On the whole, it’s been a brutal year on the field for Eduardo Núñez. With Dustin Pedroia being forced to miss at least the first few months of the season (of course, he ended up missing essentially the entire year), Núñez was moved over to second base as the everyday option to start 2018. Nobody was expecting perfection, and it was just a temporary solution until he could move back to a utility role with most of his time being spent on the left side of the diamond. It was worse than anyone could have anticipated, though. His defense was almost unfathomably bad, combining poor mechanics with a lack of mobility brought on by injury. On top of that, and it may have been the poor defense snowballing into other parts of his game, Núñez couldn’t get going at the plate either. The Red Sox were able to live with it and played at a historic pace despite that, but their second baseman was quite simply one of the worst players in baseball over the first few months of the year.
Because of that fact, and the tough comparison to the rest of their incredible roster, Núñez caught a tremendous amount of ire from the Red Sox fan base. It wasn’t at all surprising, and excluding those who took things to the extreme — and there are always a few of those — it wasn’t really something you could blame people for feeling. Núñez was tough to watch. Still, even if it was understandable, it’s always tough to see a player like him get that much disdain from fans, particularly on such a great team. He’s a charismatic player who is clearly well-liked, the exact kind of player you really want to root for. All of that is why it was so great to see him have the biggest swing in Boston’s Game 1 victory.
Núñez doesn’t exactly have a lengthy history as a member of the Red Sox, but it feels like he’s been here for a while now. He’s already had an impact on the team, too. He was acquired at the trade deadline last season, and he seemingly turned everything around. He, along with Rafael Devers coming up from Pawtucket, provided a much-needed spark in the lineup and helped catapult the team to a division championship. For as much of a downer as he was to watch for much of this year, he was even more electric in 2017. That’s what made Game 1 of the ALDS so disappointing. There, Núñez was hurt on his first play of the game, exiting the field and not being able to return after that. It was not a fair way for his year to end.
The injury didn’t just cut his season short, though. It caused him to linger as a free agent late into the offseason, with no one knowing how much to trust that knee. Finally, the Red Sox got him on a deal worth less than what most were expecting Núñez to get. Then, when he did get on the field this year, he still had to battle injuries throughout the year. He’s been feeling the effects of his knee injury all season, something that Alex Cora has confirmed multiple times. Off the field, though, he’s the same guy as ever and is a huge part of this clubhouse. Just from watching the dugout on TV, you can tell he’s someone players gravitate towards. He even inadvertently created the Red Sox’ battle cry for this postseason.
Obviously, the on-field production from Núñez has not been what anyone wanted this year, and that includes the player himself. It’s the very reason I didn’t even want him at the plate at all in that situation to begin with. That doesn’t mean he didn’t deserve that moment, though. Núñez sparked last year’s team, battled through injury all year this season and did so with a smile on his face. He’s the kind of behind-the-scenes spark plug every team needs, and if anyone deserved to get the spotlight on this stage, it was him.