As much as I will never, ever forget the Red Sox’ 2004 season and the profoundly uplifting effect it has had on my life and livelihood, I fear that it has altered my perspective. Before 2004, I knew only abject failure. I knew no matter how much the Red Sox teased or tantalized me, they were only going to end the night by dropkicking me into the Charles.
But after 2004, when the Red Sox pulled a Lazarus and came back from certain death, everything changed. Suddenly, nothing was impossible, and even when the Red Sox rolled the likes of Matt Clement, Erik Bedard and Brad Ziegler out in playoff situations, I felt oddly convinced that everything would work out in our favor.
Therefore, even though the Red Sox’ sheer ineptitude across the first two games of the ALDS — not to mention the way they stumbled across the finish line at the close of the season — should have been a red flag, I was oblivious. Once game three was in the bag, I was somehow convinced that we could slide by Houston and bluff our way through the ALCS.
Well, so much for that. In game four, the Red Sox made it interesting, but eventually succumbed to the miserable truth that their opponent was the better team.
That said, there are a number of people who need to shoulder the blame for our second straight deletion from the ALDS, and they’re not all named “Farrell.” Yes, the manager made some questionable moves — most notably bringing a cooked Sale out for the eighth of game four and penciling Eduardo “I Can’t Stand Up” Nunez into game one. But in the end, this one falls squarely on the players. In particular:
1. Craig Kimbrel: When you’re the closer, your job is to close games. The Astros scored the winning run on Kimbrel’s watch, therefore he has to take the blame for this. Of course, since Kimbrel was technically called in to keep a 3-3 tie from being broken, some people pointed to Farrell, saying, “he should know not to bring in Kimbrel when he’s not protecting a lead.” To that, I say bullshit. The guy is a professional, and he knew everything that was at stake. It’s the same response I give to people who say, “Without Kimbrel, we wouldn’t have even made the postseason.” So, we’re supposed give him a pass? Overlook the fact that in the biggest game of his career he promptly shit the bed, giving up three hits, a walk and a passed ball in just one inning of work and ultimately surrendering the winning run? Sorry but, again, that’s bullshit. You work to make the playoffs. That’s the goal out of spring training. And if you can’t cut it in October, that’s on you. If David Ortiz worked to get us to postseason then said to his teammates, “I took us this far, chaps. Now it’s on you,” we’d still be title-less.
2. The Starters: The ALDS may have provided David Price with his redemption, but the rest of the starters were absolute shit. All summer long we dreamed of going into a short series with Sale and any combination of Porcello/Pomeranz/Rodriguez. Hell, I may have even chortled over an adult beverage or two about how no one would want to face Sox pitching in a best-of-five. But when it actually came to pass, our vaunted starters turned to stockings filled with pudding (a favorite in my house around the holidays). Houston beat us senseless in the first two games, outscoring us 16-4, plating runs in the first inning of every game, and collecting hits almost at will. Hell, there were only two innings across four games that we actually held a lead. It was a wedgie-ing of the highest order and further proof that none of the starters were built for October.
3. The Bats: I love me some Xander Bogaerts, and there’s a part of me that still believes he’s been playing through some kind of wrist injury. But, man, did he kills us every time he stepped to the plate. He went a staggering 1-for-17 and while that one hit was a home run, his complete collapse at the plate — this is a guy who was an All Star last year and came in second for the AL batting title in 2015 — has been dispiriting. Sadly, X was not alone in failing to deliver at the plate. Despite a 10-run outburst in game three, some bats never really showed up. JBJ went 3-for-15, Dustin Pedroia 2-for-16 and Christian Vazquez, a spark plug for most of the season, had only two hits across the two games he played.
I’ll also give out some honorable mentions here. One goes to the home plate ump. In the second inning of game four, the Sox loaded the bases with nobody out. That would have been a good time to unleash the hounds and rain holy hell on the Astros. In fact, from my lofty perch at Mount Red, I was calling for 22 runs that inning, minimum. Alas, JBJ and Pedroia whiffed, and at least one of each of their called strikes was questionable at best. The ump, clearly in, “let’s hurry up and get this in before the rain comes” mode, then got into it with Pedroia when he complained, forcing Farrell to intervene and get tossed. It earned the ump his own special tweet:
Noted Asshole pic.twitter.com/kpnEJ0Gctj
— Red (@SurvivingGrady) October 9, 2017
Another finger must be pointed at Butterfield. The Red Sox’ third base coach seemed at times this season to be channeling “Wave ‘Em In” Wendell Kim, but no prior mistake was more egregious than his bold but ultimately insane decision to send Moreland home from second on a Hanley single to left field. Moreland is the anti-Flash. A guy who could literally lose a race to my grandmother tied to a wheelbarrow tied to Matt Albers. The dictionary definition of the last guy you want to take a baserunning chance with when your season is on the line. In the end, I just gave Butter the benefit of the doubt and assumed he thought home plate was 10 feet closer and Moreland was 7’5″.
In the ninth, we got our highlight of the series when Rafael Devers hit an inside the park home run, but by then it was too late. The Astros still had us by a run and that’s how it ended. As my friend Russo put it, “This game was an occasionally exciting disaster.”
So to sum it up: We didn’t hit when we needed it, ran the bases miserably, another starter shit the bed & when we asked Kimbrel to keep it tied, he failed.
So where does this leave us for 2018? I don’t see how our MLB odds for the playoffs improve if we don’t land a big bat. And while folks are already calling for Farrell’s head, I just can’t see ownership cutting him loose. What are your options? Jason Varitek would be an obvious fan favorite, great PR and a chance to roll out the A-Rod slap video another 4 million times. But I am old enough to remember when ownership couldn’t wait to install Butch Hobson, former Sox third baseman and “man’s man,” assuming he’d be great with the players. He then went on to lead us through 3 consecutive sub-.500 seasons before promptly being dismissed.
There’s a lot to think about this off season, but one thing that probably won’t haunt me are thoughts of “what might have been” with this Red Sox team. In this case, I can clearly see that the better team is moving on.