As I get older and more wise (or at least I like to think so, anyway), I become more and more of a proponent of the idea that two things can be true at the same time. It’s an obvious statement on its face, of course, but it feels less so in practice. Not to get too macro and act as though I can identify and fix all of society’s ills, a task I am certainly not up to, it does seem like in all walks of life people are searching for the binary answer. Something has to be good or bad. We’re losing what I like to think of as the King of Queens zone, after the sitcom which was definitely not good, but something from which I’ve derived a whole lot of entertainment. There’s nuance in nearly everything, and it’s admittedly hard to find the balance.
It can often be especially hard, oddly enough, with things like sports that are near-meaningless in the grand scheme of things. I find myself, still awake a few hours after the Red Sox were eliminated from the playoffs on Friday at the hands of the Astros, stuck on both ends of the binary for their season. The 2021 Red Sox were a resounding success. The 2021 Red Sox were also something of a disappointment, and at multiple different points.
That success is certainly the overwhelming feeling here, to be fair. This is a team that was far better than anyone expected, and anyone who read this site all season knows it was much better than I specifically expected. Coming into the season, a .500 campaign would have been considered a win for me. They won 92 games and were two wins away from a pennant.
The individual successes of this season are almost too many to count. Their pitching stayed remarkably healthy, and Nathan Eovaldi turned himself into a pitcher who will get much-deserved Cy Young votes. Players like Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts continued to prove they were long-term building blocks for this lineup, even if the defensive questions remain. Alex Cora’s presence made a noticeable impact on the clubhouse. Free agent fliers Enrique Hernández and Hunter Renfroe were major hitters. Bobby Dalbec rebounded in the second half to show that he is indeed a major-league player who can carve out an everyday role in this league. And all of that is without even mentioning all of the strides made in the minors as well.
By any reasonable measure, this season was a success, which is why it feels so silly that my overwhelming emotion in this moment after defeat is disappointment. But so much of the second half has been that feeling. The trade deadline certainly turned out better than how I framed it at the time, but it still feels like they came up short in building up the pitching depth. It’s disappointing that they went from division leader to out of that race in seemingly the blink of an eye. It was disappointing over the last week of the season when they almost coughed up their playoff spot.
And then once the playoffs started, it sort of turned into a microcosm of the regular season. I entered the postseason saying I’d be happy with just a win over the Yankees. They did that, and then went on to beat the Rays as well. In the binary, that’s a win, simple as that. But the ALCS result was disappointing. The Red Sox very well could have won that series! We should certainly make sure Houston gets their proper due, but the Red Sox were in positions to win each of the first four games, and then their offense went silent in the last two. I don’t think it’s controversial to say the Astros were the better team, but Boston had their chances to win that series and they didn’t.
So for now, we’re left with the unsatisfying reality that two things are indeed true at once. The season was a resounding success. This was the exact step in the right direction organizationally for which we were hoping before the season. And the bad taste in our mouths from that series loss and the second half in general is also valid.
The solace to take in the immediate aftermath of the loss for me is simply that the disappointment will not last as long, and the positive anticipation for what’s next will be with us sooner than it would be in other years. There are still hurdles to be cleared and decisions to be made at various forks in the offseason, but we can be comforted with the fact that the compass, at least for now, is pointed in the right direction. That’s the focus for Red Sox fans right now. It’ll just take a few days to direct our attention away from the disappointment and toward the encouragement, both of which are valid at this point in time.