As Hanley Ramirez’s three run game-winning homer sailed through the night air, I could only think of one word: Redemption. Also yelling. I did some of that, too. A player who some accused of being selfish, worthless, over-the-hill was redeemed. A team that had not or, if some were to be believed, could not win close games or come back from a deficit was, with one swing of the bat, redeemed. A manager, a front office, an owner who, to listen to some, never made the right moves, never did the right things, were redeemed.
To some extent this isn’t an uncommon theme in baseball or even sports as a whole. The 2004 Red Sox were about doing something nobody thought they could do. They did it and were redeemed. The 2007 team was about domination, and they did dominate, but they were also about the new Red Sox way of doing things, about Theo Epstein’s plan for the franchise. And it worked. The 2013 team began about one thing but ended about something completely different. When beards and fun and unexpected joy gave way to horror and terror and sadness, the 2013 Red Sox became a vehicle to help the city of Boston begin the journey of healing. And they did it. And while the city will never be the same and those losses will never be unlost, the 2013 team showed the power of sports and, indeed the power of the Red Sox in New England to bring people closer, to help, and to give those experiencing grief a close shoulder and a strong hand. In a word: Redemption
This year’s Red Sox haven’t won the World Series. They haven’t even made the playoffs yet, though last night’s win goes a long way to helping make that a reality. But even so, the World Series is a long way off, and yet: Redemption.
This is a division-leading team led in part by the unwanted and over-paid, the under-talented and over-drafted. Just look at the duo of Hanley Ramirez and Rick Porcello. Last year Hanley was possibly the worst left fielder in baseball history, but even worse, after a torrid April his bat completely disappeared. He wasn’t just the worst left fielder in history, he was the worst left fielder in history who also couldn’t hit! And the Red Sox were on the hook for three more years of that. Worse was Rick Porcello, who had signed a huge contract extension before taking the mound for the Red Sox. Porcello did eventually take the mound and almost immediately we all wished he hadn’t. Nobody expected much from him after the disaster that was last season but, like Hanley, he’s made himself an integral part of the team. He probably isn’t their best pitcher (let’s be real, that’s David Price) but he has showed he can be a number two starter and recently he’s pitched even better than that. He’s showed he can be worth his contract and then some. Redemption.
This is a division-leading team led in part by the unwanted and over-paid, the under-talented and over-drafted.
Hanley’s game-winning homer last night might have been the bright beam of light radiating through the night pointing us to him and his season, but if we had looked a bit harder we’d have noticed sooner. Hanley has been crushing the ball over the past month, he has an OPS over .900 in the second half, and his season to date has been, if not spectacular, than every bit as good as we would have any right to expect. I recently found myself thinking, I know the trade for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell helped win the 2007 World Series, but wouldn’t it have been nice if the we’d had the chance to watch Hanley’s entire career here in Boston? Nobody was thinking that last season, or if they were they’d never had admitted it: Redemption
There are other stories of redemption on this team. Dustin Pedroia, the 33-year-old second baseman with declining power and increasing proclivity for injury, has been perhaps the hottest hitter in baseball over the last month, a month which has seen him play in his 140th game of the season, his most since 2013 and vie for the AL batting title. Pedroia is hitting over .442 over the last 30 days (not including Thursday’s game) and hitting line drives one third of the time he makes contact. Anyone who has watched his performance over that time would say A) that is incredible, and B) no way it’s only one third of the time.
Remember when the Red Sox were considering dealing Jackie Bradley to the Mariners for a relief pitcher? Already this season Bradley has been worth over four wins by WARP, five by Baseball Reference. He’s got 24 homers and a .350 on-base percentage and he plays Jackie Bradley-caliber defense in center field. He is everything he was supposed to be coming out of the University of South Carolina when the Red Sox took him in the first round, 40th overall. (By the way, the Rays had the 31st, 32nd, and 38th pick in that draft. They took Mikie Mahtook, Jake Hager, and Brandon Martin. Oops.) Bradley’s struggles in his first three seasons are well documented, but even after his breakout month towards the end of last season, he came back to earth hard in September. Was that just a random hot month from a player who still couldn’t hit major league pitching? It might have been a fair question to ask at the time, but Bradley’s performance this season has squashed that line of inquiry like a small bug under a large shoe. Redemption.
John Farrell won the World Series in his first season managing the Red Sox. Then he finished last the next two seasons. Then he got cancer and missed the last part of last season. But Farrell doesn’t give up. He beat cancer, got back in the dugout, and came into this season set to show the Red Sox he is still the man for the job. He has. There are always going to be bullpen moves we disagree with, and there are always going to be pinch hitters or lineups we don’t like, because that’s the case with any and all managers, but the truth is that Farrell does a pretty good job. If you’re looking for proof, teams don’t come back like this for bad managers. They don’t fight like the Red Sox have fought over the past week, coming back repeatedly against a desperate Blue Jays team and winning improbably and spectacularly against a resurgent Yankees club for bad managers. John Farrell won’t win the World Series every year, but he is the guy Ben Cherington worked hard to bring back to Boston. He is still that guy. We know that now. Redemption.
Speaking of Ben Cherington: Ben Cherington! Cherington’s reputation took a hit after he was fired in route to a second straight last place finish. Just as every move seemed to work in 2013, none seemed to work in 2014 or 2015. Pablo Sandoval was a disaster. So was Hanley and Porcello. Jackie Bradley couldn’t step in because he couldn’t hit major league pitching. Xander exploded onto the scene then struggled. The Jon Lester contract extension was bungled, leading to the loss of the team’s homegrown ace. Rusney Castillo, Joe Kelly, Allen Craig, and the return of Stephen Drew. Everything Cherington touched turned to crap. It all looked so hopeless. And now? Porcello is a Cy Young candidate. Hanley is the All Star-caliber hitter he was in Los Angeles. Bogaerts is having an excellent season at shortstop (despite a second-half slump). Bradley has blossomed along with Mookie Betts. Andrew Benintendi and Yoan Moncada have both already reached the majors. The team is winning again and winning in huge part due to the moves Cherington made and didn’t make during his tenure. Redemption.
There maybe more to come. David Price will likely have a chance to chase his playoff bugaboos away. Dave Dombrowski will have a chance to prove he can build a championship club, his first since the 1997 Marlins. But even if neither of those things happen, Hanley Ramirez’s home run last night off Yankees relief ace Dellin Betances highlighted the transformation that this team has undergone this season. It’s an exciting team, dotted with players we love, but mostly it’s filled with players written off at one time or another. They didn’t need Hanley’s dramatic homer to prove that they aren’t done, that they will be redeemed, that they are redeemed. You don’t get to first place with one swing of the bat in September. They’ve been doing it all year long. Redemption. For Hanley, Farrell, Cherington, Pedroia, Dombrowski, the whole lot. Redemption. We don’t yet know how this season will turn out, and I won’t go so far as to suggest the ending is irrelevant but some things have already been decided by the previous 140 games. Redemption. Let that be this team’s legacy.
Photo by David Butler II/USA Today Sports Images