The Red Sox and the Yankees Wild Card Game: History, hauntings and A Season for the Ages


One of my mild obsessions is books about baseball framed around the story of one season. The best of these books combine history, baseball and personal drama together to create an entertaining and insight for snapshot of a moment in time*. In the years and decades to come someone will undoubtedly write a fantastic book about the 2021 season. Not only was this an incredible year for baseball, it was set against the backdrop of the second year of the COVID 19 pandemic as the Delta variant rose and political turmoil engulfed the country, creating battle lines around vaccinations and masks and ballot counts. From out of this storm, baseball emerged to give us one of the great seasons of the game, complete with once-in-a century performances, down-to-the-wire pennant races, miracle turnarounds and a playoff picture filled with rivals, heroes and heels, and so much potential for heartbreak. I cannot wait to read that book.

When I think of baseball in 2021, I will think of Shohei Ohtani dominating on the mound and at the plate, of his foot twisting as he loads up that beautiful left-handed swing. I will think of the highlight videos of him hitting 99 with a fastball than hitting a fastball 116mph into the stratosphere. I will think of the pure violence of Vlad Jr.’s swing connecting with a baseball. I will think of Sal Perez having one of the greatest seasons any catcher has ever given us. I will think about the Dodgers and the Giants battling all season long, both teams winning more than 100 games and one having to land in one-game playoff against a Cardinals team that won 17 straight games down the stretch on the back of Adam Wainwright and a cast of relative unknowns stepping up at the right time game after game. I will think about the home run derby and Trey Mancini and the underdog Mariners and grumpy Tony LaRussa asking for pitchers to throw at his own players. I will think about Covid quarantines and the homeless Blue Jays. It was an incredible season and it delivered more wonderful storylines than I can possibly list here.

 But I am Red Sox fan and so whatever I really remember about the 2021 season will be determined tonight.

Tonight, the Red Sox will play the Yankees in the Wild-Card game at Fenway Park. For fans my age and older who can remember the days before 2004, this scenario is the reason the phrase “trigger warning” exists. It may be 26 days before Halloween, but the ghosts will be out tonight- the ghost of Bucky Dent Bill Buckner and Aaron Boone* will fill out the spectral monster seats in the back of the mind of every Red Sox fan over 35. We will all try to guard ourselves with the image of Dave Roberts stealing second and David Ortiz’s fingers pointed to the sky, but the ghosts will remain until the final out brings us either triumph or heartbreak.

This is probably how the season had to end. It is undoubtedly how the season would have to end if this was glossy, star-studded sports movie, which is how the season feels now that this matchup is set. The truly incredible thing is that both Red Sox fans and Yankees fans have their own cut of the film, complete with their own themes and morals.

This was scrappy, under-rated Red Sox team, with fans still reeling from the loss of heroes from their 2018 World Series run, like Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Brock Holt and Andrew Benintendi. The pitching was shaky apart from ace Nate Eovaldi. The bullpen was held together with duct tape and a plug of Rafael Dever’s chaw. They whiffed on getting Anthony Rizzo at the trade deadline only to have Kyle Schwarber emerge as their best hitter down the stretch. They dominated the AL East early then faded as Covid hit the clubhouse and the Rays roared back to life. They were fun to watch and infuriating at the same time. They seemed to have great chemistry together but manager Alex Cora often failed to find definitive roles for players and lasting solutions to their many holes on the field.

In New York, it was the mirror opposite. They started slow and looked like a disaster early in the season. Gerrit Cole was their only reliable starter and closer Aroldis Chapman- once as unhittable as they come- looked washed. Worst of all, though, they couldn’t hit. Up until the trade deadline, Only Aaron Judge (146 wRC+) was hitting well and While Stanton (119 wRC+) and Sanchez (116wRC+) were productive they were striking out at eye-popping rates. Last season’s batting champ DJ Le Mehieu was merely a league hitter and former stand-outs Gleyber Torres, Luke Voigt and Miguel Andujar were borderline unplayable at the plate up to that point in the season. It looked like Aaron Boone had lost the team and was on his way to losing his job. Then in came Texas Ranger Joey Gallo, presumably on horse-back and Cubs star Anthony Rizzo, presumably on Bear-back, and the Yankees surged just as the Red Sox began to falter.

