No October Dramatics, One Fitting Goodbye for David Ortiz

We romanticized about the notion as we watched David Ortiz’s final season.

At 40, in his final season with the Red Sox, Big Papi would not only get the regular-season MVP after a 38-homer, 127-RBI regular season, he would carry the Yawkey Way Kids to one final World Series championship, slugging home runs into the cold, October night.David Ortiz But that’s the danger of romanticized notions. The downfall of hope and faith. We romanticize all the time. It makes us smile. Gives us hope the world can turn out just as we like it.

But it’s self-indulgent. Fictions of our own hearts. The ending we choose rarely plays out. It certainly didn’t this October with Ortiz and the Sox. Ortiz was supposed to lead the Red Sox to their fourth World Series this century and coast off into a sunset as beautiful as the advertisements for resorts in his native country. In reality, it was all romantic notions.

Cleveland swept the Red Sox out of the American League Divisional Series, finishing off the job Monday night, Oct. 10, at Fenway Park in a 4-3 win. Papi was hardly a factor in the series — one hit, one RBI, no homers. We wanted another Hollywood Ortiz script. Instead we got cold, hard reality: good pitching beats good hitting.

Nothing wrong with reality. We’re little creatures on this earth with big dreams that sometimes fall short. Reality for the game of baseball is that most of the time, the ball does not land safely between the nine defensive players on the diamond. Most of the time, the wind knocks down the ball seemingly destined to go over the wall. Not all nine players are in sync on one night.

David Ortiz: In the Finale, He’s Human

In the final playoff series of his career, Ortiz finally proved he was human all along, a little creature in this big world just like us. His performance kept our romanticized notions trapped in our hearts, stowed away for later use for another Boston star.

There were no home runs on this October night, only an RBI sacrifice fly and a walk in Papi’s final at-bat. Nothing poetic there. Papi, the Yankees killer, Senor Octubre, upstaged in his final professional baseball game by old friend Coco Crisp, whose two-run homer into the Monster seats was the difference. How unceremonious for Papi.

But did this story have a bitter ending? Was this that heartbreaking? Maybe the real victory in this Red Sox season simply was being able to HAVE hope one last time in October. Hope that Ortiz put the ball into the visitor’s bullpen to tie the game. Hope that Papi’s troops would rally around him.

Maybe just having David Ortiz around for three more games in October was the perfect ending. Maybe watching him rise from the Sox dugout after Game 3 ended to cries of “Papi!” “Papi!” throughout Fenway Park for a final curtain call on the pitcher’s mound was all we really needed.

David Ortiz got a proper goodbye to Boston in a place he called home for 14 magical years. No words, just a two-plus-minute, teary salute to the home crowd. No dramatic October home runs to celebrate.

Just one epic, fitting goodbye. Maybe that was our perfect ending after all.

Red Sox Versus Indians: 2016 ALDS Preview

The Red Sox are about to embark on their first postseason run since 2013. More importantly, it will be just the second time in seven years that October baseball will visit Boston. So, what can fans expect in the American League Division Series, and will the Red Sox advance?

Red Sox

Well, it’s perhaps easier to answer the first question. Boston has a first round matchup with the Cleveland Indians, needing three wins to advance. The first two games will be played at Progressive Field, with the next two at Fenway Park. If a deciding fifth contest is needed, the teams will travel back to Cleveland, which has experienced something of a baseball revival in recent months.

Cleveland Will Test the Red Sox

The Indians have a fascinating history. From the days of Cy Young and Nap Lajoie through to Bob Feller and Larry Doby, and on to Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez, Cleveland has built some very good teams. However, that effort has yielded just two world championships, and none since 1948. Still, the Cavaliers won an NBA title this year, ending Cleveland’s notorious drought, so perhaps there’s a little magic in the air by Lake Erie.

A familiar friend captains the Cleveland ship. Terry Francona, the mastermind of two World Series championships for the Red Sox, has been the Indians’ manager since 2013. The first few years were rough, but a core of young players has since emerged, with shortstop Francisco Lindor and second baseman Jason Kipnis leading Cleveland to its first full postseason series since 2007. Attendance has increased for Indians home games, and this is definitely a team looking to progress swiftly.

The Indians Are Struggling With Injuries

Francona won’t be able to rely much on his vaunted starting rotation in this series, though. The Indians pitched to a 3.86 ERA during the regular season, much better than the Red Sox’ 4.00 mark. However, the Indians have lost Carlos Carrasco to injury. Ace Corey Kluber will return from a scare to pitch in Game 2, but Danny Salazar, the third head of this tremendous trident, has not made the ALDS roster thanks to a strained forearm.

Essentially, the Indians’ biggest strength has been decimated by injuries. Trevor Bauer and his 4.42 career ERA will start Game 1 against the Red Sox, while Josh Tomlin and Mike Clevinger aren’t exactly petrifying. Nevertheless, Boston cannot take anything for granted, especially given the erratic nature of its own pitching staff.

