It can be hard to appreciate a big hit in a lost season. They're usually less about the actual hit, and more about the situation surrounding it. Walkoffs are often indistinguishable from your run-of-the-mill single in the first but for the man running home and the players flooding from the dugout.
Defensive plays are different. A routine catch that ends a close game isn't exactly highlight-reel material. But even in a 10-run blowout in a season that's long since been decided, there's room for brilliance. A diving stop, an exceptional throw, a home run robbed or a bunt turned into not one, but two outs. Defense can always shine through no matter what the situation may be.
So it was that even in this unfortunate year we've still got some fine candidates for the best defensive play of the season. Here are your nominees:
HONORABLE MENTION: Johnny Damon picks off Manny Ramirez
Because it would be a shame not to include this:
Extra credit for Damon noodle-arming the toss to Varitek.
Jackie Bradley Jr. takes to the skies
Jackie Bradley Jr. had a disappointing season. No doubt about that. The young center fielder never managed to translate the discipline he's shown in the minors into major league success at the plate, leaving him clearly out of favor as the season came to a close.
For all that the bat failed to get there, however, the defense was still incredible. The first case in point (and there will be another), this catch against the White Sox:
I don't really think I need to explain why.
Brock Holt comes from nowhere
Jonny Gomes is not a great defender. But we have him to thank for this defensive gem, or at least for facilitating it:
This play owes a lot to television. We get the shot of Jonny Gomes, dead center, looking helpless. We get the moments of panic, knowing that this ball is going to drop, and there's no hope for salvation. Suddenly, Gomes glances to his left, Brock Holt races into the frame, lays out, and the ball is in his glove. The day is saved!
Even without the camera keeping us in the dark and adding to the drama, this is one hell of a play. Brock Holt had no business catching that ball. Off the bat, it's an obvious left fielder play. The most that can be expected of him is to jog over to back up Gomes in case it gets by him and caroms off the wall.
But Brock Holt does not simply do what's expected of him. He's going all-out just to get in range, and then at the last minute, as it becomes clear he's going to need to do the job himself, lunges right to make the save. Give him just a little more hangtime, and he might just start running down infield flies.
Jackie Bradley hits wall, turns two
I tried to keep this to one play per player, but Bradley just demanded multiple spots:
There's more to fielding than just making the dramatic catches, and it can't be said this is a flawless piece of defense from Bradley. As Jerry Remy points out, the center fielder's initial read takes him in the wrong direction, ultimately turning what could have been a fairly routine out into a difficult play. But because Bradley almost comes up short, Mike Aviles gets too confident on the basepaths, and after crashing wall, Bradley fires from left field to first to get his man on one hop. A fine throw under normal circumstances, but coming immediately after hitting the wall like that, one of the best of the year.
Sea Dogs turn the ol' 7-6-2-5-3 double play
Alright, so these aren't the Red Sox proper, but the team was so full of minor leaguers this season that you couldn't always tell the difference. And besides, it might do the Red Sox some good to be a bit more like their farmhands if that means turning more game-ending 7-6-2-5-3 double plays:
That's the sort of play that, on a bigger stage, would go in the history books. As is, it at least made Sportscenter's Top-10, which is more than you can say about pretty much anything filmed in a minor league ballpark.