Both teams fan bases have reasons to love the 2021 incarnation of their team and both fan bases have reason to be fearful of the coming clash. The Red Sox get to host because of their early season dominance- they beat the Yankees in their first nine meetings- but the memory of the mini-Boston Massacre- the three-game sweep of the Yankees handed the Red Sox at Fenway between September 24 and September 26 – is fresh in Boston fans’ minds.

Tonight’s game is the sport-movie ending for both teams, win or lose. Neither team will fair much of chance against the Rays in the division series or against the better teams that will follow. When the story of the 2021 season is told, tonight’s game will decide the narrative for Boston and New York, it will deliver the tear-jerker ending of either triumph or defeat that will stand out the most when the story of the 2021 season is written. We are living history and I am full of all the anticipation and terror that it brings.


*the best baseball books I have read that center around a single season are Kait Murphy’s Crazy ’08, Glenn Stout’s Fenway 1912 and Robert Creamer’s Baseball in ’41

*Player Aaron Boone will always haunt Red Sox fans for his home run in the 2003 ALCS (aka the Grady Little game) but Manager Aaron Boone did as much as anyone to help the 2018 Red Sox defeat the Yankees- this distinction is very important.

The Laser Show is Over: Boston Red Sox Star Dustin Pedroia Retires


Dustin Pedroia is my favorite baseball player.

I suppose, now though, I should say Dustin Pedroia was my favorite baseball player. Yesterday the man who dubbed himself “Laser Show” called it a career.

Pedey appeared in just nine games in the past three season as his failing knees wrecked comeback attempt after comeback attempt. It proved to be an ignominious end for one of the greatest and most-beloved Red Sox players of all-time. It is sad that Pedroia’s career end this way, but it is not surprising. As the line from Cocktail goes, “everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t end.” It is impossible to imagine Dustin Pedroia walking away from the game gracefully, leaving at the top of his powers like Ted Williams did. “Graceful” is not a word that comes to mind when thinking about the way Dustin Pedroia played. He played recklessly and with wild abandon. He played angry and defiant. He played with more swagger than his 5’7 frame could contain. He did not play gracefully.

He also played with joy. It isn’t easy find someone who can play with joy and anger at the same time. Michael Jordan did it and I think Steph Curry manages it at times. That rare combination is why writers of a certain generation lionized Pete Rose for so long. Pedro pitched with joy and anger, but anger was always dominant when he was on the hill. There was an angry edge to Big Papi’s game at times, but his joy overwhelmed that side of him. Mookie Betts plays with such grace and joy that it is almost impossible to see the scorching fire beneath it. In Pedroia, anger and joy lived in perfect harmony. He played like he wanted to destroy you and he played like a kid who just walked through the gates of Disney World.

Because he played that way and because he was small and white and looked like he should be teaching a gym class in an Ohio middle school, he was lionized for his hustle, for his grit, for his intangibles and leadership and heart. At Over the Monster, Matt Collins has a great explanation of how these qualities were both real and still probably a bit overwrought in the discussion.

Yes, the intangibles helped, but it feels like a disservice to him as an athlete to boil him down to that and that alone. He could do things physically at second base that I’ve never seen anyone do. He had a swing that could get power out of that small frame. That wasn’t intangibles. That was being bananas good at baseball. The dude could ball…

For a certain generation of fan, Dustin Pedroia was the Red Sox
A tribute to one of the all-time greats in the history of the franchise.
By Matt_Collins @MattRyCollins  Feb 1, 2021, 2:49pm EST

Pedroia won his 2008 MVP Award largely on the strength of “intangibles.” It was deserved- he led the American League in rWAR, hits, runs and doubles that season and was the best defensive second baseman in the league by a mile (only Chase Utley in the NL really compared to peak Pedey with the glove)- the argument for him always came back to his leadership, his hustle and how much his teammates looked to him. The Red Sox were defending champions that season and one of the best teams in the American League, winning 95 games and making to the ALCS, but they were also a team in crisis. Manny Ramirez sulked over his contract negotiations and completely quit on the team. David Oritz was at his absolute nadir coming off knee and wrist injuries and 2007 World Series MVP Mike Lowell was clearly entering the twilight of his career. Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis carried that team to within one game of the World Series. Youk was incredible at the plate and a stellar first baseman, but Pedroia was Red Sox that year. Youk earned just two first-place MVP votes despite a rWAR just 0.2 behind Pedroia. Pedey got sixteen first-place votes and the award. Such was the power of all the other things Pedroia brought to the table.

