The Red Sox remained stubbornly insistent Wednesday they were not waving the white flag or throwing in the towel on 2014. But hours before they refused to give up against the Chicago White Sox, rallying for a 5-4 walkoff win at Fenway Park, they gave in to the reality of the standings and the calendar.
Although manager John Farrell claimed “we’re not closing the book on 2014,” this season just went wait till next year.
The Red Sox declaration of acceptance came in the form of starting catcher A.J. Pierzynski’s barren, vacant locker. The Sox designated their starting catcher for assignment on Wednesday. In place of the polarizing Pierzynski, the Sox called up rookie catcher Christian Vazquez from Triple A Pawtucket and announced he would be the primary option behind the plate the rest of the way.
It wasn’t exactly Japan aboard the USS Missouri or General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, but make no mistake, it marked a formal surrender to the circumstances of the season.
“As I explained to A.J., I take responsibility for where we are, and if the team’s record were different we may not have done something like this right now,” said Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, who was loath to publicly concede the 2014 season. “But we are where we are, so we need to start looking at things a little bit differently, and this is one part of that.”
At least the team has chosen a definitive direction, pointing affairs toward 2015. Sitting 9½ games out of the division lead and the wild-card chase, it’s the pragmatic approach, even if the Sox can’t honestly embrace it publicly for fear of empty seats.
Pierzynski is just the first to go. If you check craigslist, you’ll probably find pitcher Jake Peavy, shortstop Stephen Drew, and outfielder Jonny Gomes being offered up by the Sox as we head toward the July 31 trade deadline.
Cherington and the boys in baseball operations have been throwing stuff at Fenway’s green wall all season and nothing has stuck, nothing has given this team any traction to get out of its rut. It’s time to back up and look ahead.
“It’s surprising and disappointing the way the team is performing,” said Cherington. “I don’t want to put it on any one player, or any one category of player. I think it’s been the lack of performance across the board, and [it] starts with me. It just isn’t where we want to be. It isn’t in any way what we thought it was going to be, but here we are.
“We have to be honest about where we are and remain hopeful that things can get better quickly, but be honest about where we are and act accordingly.”
So, get ready to see Sox lineups with player numbers that look like you’ve stepped into JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla., in February. Wednesday night’s starter, Rubby De La Rosa, donned No. 62 and was throwing to Vazquez (No. 55).
Bring on the kids like Vazquez, Anthony Ranaudo, and Deven Marrero.
That way the Sox can go into this offseason with a clearer understanding of the team’s needs, and, perhaps, the realization that abstaining from any long-term, big-money deals is just as bad as handing them out like car-wash coupons.
Enjoying a 10-game homestand (or is it last stand?), the Sox started Wednesday as losers of four straight, dipping 12 games below .500. Cherington admitted the team’s woeful homestand factored into the change of direction.
The Sox trotted out a lineup with five rookies — Vazquez, Xander Bogaerts, Brock Holt, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mookie Betts. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the earliest the team had started five rooks in a game since April 22, 1952, when the team sent out Bill Henry, Ted Lepcio, Jimmy Piersall, Faye Throneberry, and Sammy White.
Betts (2 for 3) keyed the five-run comeback. He scored the Sox’ first run in the eighth on an infield double — yes, you read that correctly — alertly taking second base after the White Sox left it uncovered. Betts scored the tying run in the ninth, coming around from first on Daniel Nava’s pinch-hit double.
“We are where we are, and again, if the standings were turned upside down, if our position were different maybe [five rookies] wouldn’t be happening,” Cherington said. “But we are where we are, so we got to find out about guys. We got to see what opportunities come our way. At the same time, we’re trying to get better as quickly as we can in ways that make sense. That will sort of guide our decisions over the next three weeks or so.”
Boston’s best-laid plans have been laid to rest. Pierzynski was the third offseason free agent signing the Sox have designated for assignment since June 17, joining Grady Sizemore and relief pitcher Chris Capuano.
After going 7 for 7 in free agency last year to build a World Series winner, the Sox’ run of luck with short-term bargains ran out.
“Well, I think it’s a little bit of a reflection of the vagaries of free agency, but certainly I take responsibility for the fact that we’ve had to do that,” said Cherington. “Those were my decisions. They haven’t worked out, so certainly we have to look back and look at those decisions and what led to those decisions and try to learn from that.”
To use this season to devalue the remarkable World Series championship season the Red Sox enjoyed last year is not fair. It happened. It was real. It was deserved.
It’s just as wrong to use the World Series trophy as a flagging excuse to view this team as playoff contender. The Sox aren’t doing that any longer.
They’ve learned that, like their offense, resistance to reality is futile.
Now, this season is one big movie trailer for 2015, coming attractions for a team going nowhere in 2014.Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.