Jon Lester, bearing down, as usual.

Jon Lester, bearing down, as usual.

In the midst of a last-place tenure, fans have two things to fall back on: enjoying the game that day in a vacuum, and dreaming about a better future.

The Boston Red Sox in the midst of a doomed season have done their part to drum up at least some excitement to days ahead, playing rookies and letting fans wonder about the talent percolating in Pawtucket and Portlant. While 2014 is doomed, maybe there’s a light in 2015.

That mindset doesn’t mesh well with sentimentality, though, where Jon Lester, the team’s ace, is concerned. It looks increasingly likely that he won’t be in the 2015 team photo. He might not even make it to Friday, which is tough to swallow for those who have watched him develop for the past nine seasons. (more…)

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World Series Cardinals Red Sox Baseball

It’s two days later. It’s been two days since I started hugging and high-fiving strangers in the Dubliner Pub on Mass. Ave. and singing “Sweet Caroline,” for god’s sake. “Sweet Caroline.” I can’t stand that song.

But it was in that bar where we booed whenever Cardinals manager Mike Matheney called for David Ortiz to be intentionally walked, the last act of an exasperated team in dealing with the hottest hitter on the planet. And it was in there we cheered and screamed and ordered more beers when Shane Victorino cleared the bases with a triple. And it was in there were everyone grew simultaneously silent, then roared when Koji Uehara’s 2-2 pitch missed Matt Carpenter’s bat for strike three, the third out of the ninth inning.

And just like that, the 2013 Boston Red Sox had won the World Series.

It wasn’t until that 2-2 pitch that the enormity of the situation began to sink in. Yes, I was very aware that I was watching what could potentially be the clinching game of a championship season — I’d spent the two days prior sitting at my desk and sweating over the ramifications of it all. And I stood nervously with my friends while we watched John Lackey work into the seventh inning, cinching his spot in Boston lore forever with his bounce-back season and his stellar pitching in October.

But it wasn’t until Uehara was a strike away on Carpenter that I realized what I was watching: there were only two teams left playing Major League Baseball, that 28 others had already ended their season in disappointment, and the 29th was on the ropes and clinging to a fraying thread of hope, and that when that third strike found its way into David Ross’ glove, they’d be gone, and the Red Sox would be left with the glory and immortality and triumph that await the World Series champion.

Carpenter chased a pitch outside and missed. And that’s when the singing started.

★ ★ ★

This season has been something like a dream, for a lot of reasons. I’ve written before about how, living not just in Massachusetts again but in Boston, the team felt a little closer than it had in years. Removed from the ongoing horror show of Bobby Valentine and free of the cursed sell-out “streak,” the Red Sox felt like the team I grew up with. They’d play hard, they’d be respectable and they probably wouldn’t be the best, but that’s okay.

And it was fun. I went to games early in April and took advantage of buy one, get one free hot dogs and brought friends up to the standing room sections of right field — and then things got weird. And instead of a way to pass the time, baseball became one of the places I escaped to. A lot of people felt the same way. I channeled a lot of it into David Ortiz, that pillar of strength whose own 17-year career has been a testament to resolve. Released at 26 by the Minnesota Twins, picked up off the scrap heap, transformed into a hero, into a goat, into a hero and finally into one of the greater World Series hitters the game has ever seen.

His march during the season back to 30 home runs was a fun side story along with every other amazing turn of events that took place this season — Uehara’s ascendance to the closer’s role, Jon Lester’s revitalization on the mound and the team’s run to first place among them. Watching Ortiz lumber up to the plate, stop, spit on his hands and settle into the box is another comforting sight and a reminder of normalcy. How bad could things really be if David Ortiz is still hitting fourth for the Red Sox?

But his performance in the playoffs was another beast entirely. It was a stinging reminder that he’s among the greatest October performers of this generation, and if his home runs against Tampa Bay weren’t proof enough, his grand slam in Game 2 of the ALCS against Detroit was, complete with Officer Steve Horgan’s raised arms for eternity.

And in the World Series, as far as St. Louis was concerned, he was unbearable. Reaching base 19 of 25 times, hitting .688 with a 1.948 OPS and driving the Cardinals insane, he cemented a playoff reputation that never should’ve been in doubt to begin with. His play lifted his career World Series average to an astounding .455, and he was rightly given the MVP trophy.