I doubt anyone ever wrote about Pedroia without mentioning his diminutive size or his hustle on the field, but for those who really loved watching him play, those were not the main attraction. Sure, I am a small guy and I love seeing small guys who can rake and gun down guys and first and dominate on the field. Pedroia gave you that. But this guy wasn’t David F-ing Eckstein. Pedey was a star. He had otherworldly talent. It was just not in the most obvious qualities, the ones that we are used to finding in exceptional ballplayers. His swing was a testament to that. Have you ever wondered why David Ortiz or Albert Pujols didn’t start their batting stance standing straight up then lunged forward with their entire body, launching themselves and the bat at the ball? Try imitating Pedey’s swing and it will be obvious. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

You fell down didn’t you?

Dustin Pedroia had the kind of balance you only see in skiers and X-Games athletes. It is the only way he could possibly swing like. Even if Mike Trout could take a hack with Pedey’s mechanics and manage not to fall over onto plate, I seriously doubt he could do it and get his hands inside quick enough to turn on a fastball. That is something only Pedey could do. I hope Trout tries though, because a guy bigger than 170 lbs managing that kind of swing might hit the ball 700 feet. Pedey needed that cut to get it to go 400.

More than anything else, though, Pedey had baseball instincts the likes of which we have only seen a few times in recent history. He once told David Ortiz had fix his swing. David. Ortiz. A guy who hit 541 home runs in the show. He listened to Pedey. And IT WORKED!. He once helped David Price, a Cy Young winner, with his mechanics and that was in October 2018, just before Price pitched his way into the World Series MVP conversation. Pedroia was as quick getting to the ball as one who ever played the keystone, not because he was the fastest, but because he reacted instantly to every batted ball that came his way. He stole twenty or more bases four times his career, and 138 bases overall, all because he could read pitchers perfectly. He was caught just 46 times. He knew when to run. He knew when a young pitcher was going to try to beat him inside (veterans knew better). He was the master of positioning himself in the field and got to balls he no business fielding. He understood the game the way other players have.

These gifts made him a star, but it was hard to ignore the signs that this was going to end badly. In 2010, he missed the end of the season after breaking his foot with a batted ball. He had a wrist issue that hampered his production at the plate in 2012, but he gutted out solid batting numbers anyway. It seemed like he was always hurt, but he played well through the pain and bounced back to superstar levels when he was fully healthy. Injuries hampered him again in 2014, but once again, he bounced back and at in 2016, at age 32, he hit .318/.376/.449 and led the Red Sox to 93 wins and the AL East title. He will have interesting Hall of Fame case, one that is merited by a high peak, multiple awards and championships but held back by his lack of longevity.

It is easy to brood on how things might have ended differently if Manny Machado had not spiked him in 2017. But that way lies madness. Pedroia played the way he played and he played the most dangerous position in the game (apart from catcher, of course) and that made the way his career ended something of an inevitability. Maybe if that slide doesn’t happen, Pedey is on the field for the Red Sox incredible 2018 World Series run, but I doubt it. Time wasn’t on his side by 2017 and as wonderful as a last ride into the sunset would have been, Dustin Pedroia was never going to know when to quit. It was going to end badly, otherwise, it wouldn’t end at all.

There is a poetic nature to Manny Machado being the one to end Dustin Pedroia’s career. Machado is so many things that Pedroia is not. He is gifted in all the obvious ways a superstar player is expected to be gifted. He makes insane plays in the field and he makes ordinary plays look like they take no effort at all. He crushes moonshot home runs with a sweet, easy swing- no diving at the ball needed. He doesn’t hustle though. It’s not his thing. He doesn’t have that fire that Pedroia had and he doesn’t look like he is having fun like Pedey did. He is an incredible player and he carries himself with swagger, to be sure, but not the swagger of a man who would tell a reporter to have kids so he could tell them he saw him play. He is not Dustin Pedroia in all the ways that make Dustin Pedroia my favorite player.

