Well, it’s over.
There is no sugarcoating the Red Sox’ performance in the playoffs. It was bad. The Sox came up against a team with two of their three top arms in the rotation out of action. They came in as the best offensive team in all of baseball. And, for all that, they left having produced remarkably little offense.
Against Tomlin tonight it was, frankly, strange. He wasn’t throwing the ball like Kluber. He was throwing it like...Well, like Aaron Cook, almost. “Here is a strike, hit it” was the challenge. The Red Sox are a team that should be able to punish that strategy magnificently. But for way too long, they sat and watched strikes come pouring into the zone, taking early, and sitting down late.
On the opposite side of things, Clay Buchholz was just fine. It’s not a start that’s going to go down in Red Sox history, but it was serviceable. He survived the worst of omens when Xander Bogaerts lost a pop-up and let it drop in for a hit immediately as the game started, only getting in trouble with his control in the fourth, ultimately surrendering a pair of runs on a Tyler Naquin single. With the Sox in desperation territory, Drew Pomeranz was called on for the fifth, but it was still a reasonable-if-short appearance from Buchholz.
The Red Sox finally got a run across in the fifth when Andrew Benintendi doubled home Xander Bogaerts with a wall ball, but the bottom of the lineup couldn’t bring him around to tie the game.
And as soon as the Sox got back within one, Drew Pomeranz allowed a two-run shot to Coco Crisp who is not only still in the majors but beating the Red Sox in the playoffs. Go figure. David Ortiz came up with a chance to tie things in the bottom of the inning against Andrew Miller, but a well-hit ball to center was just a bit too close to Naquin, leaving him with just a one-run sacrifice fly.
Ortiz would get another pivotal at-bat with one on and two down in the eighth. Instead of getting the chance for the big hit, though, he took four balls, headed to first, and was replaced at second after Hanley Ramirez singled a run home to make it 4-3.
But that trip to the plate would prove the last of his career. The Sox didn’t win. The next at bat saw Xander Bogaerts hit a rocket directly into Jason Kipnis’ glove at second. They had life in the ninth on a two-out single and walk from Jackie Bradley Jr. and Dustin Pedroia, but Travis Shaw could not make good. They didn’t win a postseason game, much less a series. It sucks. It sucks to see a six-month, 162-game rollercoaster come to an abrupt end with a three-game whimper.
Oh well. It happens. Much as the stories we tell like to imply otherwise, the playoffs are not a terribly good representation of team quality. This is not a knock on the Indians, who won lots of games in their 162-game stretch. I’m certainly not saying the Red Sox deserved to win. When it comes down to it, these three games were the ones that counted towards getting the Sox into the ALCS, not the 11 straight they won in September.
But they are not an 0-3 disaster. This team was better than that. It’s depressing that they could not show that on the most important stage they took all season. But that’s the nature of the playoffs. That Bogaerts rocket that could have won the game, Ortiz’ that was only good for one run instead of two...That sort of thing is magnified in a three-game series. October is unrelentingly cruel to all but one team every year. It was crueler to the Red Sox than most.
No matter how cruel it may be, though, these three games do not undo all the good this 2016 Red Sox team has done. The focus now becomes to build on that excellent groundwork rather than stepping back. They stand a very good chance at that thanks to the just how much of their talent comes from young players. They did not all of them come up big in the playoffs, no, but they are the core of this team for now and years to come, and they should just get better.
But there’s work to do, and one job set before Dave Dombrowski is, simply put, impossible. David Ortiz’ career is over. It did not end in fairy tale fashion, but it did end in a game that mattered as the most dangerous bat in the lineup. That’s more than most players get—even the best.
Dombrowski might get some decent percentage of the way towards replacing his bat, though it will be awfully hard to do even that. But David Ortiz? He can’t replace David Ortiz. He is larger than the Red Sox, and larger than baseball. During my relatively short life, many athletes have taken their turn as defining figures in this city of ours. From the more minor players like Mo Vaughn and Antoine Walker to the likes of Paul Pierce and Tom Brady, at least for me, David Ortiz stands alone. It’s hard to say how we can come to love people without having ever had so much as a conversation with them, but I love David Ortiz. Baseball will not be the same without him. Sports will not be the same without him. What he was to this team and this city cannot be purchased in free agency.
Goodbye, David Ortiz. Goodbye, 2016 Red Sox. It was not the ideal finish we dreamed of, but it was in many ways the ride we hoped for. Thank you for bringing more good times than bad. And thank you for giving us reason to look forward to starting this wild marathon all over again next April, even before a single player has been signed or a single trade made.
See you then.