It probably won’t be talked about anywhere, nor will it be trumpeted by pundits, but September 28th marks a pretty pivotal event in Red Sox history: it’s the anniversary of the greatest collapse ever by a Red Sox team. The night everything changed.
The Red Sox were playing the Orioles. Jonathan Papelbon, the man who has devolved from making history coming out of a bullpen to living in infamy for what he’s done in a dugout, gave up back-to-back doubles to Chris Davis and Nolan Reimold with two outs, and then Carl Crawford couldn’t handle a sinking liner from The Great (Robert) Andino. Reimold scored. Five minutes later, in a different east coast game, Evan Longoria hit a 317-foot liner into that weird little left field corner in Tropicana Field to cap a comeback from being down 7-0 to the Yankees, and that ended it all. The Red Sox were out of the playoffs.
The stunning part wasn’t that the games ended the way they did – the Red Sox were playing so terribly and the Rays were the exact opposite of that – it was how quickly how the roof caved in on that team. Boston had a 95% win expectancy in that final game! And it was all gone in an improbable instant.
After Mark Reynolds struck out, it took about 15 minutes for the Red Sox to lose everything. Ten minutes to the end of the game, and then five minutes to lose their ticket to October. Some say that’s still the best day of baseball ever, and I’d be inclined to agree with them, despite the debilitating mental trauma it gives me. Normally one game wouldn’t mean much in the long run, but this time, it was wildly different.
The effects of that night were shocking, yet oddly predictable. Apart from losing out on the postseason, the team’s 7-20 record in September probably torpedoed whatever chance Jacoby Ellsbury had at getting an MVP award, despite posting a 30-30 season with stellar defense and 7.91 WARP. Instead, the voters boarded the Justin Verlander hype train and rode it coast-to-coast, giving him and his 7.45 WARP not only the Cy Young, but the MVP award as well. To be fair, Jose Bautista outperformed both of them, but his team didn’t even sniff the playoffs, so that shows you what the voters truly valued here.
Then came the blame game. Smear pieces, chicken and beer, scapegoats, Tito Francona popping pills, you name it. Francona’s option wasn’t picked up either. Then the Cubs offered Theo Epstein the chance to be the greatest general manager in baseball history, and he took it. The Red Sox were handsomely compensated, of course, by getting Chris Carpenter. No, not that one. This one.
You know what happened from then on. Ben Cherington, Bobby Valentine, and whatever the hell 2012 was, for the most part. The Red Sox, who were so stable and so soundly built, just fell apart. Apart from the core of the team, nothing really seemed all that good.
The Nick Punto Trade and 2013 changed that. Cherington dumped a boatload of money on the Dodgers, used it to get useful players (no, not you, Ryan Dempster), and watched nearly half the 25-man roster have the best seasons of their careers. The Red Sox went and won a third title in 10 years with guys that made baseball so damn fun to watch, like Koji Uehara and Mike Napoli. It was exciting, magical, and most of all, it felt like redemption. It was also just one season, and one that wouldn’t be replicated. That isn’t an insult to a World Series-winning team, it’s a realization that it’s incredibly hard to do all of that again and still win it all.
While it’s been good since August 2015, everything between 2013 and that month was mostly bad. Since 2011, the Red Sox haven’t finished a season where they weren’t either first or last place in AL East. The worst-to-first thing was nice in 2013, but the oscillation in success really does a number on the guys in charge. After the 2014 campaign became an injury-plagued mess and the 2015 season crashed and burned in June, Cherington was replaced with Dave Dombrowski. It’s been a ride, to say the least.
The success of the Red Sox in 2016 feels different. The 2011 squad won 90 games, but that record feels hollow, and even more so when you’re looking back on it. This one, with the explosion of youth and the spectacular offense, is like a beginning. Guys like Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Xander Bogaerts, and Andrew Benintendi make this team feel like it’s only starting to do great things, and that says a lot when those four have already combined for 13.7 WARP this season. Hell, Mookie Betts does so many spectacular things that it’s hard to pick just one, but here goes:
David Ortiz, the last man standing from all those near-mythical World Series teams, is playing so well that the statement “he’s having the best final season ever” isn’t hyperbole. Dustin Pedroia didn’t hurt his hand for the billionth time, and now he’s hitting. Hanley Ramirez is barreling up every single thing. The old guard – well, relative to the young guys – is doing amazing stuff again. This is good. This is fun. The best part is that it’s likely to keep happening.
The 2011 Red Sox had a bunch of guys flounder during their tenure on the team, and the 2013 team was good thanks to a lot of short-term additions complementing the players left from the Epstein years. Neither of them looked like they were built for continued success. This year’s team bucks that trend. With all these good young players, these Red Sox are set to be good for a while. The foundation for future teams is there.
I said the 2013 season was like a redemption. The 2016 season is like a rebirth. There’s more here than just one good season. With any luck, they’ll be great again next year, and hopefully a for few years after that. The Red Sox are, truly and thankfully, back.
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