I will miss Pedey. I have already missed him. I missed him down the stretch in 2018 when they had to suffer through Eduardo Nunez and Ian Kinsler in his place. I missed him this past season, when there were too few reasons to watch the Red Sox. Pedroia was worth watching every time. He was the laser show. I will miss that show.

Poem of the Day 1/28/21


Sitting, like Rodgers Hornsby, looking

Out the window at the bleak winter day

Waiting- yes, for Spring- for the green grass

And the heralding crack of bats,

For Trout and Mookie and Thor, X-man and Judge, the Polar Bear,

For days less full of nights, certainly

But waiting, also for you and me,

For that version of you and me,

Wandering in lone back fields

And riding rough pine beams

Or watching quietly at night

For sometime we have not seen

Yet in the old ballgame,

Quiet, with sweet anticipation,

Waiting, once again,

For the smallest shred of magic to be reborn,

In a Spring night’s journey home.


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Boston Red Sox trade Workman, Hembree: The Chaim Bloom era really begins


Let’s face it, watching the Boston Red Sox has been difficult this year. The pitching woes that sabotaged their title-defense in 2019 have only gotten worse with Chris Sale out for Tommy John surgery, Eduardo Rodriguez lost to Covid complications and David Price shipped off in the Mookie Betts deal. The team is 9-18 and dead last in the AL East by 3.5 games. Things are only going to get worse from here too. Last night, the Sox traded relievers Brandon Workman- a playoff hero twice over- and Heath Hembree to the Phillies for righty Nick Pivetta and right-handed prospect Connor Seabold. It is the true beginning of a rebuild from the Dombroski-era and the start of Chaim Bloom’s vision for how that rebuild will work.

Sure, Bloom has already made the biggest move of the rebuild and possibly the biggest trade he will ever make. He traded 2018 MVP Mookie Betts along with David Price in February, breaking my heart and ending what little hope there was for this season before it began (and even before the pandemic threatened to destroy it entirely). But while Bloom is responsible for the package that trade brought back, the decision to deal Betts was made before Bloom was even hired. Ownership had decided that getting under the luxury tax was their top priority and Bloom was hired with that objective in mind. Coming from Tampa Bay, Bloom was a natural choice for a team looking to shed money and get quality players back.

And while their is nothing that will ever make me stop hating the team trading Mookie Betts instead of just paying the man his money, Bloom appears to have done well with the lousy hand he was dealt. Alex Verdugo has been one of the few bright spots for the Red Sox this season and the two prospects he netted in that deal, Jeter Downs and Conor Wong, still look promising. The Rays managed to stay competitive in Bloom’s time as Senoir VP of Baseball Operations while having to make deals like the Betts trade every time their stars got close to the end of their rookie deals by getting good overall value back in those deals. Bloom seems to have managed that, even if there is really no value that would match locking Betts in for the next decade-plus.

The trade Bloom made last night really begins his tenure at the helm. Nothing other than the Red Sox horrible performance on the field has forced his hand in making this deal. It is a fairly obvious move to make but the return is intriguing. Nothing will make Bloom successful quicker than being able to turn decent relievers into quality starters and there is reason to believe he has managed to do that here. Righty Nick Pavetta looked like a breakout candidate in 2018, outpitching his ERA in the advanced metrics and striking out more than a batter per inning. Seabold fits that profile in the minors so far as well. Both players have struggled more recently and that is why they can be had for two relievers, but the potential is definitely worth this modest risk.

Getting strong pitching on the trade market has been the Rays’ calling card and Bloom seems to be attempting to bring that approach to Boston with this deal. It won’t be the last one he will have to make before the trade deadline but it does mark the true beginning of his reign over Fenway. This the type of deal he was hired to make and deal like this may well define his tenure in the long run, even more than that first awful trade they made him make.