The Red Sox do have a considerable advantage in terms of offense. Boston scored 101 more runs than Cleveland during the regular season, and also had a far superior run differential. Those statistics may not play especially well in a short series, but no team in baseball can fully match the Red Sox with regard to a dynamic lineup that can score in multiple ways. If the bats keep producing at their normal clip, and the pitching holds up, it will be really difficult for the Indians to stick with the Red Sox.

Of course, nothing is ever easy in October. All of these teams emerged from the enormous grind of a season to earn this opportunity. But the Indians seem to be falling apart physically at the worst possible time, affording the Red Sox a brilliant chance of advancing.

So strap yourself in. It’s time to get excited. Let’s see if Big Papi and the Red Sox have one more run in them, when it really matters most.

The American League East Remains a Powerhouse

Once upon a time, the American League East was baseball’s most powerful division. In the early part of this century, watching the Red Sox and Yankees battle for supremacy was exhilarating. The rivalry had never been stronger. It was Derek Jeter against Nomar Garciaparra. It was Alex Rodriguez against David Ortiz. It was Theo Epstein against the American League EastEvil Empire. Every game was crucial.

That intensity was ultimately cooled, as the Red Sox won multiple championships and old Yankee Stadium was demolished. Some of the history and passion was lost, as the other teams caught up. Tampa Bay won the division in 2008 and 2010. Baltimore rode a renaissance to the crown in 2014. Toronto even won the American League East last year, as the old duopoly was dismantled.

A New Era in the American League East

This year, in a new world order, four teams have a legitimate shot at winning the division as mid-September approaches. And while the division has changed irreparably from the halcyon days, few divisions in Major League Baseball can match the American League East for quality. It’s still by far the most difficult division to win.

 

Right now, the American League East has a combined winning percentage of .523. That’s the best in all of baseball. The National League Central is second at .505. Meanwhile, the National League East currently has a joint winning percentage of just .487 among its five teams. While romping to a playoff berth is always preferable, this may suggest a competitive advantage to whichever team eventually emerges from the American League East. That team will be more battle-tested than any other, having beaten three other teams to the crown.

The Fight for a Title

The Red Sox and Blue Jays currently sit atop the division at 77-61. Baltimore lurks just one game behind. But this is actually becoming a four-team race, because the Yankees continue to surge despite trading away three of their best players in July. The Bombers are in fourth place with a 72-65 record, just four-and-a-half games behind the leaders. That may seem like a lot at this stage, but the Yankees are closer to first place than all but one second-place team throughout baseball. Whether people like it or not, New York is in this thing, too. And that makes for a compelling finish to a bizarre season.

September is full of inter-division games. The Red Sox will play six against Toronto, seven against Baltimore, seven against New York, and three against Tampa Bay. Each division rival faces a similar schedule, with one more interleague series thrown in for some of them. Therefore, this thing could change on an almost hourly basis until the death.

With multiple games affecting the standings each night, scoreboard watching will be imperative. One streak, either positive or negative, could have massive consequences at this point, for a variety of teams. Only the best will survive, as the battle for October reaches boiling point. Let the strongest team emerge victorious.

Red Sox Fans Now Chicago Cubs Fans

For one month, and one month only,  much of Red Sox Nation has jumped on the Chicago Cubs bandwagon. Why? Because the Cubs have suffered longer than Red Sox fans, going 107 years without a championship. After the Red Sox waited 86 years in between championships, most of Red Sox Nation can empathize with the Cubs, and were quick to jump on their bandwagon.

And when you look at the Chicago Cubs, it’s not hard to find reasons to root for them. For Chicago Cubsstarters, ex-Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester, part of 2 championships, and ex-GM Theo Epstein, who built the team who broke the “Curse of the Bambino,” are both with the Cubs now. Not to mention Manny Ramirez, who won the World Series MVP in 2004, and David Ross, who was one of the leaders of the beard movement in 2013. Second, the Cubs are loaded with young talent, notably Jake Arrieta and Kris Bryant. Those are just a couple of the things the Cubs have going for them.

But the main thing? Empathy. For 86 years, the Red Sox were in the same boat as the Cubs. While our curse involved a questionable trade, being unlucky in the World Series, a missed ground ball, and a few ill-timed home runs by the New York Yankees, we eventually broke it after 86 years. The Cubs are cursed in a different way; theirs involving a goat, a tavern, and an unfortunate case of fan interference back in 2003 in the NLCS against the Florida Marlins. So, the Red Sox and Cubs are similar in that they were both cursed for long periods of time.

Personally, I really hope the Cubs finish the job. They need to break their curse, since they’re the only team left with a “curse”, and they need to win it all. They’ll face the New York Mets in the NLCS. Go Cubs.