded his manager, “that’s not the way we go about our stuff around here.”

I spent every day from the August slump through the end of the season worrying that Larry Luchino would refuse to admit his mistake of strong-arming Cherington into hiring Bobby and force us all to endure another miserable year of this childish clubhouse drama. How can you go through a season where the Manager and some of “his” coaches aren’t even on speaking terms? The day he was finally fired was a huge relief. It was an ill conceived and poorly contrived marriage from the beginning, and on the day the divorce became final Red Sox Nation applauded and exhaled. A new era would soon be ushered in, and no matter who it would turn out to be, it had to be an improvement.

Now listen, I’m not foolish enough to think that all of the team’s problems last year fell on Valentine’s shoulders, but I also don’t believe that he made any of them better. His in-game managing started off rusty, at best, but it actually improved over the course of the season. However, being an abrasive jerk just isn’t something that wears off over the course of a 162 game season. The Valentine Era in Boston will be remembered as an unmitigated disaster, but thankfully the mess was contained to a tumultuous and brief 10-month period.

1A) August 27 — The Trade — It’s a sad commentary on 2012 when the top moment was a trade that sent a former playoff hero ace and the team’s two biggest acquisitions from 2011 to Los Angeles in a salary dump, but this move signified some great things from the front office. First, the team that we had been watching from September 1, 2011 through August 26, 2012 was going to be dismantled. Second, it showed a desire to distance themselves from long, resource limiting, team shackling contracts. Thirdly, it removed some players who did not want to be in Boston, and who Boston was more than happy to part with (except you Nick Punto, it wasn’t personal with you, you keep sliding head first into first base like it gets you there quicker).

If Boston had been able to manufacture a deal just to dump this amount of guaranteed money, even at the cost of giving up on a player like Adrian Gonzalez, that alone would have been enough to call it a great trade. But being able to move every bad contract in your organization that doesn’t have John Lackey’s signature on the bottom of it, and receive some solid starting pitching prospects in return? Well that, my friends, makes this deal the number one highlight of the Red Sox 2012 season for me. If either Rubby De La Rosa or Allen Webster ends up being a quality starter for Boston, Cherington should belatedly have the 2012 Executive of the Year given to him. The other two prospects, Jerry Sands and Ivan de Jesus, have already been parlayed into the new closer, Joel Hanrahan. James Loney, well, he ensured that there wasn’t a literal gaping hole at first base for the rest of the season, just a figurative one.

It had been almost exactly a year since the wheels fell off in September 2011, and more than anything this deal felt like the team had finally given in, given up, and pushed the reset button.

Honorable Mention: Jason Varitek Day, Tim Wakfield Day and his emotional speech, Pedro Ciriaco becoming a certified Yankee killer, Kelly Shoppach grinding out the first triple of his 8 year major league career and then doing it again a few months later, a 5-0 win against Seattle that put the team 5 games over .500 which would turn out to be the high water mark for the season, Lester and the bullpen shutting out the White Sox for a 1-0 final and Boston’s 6th straight win, getting to spend almost every night of the week listening to Don Orsillo beautifully narrate the games of the team I love, The Cody Ross Experience, John Farrell’s return, every time Don and Jerry got each other laughing so hard in the booth that I began to worry if Remy was going to survive, Varitek coming back to the organization in a front office capacity.