So, hey, this was supposed to be up yesterday. But David Ortiz decided to tell us he was going to retire, and the sadness that followed managed to kind of wipe that thought right away.
Better late than never, though, and nothing better to take your mind off of David Ortiz than the sort of thing he doesn't do very much of: play defense.
The Red Sox were kind of a feast-or-famine defensive team in 2015. On the one hand, we had the left side of the field. Hanley Ramirez ave us a look at what a full year of Kevin Youkilis in left might have been like, while Pablo Sandoval showed us one of the great defensive declines of the last decade--century?--in going from a deceptively solid fielder to one of the league's worst.
But up the middle? Up the middle everything was fine and dandy, and that's where we find our candidates. Honestly, this vote could have been split between Jackie Bradley Jr., Jackie Bradley Jr., and of course Boston's young resurgent center fielder: Jackie Bradley Jr. You could also just go ahead and throw three Mookie Betts plays up there and, if you voters weren't aware the other player was on the team, y'all wouldn't blink an eye at the choices being put up to vote.
But for the sake of variety, let's limit this thing to one play per player. One from Bradley, one from Mookie and, of course, one from the old mainstay in Dustin Pedroia, who we'll start with.
Dustin Pedroia is getting up there in years, and while 2015 was a nice bounceback for him at the plate--at least while he was able to stay in the lineup--for the first time, if you believe the metrics, he was not one of the best defensive players in the league.
But those are the metrics, and they are notoriously fickle from year-to-year. This, on the other hand, is a play. A Dustin Pedroia play. Through-and-through.
This play is spectacular for being unspectacular. In part, that's because we're used to Pedroia doing pretty much anything and everything at second base. But mostly it's because of the unreal control the second baseman displays. Really watch that play again. Go slow. Pause. When he goes for that ball, he dives. There's no running through this ground ball. He has to leave his feet to get it. Which is hard to believe when you consider how quickly he gets back on them.
I honestly do not understand this. How has the act of diving at that angle in that way to catch a ball you're intersecting the path of at that acute of an angle become so ingrained in Dustin Pedroia's body that he's back on his feet, spinning, and throwing all in a motion that's about as smooth as any of the rest of us walking. Perhaps more so. We often talk about plays looking "routine" for great defensive players, but this should be the textbook example. Pedroia takes something entirely our of the ordinary and makes it simple. It looks so easy that we almost think we should be able to do this just as easily. Don't try. You're more likely to hurt yourself than to succeed.
For being such an unfortunate year record-wise, the end of this season had plenty of fun storylines. One of them was the return of Rich Hill to Boston. The loopy curveballer had had some promising, but too-short stints with the Sox before, but nothing quite like whathappened in 2015, where he came from nowhere, and made four of the best starts this team saw all year.
No, that's not necessarily saying much, but Rich Hill was good, and it all came to a peak in his third outing. After allowing three earned runs in 14 innings over his first two starts, striking out 20 and walking just one, Hill was again in excellent form against the Orioles. Better, even, than before. He held a shutout into the ninth, and had just one batter between him and just the second shutout of his 11-year career: Chris Davis.
Davis, as you know, is often quite good at hitting baseballs. Today was one of those days, and he was ready to at least spoil the shutout for Hill. Then this happened:
And that, Torii Hunter, is how it's done.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
Of course, Mookie may have had some extra incentive to show off defensively. After all, by that point Jackie Bradley Jr. had been making a highlight a day for nearly two months. There's so many of them it's hard to choose, but I'm going to go with this one:
Not gonna lie, it's in no small part because of the call.
Don Orsillo has seen this ball before. He's seen it plenty of times. It's perfectly placed to give a center fielder nightmares. On a line, headed for the warning track, fast enough that the defender can't size it up. Jackie Bradley Jr. has to take off for the wall and just hope he gets there. He's turned around. The ball was probably too far away and too well-hit to begin with anyways. He turns again, and Orsillo knows it's over. ""But that is gonna be..."
You can almost hear the words "over his head." Don was headed there even faster than Bradley was headed back because it was a foregone conclusion right up until JBJ caught the damn thing. If Jackie Bradley Jr. starts 2016 in Boston's outfield, remember that Dave Dombrowski was at this specific game, watching this specific play. Just imagine if there had been someone to double up somewhere. Bradley could've probably gotten a big contract extension right then and there!
This round of voting wasn't the only thing that got swept under the rug a bit by Ortiz' announcement. We still need nominations for the best Red Sox bat flip/celebration of the year in the comments below! Give us your ideas, and--ah, hell, who are we kidding, it's just gonna be Papi given everything that's happened. But still! Give us something to work with, here!