So far, it hasn't been too hard to choose Red Sox nominees for the SB Nation Awards despite the fact that the team was pretty awful last year. Being bad doesn't make funny moments less funny, or incredible catches any less impressive.
Big hits, though? This is where it gets difficult. In fact, it gets worse, because the category is technically "most important hit." Take a minute to think that one through. At the time, there were some important hits. Ones that may have signaled positive things to come or won a game that seemed important. But with the benefit of hindsight, we know it was all in pursuit of a 71-91 record.
So I'm gonna go with a bit of a cop-out here. One offered up by the category name. If there was one thing that went right for the Red Sox this year, it was the arrival of their new young players on the scene. That leaves us with four (arguably) important first homers to work with! And here they are, presented in chronological order:
Mookie Betts gets us started all the way back on July 2nd in just his fourth major league game. It's easy to forget given that he ended the season with some very impressive numbers for a rookie, but it wasn't all easy going for Betts to begin with. After making the minor league transitions from one level to the next with remarkable ease, he stumbled out of the gate with the Red Sox, hitting just .250/.276/.429 in his first stint with the team.
But, with the second hit of his career, Betts gave us a preview of things to come. It's hard not to make the comparison to Dustin Pedroia given his small frame and the way he crushed that high inside fastball like Pedroia has in times past. Hopefully that's a comparison he'll continue to feed in 2015.
It was not a good year as a whole for Garin Cecchini at the plate, as he struggled to produce with the Pawtucket Red Sox. By the time of his late-September call-up, however, Cecchini had started to come around, and he kept that momentum going right into the Majors, hitting .258/.361/.452 in his 36 major league plate appearances. This was the loudest of those, coming on September 24th against the Rays, the only one of our four firsts that found the bullpen rather than the Monster.
One day later, it was Christian Vazquez' turn. Vazquez is very much a glove-first catcher (though that would arguably be true even if he hit like Buster Posey), but he's not completely without pop, having hit 18 homers back in 2011 for the Greenville Drive. Vazquez might struggle to make consistent contact at the highest level, but when he puts the bat on the ball like that, there's definitely enough there to back it up.
Not pictured: future homers not allowed by pitchers throwing to Vazquez.
It was one game between Cecchini and Vazquez' homers, and one inning between Vazquez and Castillo's. The Rays certainly were accomodating that week.
It's a little silly to talk about trends and make storylines out of samples as small as Castillo's in 2014, and even sillier when that involves chopping it up into smaller pieces. But if you wanted a "turning point" for Castillo's 10-game debut, this is it. Before his first homer, Castillo had four hits in 24 at bats. After he found the Monster seats, he picked up seven in just 11, including his second homer one night later against the Yankees.
It would have been silly for anyone to make a big deal over a rough 36 at bats to start his major league career, granted. But it's nicer to spend the offseason staring at .333/.400/.528 than the alternative.