When no one in New England cared much about baseball last winter, the Red Sox brass — or was it Carmine, the computer program? — calculated the potential of its offseason moves and projected its revamped team could win nearly 90 games this season.
Ninety wins would have been a welcome sequel to the disasters of 2012 and September 2011.
But the Sox brain trust missed a few things, notable among them the emergence of one Xander Bogaerts, the Aruban Wonder.
Bogaerts was too young to buy an adult beverage at the time. And some baseball insiders figured he was too inexperienced to factor in Boston’s blueprint for redemption in 2013.
But much like Jacoby Ellsbury’s rise from the farm system six years earlier to play a starring role in the franchise’s 2007 world championship, Bogaerts rode 95 North from Pawtucket in late August and took the fork that led to Fenway, which, as Robert Frost might say, “has made all the difference.’’
The kid who speaks four languages wasted no time learning the ways of Boston, the Sox, and the big leagues. And when his moment arrived Saturday night, Bogaerts seized it, playing a pivotal role in propelling the Sox past the Tigers, 5-2, to clinch the American League Championship Series and advance to — “Can you believe it?,’’ Joe Castiglione — the World Series.
All Bogaerts did while batting ninth in the Sox order is double, walk twice, and score twice, including the decisive run on Shane Victorino’s grand slam in the seventh. Nobody in the Sox lineup looked better against Max Scherzer, the prospective Cy Young winner, than Bogaerts.
“It’s unbelievable, man,’’ he said amid the sudsy, postgame frenzy near second base. “I shouldn’t even be here. The minor league season is over.’’
Whoa, X Man. By nearly every measure, you have proven you belong in Boston. The organizational reports suggested late in the season that he could make a difference. And since he made his major league debut Aug. 20 at age 20 — he became the youngest position player to appear in a game for the Sox since Dwight Evans in 1972 — Bogaerts has proven the organization right, saving his best for the playoffs.
“He is beyond his years,’’ Sox manager John Farrell said. “He has shown that every time he has stepped to the plate in the postseason. He’s got a bright, bright future.’’
Bogaerts showed the poise of a seasoned pro in his first at-bat against Scherzer. After falling into an 0-and-2 hole by looking at a pair of 95-mile-per-hour fastballs, he took a nasty slider just off the plate as he battled back to draw a leadoff walk in the third.
“I never faced him, so I watched a lot of videos of him,’’ Bogaerts said. “I know he’s an amazing pitcher, but I took the two fastballs because I just wanted to see his arm angle, to see how the ball comes out. He has a weird kind of motion.’’
When asked about the poise he showed in taking the nasty, 2-and-2 slider from Scherzer, he said, “I felt so weird, man. I even started laughing afterwards.’’
Scherzer followed that by walking Ellsbury. But Scherzer then caught Victorino’s pop bunt and got Dustin Pedroia to bounce into an inning-ending double play.
But the Tigers ace was no match for Bogaerts in the fifth. With two outs, Bogaerts worked a 3-and-2 count before he scorched a 93-mile-per-hour fastball off the Monster for a double.
Did he think it was gone?
“Man, I wish it was gone,’’ he said.
Moments later, he scored on Ellsbury’s single for Boston’s first run.
Bogaerts effectively forced Scherzer out of the game in the seventh when he drew a one-out walk after Jonny Gomes doubled leading off. And he followed Gomes across the plate on Victorino’s slam.
As a measure of his pose, Bogaerts said he didn’t feel any nerves before starting Game 6. He had replaced Will Middlebrooks in Game 5, a move that may foreshadow both players’s futures with the team.
“I’m more nervous when I come off the bench,’’ Bogaerts said.
So, there he was afterward, wearing his championship T-shirt, standing amid his giddy teammates, soaking it all in as “Dirty Water’’ blared through the night.
Jake Peavy stood nearby.
“When you get to watch him day in and day out, X is going to be a superstar,’’ Peavy said. “I don’t think there is anybody more important in that game than X was.’’