This was the same guy who carried them in 2004 and again in 2007 to the ultimate goal, who salvaged his career in 2009 and who, in April, became the glorious, defiant face of a team and a city that would always go down fighting.

Ortiz was one of the first out of the dugout after Ross sealed the last out in his glove, clad in an army helmet and champagne goggles. The players mobbed on the field. Ortiz picked up Uehara and carried him around the diamond. Manager John Farrell hugged everyone in sight. Smoke from fireworks clouded the park.

Uehara’s third strike on Carpenter didn’t just mean that the team I happen to like more than other teams would be the best of the 30. It meant that the revitalization of that entire organization would be complete, that Ortiz had come through to deliver perhaps the most meaningful of the three World Series he’s won, and that the city that supported them would be given an excuse to cheer and shout and scream the words to a terrible Neil Diamond song en masse in a tiny Irish Pub six miles from the park. It felt like home.

World Series Cardinals Red Sox Baseball

I watched the Red Sox win the 2007 World Series at a party in Phoenix, where the majority of the people there weren’t Red Sox fans or really baseball fans at all. What wound up happening was that, as the game went on, it became clear that I was tuning out the rest of the party and zeroing in on the TV with maniacal force. It was probably a little off-putting. I don’t think I cared.

In going to the party, I wanted to reclaim some of the feeling from 2004, where, after we made deadline in the newsroom, a coworker and I went out to a bar that was hopelessly overcrowded and hung out with close to 200 folks who couldn’t get inside. The Red Sox are such a regional presence and such a big part of so many lives that it felt right to turn the moment into a communal one.

Living 3,000 miles away, there was no way to replicate that, and I should have known better. I should have just stayed home, maybe made a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts to get a little New England-vibe in the desert, and enjoyed Jon Lester’s Game 4 start in Colorado. (more…)

Last night, Stephen Drew was the pivot in a well-oiled machine.

Last night, Stephen Drew was the pivot in a well-oiled machine.

The Red Sox are on the west coast to play two Interleague series against the Giants and Dodgers, which means a lot of late nights and, realistically, a lot of late nights where I watch the middle innings in bed and fall asleep before the game’s over.

It’s not as if this isn’t common practice at least a couple of weeks per season, but baseball is one of the few games where that kind of passive exposure still feels beneficial and fulfilling. On the same note, there are plenty of those ESPN Wednesday doubleheaders where I’ll tune in and just sort of half-watch the early innings before I pass out. I’ve been doing this since I was 10. I get how time zones work.

So it’s in those games that, while important, I try to suck up as many little bits of information or pageantry as possible. These are Interleague games, so one of my favorite aspects of the game are already built in: there’s no designated hitter, so pitchers have to hit and David Ortiz has to play first base. Both of these things delight me to no end. Pitchers hitting add an element of chaos to the game (what happens if they actually get a hit or walk?), and I’ve always enjoyed watching the big guy play first base. He’s more agile and effective than he gets credit for, considering so many consider him the defensive equivalent of a backstop with a glove tied to a pole.

So, it’s late. It’s probably a little past 11:30 Eastern time, Pablo Sandoval is up in the fifth inning against an incredibly efficient Jon Lester, and I’m already in bed with the sleep timer set on the TV. (more…)

Felix Doubront could quiet much of the storm with a win tonight.

Here’s a positive to take from the Boston Red Sox’ three-game losing streak to start the season: the fans and media are already in midseason form when it comes to panic and dread.

Thursday’s opener was about as great a game as I can remember seeing on Opening Day. Justin Verlander and Jon Lester matched each other for eight innings, before each bullpen blew up the foundations carefully laid by the starters. Josh Beckett was awful for Boston on Saturday, and Clay Buchholz wasn’t much better yesterday afternoon.

Yesterday’s game also featured an encore performance by the bullpen, when Alfredo Aceves immediately gave up three runs to let the Tigers tie it up at 10-10 in the ninth inning. Mark Melancon, not to be outdone, gave up three more runs in the bottom of the 11th, sending Detroit home with a 13-12 win and a sweep to start their season.

So, there were six runs offered up by two of the rocks of the bullpen, surrendered quickly and efficiently to a lineup that could legitimately be described as a powerhouse. Troubling? Of course. But it happens. (more…)