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Now We Watch For The Players

Give up on the Sox if you want, but don’t give up on Rafael Devers

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Minnesota Twins Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

So, 0-24. . . that’s pretty bad, huh? It is. But frankly, focusing on Rafael Devers’ recent O-fer actually masks just how bad Devers has been lately. An O-fer will always get the headlines, but 24 at-bats is just a handful of games, and any unusual results that arise out of that small of a sample size can be chalked up to random variance as much as anything else.

But Devers’ struggles haven’t been over just a handful of games. This past August was the single worst calendar month of Raffy’s career, as he slashed .164/.226/.289 with 22 strikeouts over 26 games. For the entire second half, he’s been the fifth worst hitter in baseball as measured by wRC+. It’s been ugly watching Rafael Devers, is what I’m saying.

And yet, as I sat down to watch last night’s game against the Rangers, Devers was, by far, the player I most wanted to watch.

The season is over - some would say mercifully so, in light of how frustrating the past five months have been. No one will blame you if you stop flipping to NESN every night at 7:10 from here on out, if you start your mornings by catching up on the latest news about the Pats instead of the Sox, if you completely check out until the first shots of Jason Varitek wearing a windbreaker next to a Fort Myers batting cage crawl across your Twitter feed. That’s what most New Englanders will likely be doing.

But something happens to the way you watch a baseball game when the outcome of the game itself no longer matters in the wider competitive landscape. The game assumes a different rhythm. You find yourself noticing and watching for different things.

You want to see Reese McGuire get another hit not because it will help the Sox in the standings, but because you want to see just how hot a career 82 OPS+ backup catcher can get. You want to see Rich Hill strikeout 10 Tampa Bay Rays not because the Sox are chasing them in the Wild Card, but because it’s fun as hell watching someone who looks like a First Republic account executive pitch what will likely be the last truly great game of his life. And you really, really, want to see this:

Raffy Devers has been this bad before. There was a 31-day stretch in 2018 in which he hit .155/.219/.278 with 30 strikeouts, and another in 2020 in which he hit .222/.276/.398. But he wasn’t just a different player back then, he was a different person. He was a kid in 2018, just getting his first taste of big league baseball on one of the greatest teams of all-time. He was still a kid two years later, struggling with the loss of a manager who’d been mentoring him toward stardom. And he’s still a kid now, albeit one who’s in the midst of turning into the thing he’s always dreamed about: one of the best hitters in the world.

Rafael Devers is an emotional player. We see this in, not only every at-bat, but in every single pitch. So it’s impossible not to try to imagine the emotions that have been swirling inside him for the past 31 days. What must it feel like to think you’ve finally climbed the mountain of professional baseball, to be sure that you finally belong - not just in the game, but in its highest echelons - and then to see it all unravel over the course of just 31 days? To go from the fourth best hitter in baseball, sandwiched in between Aaron Judge and Mike Trout, to the fifth worst, amongst the likes of Victor Robles and Myles Straw?

I sat down last night to watch the Red Sox, not because I wanted to watch them win their 64th ballgame of the year, but because I wanted to watch a man try to fight his way out of the lowest point in his baseball life. He did just that, so I’ll watch again tonight. That’s all we have left at this point, but it hopefully it’s enough.