For Red Sox fans, moments of satisfaction in this first losing season in 15 years came around at roughly the same rate as a quality start from the starting rotation.
Sure, there were some fun subplots and sidebars — the instant success of top prospect Will Middlebrooks, prolonged hot stretches from roster afterthoughts Pedro Ciriaco and Daniel Nava, friendly Cody Ross’s perfect fit at Fenway.
But for a team with an enormous payroll and expectations to match, it was a chronic bummer from beginning to end.
The Red Sox played their 81st and final home game Wednesday night, suffering their 47th home loss. It was the official end of the baseball season at Fenway. No one around here needs to be told the unofficial end came weeks earlier.
“It was the last home game, and it felt like it should have been a month ago,’’ said Tom Caron, who is in his eighth year as host of NESN’s pregame and postgame programming. “In 2002, they didn’t make it, and ’06 it fell apart, but in both of those cases it was really mid-September before you said it’s over.
“And this was mid-August. By the time the Olympics were rolling, it was over. I’ve never seen it where it was over this early in the season.”
Another of those small joys was NESN’s studio programming. Caron expertly interacted with an eclectic group of analysts that includes Dennis Eckersley, Jim Rice, and Peter Gammons, and they never wavered in finding the appropriate tone.
NESN gets occasional grief in this space for certain things, particularly in prioritizing and promoting Fenway Sports Group properties at the expense of teams and subjects that resonate with Boston fans, especially the Patriots and Celtics. But as the Red Sox took on water this season, anyone bracing for an all-is-well, nothing-to-see-here approach had to be pleasantly surprised.
Don Orsillo isn’t one to position himself as a critic as well as a play-by-play voice, but he ably sets the stage for Jerry Remy to be occasionally blunt during game telecasts. At the least they are willing to address controversial subjects.
And whether it was during a pregame show in which there was news of another controversial comment by Bobby Valentine, a blockbuster trade, or a potential sale to address, or during the postgame after another uninspiring performance, the candor never waned, particularly when Caron was paired with Eckersley, the most honest and insightful baseball analyst there is, national networks included.
Not that the adjustment to talking about an also-ran with six weeks left in the season was an easy one.
“We’d be watching games,” said Caron, “and I remember at least one time a year they’d be playing a team that’s dead and out of it in July, and Eck would look over at me and say, ‘Thank God we’re not doing this in Kansas City. Can you imagine having to do this every night?’
“Well, this August we looked at each other said, ‘So this is what it’s like.’
“The one thing that kept it from being completely like that was that there was always some sort of news story with this team. This wasn’t a bland bad team. This was a bad team that had a manager who would say things that created a news cycle, and players would say things, and then the traded players who would say things. We had news to cover almost every night.”
It was strange not to be talking about pennant races and the wild card and where the Red Sox were in the standings in relation to the Yankees.
“That whole story line has been gone for a while,’’ he said.
Caron cites the July 16 heel injury to slugger David Ortiz as the tipping point.
“They just have not been the same team without him,’’ said Caron. “And before you know it, you’re suddenly at that point where you had the Dodger bailout where they wave the white flag on this year.”
The “Dodger bailout’’ was an experience Caron won’t forget. The Sox have made some blockbuster moves during his time at NESN — the Nomar Garciaparra trade in 2004 and the Manny Ramirez-Jason Bay deal in ’08, to name two. But nothing approached the magnitude of the deal that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers and essentially hit the reset button for the entire franchise.
It was unexpected to the point of being unfathomable — right up until it was officially consummated in the early hours of Saturday, Aug. 25, the morning after it was first rumored.
“For something of that enormity to happen after the July 31 waiver deadline is incredible,’’ Caron said. “The complexity of pulling that off.
“It was a Friday night when we do 90 minutes pregame and we were out on the field. We’d heard about the clearing waivers and the waiver claims, and that’s when it all started coming together, and you’re on the air and in the back of your mind you’re saying, ‘This is something you would hang up on if a caller on talk radio suggested it. There’s no way this comes together.’
“Then Gonzalez gets pulled out of the lineup and there you go.
“At one point, I’m sitting next to Dustin Pedroia in the dugout, and I remember saying, ‘They’re going to build this team around you. This is the next sort of phase, where they’re clearing everything out but you’re still here.’
“The players were just sitting there looking a little numb. Because it was a great move, it gave them flexibility and all of that, but it just wasn’t made for them to make the playoffs this year. That’s got to be a tough reality for the players.”
The whole season was a tough reality for the Red Sox and their fans. How to remedy what ails this team is a theme that will draw more interest this offseason than the team itself has in recent weeks.
“The one upside for us and those of us that cover it is that it’s going to be a really interesting winter, from what they do at manager to who they go after,’’ Caron said.
“This is a cliché, I guess, but the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. There wasn’t a lot of indifference this year. There was a lot of hate. Maybe that’s what you need to focus that attention to get the franchise back on track.”