The future arrived for Xander Bogaerts after Game 4 of the 2013 American League Championship Series against the Tigers, and he wasn’t ready for it.
Though he’d just turned 21, Bogaerts had been delivering some of the best at-bats of that postseason for the Red Sox, who were struggling to create offense against an extraordinary Detroit pitching staff. Mike Napoli informed the rookie to be ready to enter the starting lineup for the first time in Game 5.
“‘What the [expletive] you talking about?’ ” Bogaerts once recalled asking Napoli. “I’m young and I’m like, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t even want to play. I enjoy being on the bench.’ ”
Bogaerts did indeed start the next game, and the next, and the six following World Series contests. It marked a starting point for a player who has become synonymous with the Red Sox in the postseason.
In 2013, David Ortiz represented the connective thread between championship eras, the one who tied the titlists to their 2004 and 2007 predecessors. In 2018, though injured, Dustin Pedroia served a similar role as a wise elder able to share wisdom from the 2007 and 2013 titles.
Now, it is Bogaerts who serves as the cornerstone player. He’s played in 38 playoff games, tied for fifth-most in franchise history behind only Ortiz (76), Jason Varitek (63), Pedroia (51), and Manny Ramirez (43). Members of the Red Sox recognize Bogaerts, who turned 29 this month, as an organizational anchor based on both pedigree and presence.
“He’s the leader,” said Travis Shaw, who played with Bogaerts in the minors (2012) and big leagues (2015-16) before again becoming his teammate this season. “Obviously when I was here in ‘16, David [Ortiz] was still here. [Pedroia] was still here. Where he is now, he’s taking a leadership role. He’s still an unbelievable player.
“What I take from it is how humble he is. He’s a superstar. He’s one of the best shortstops in the game and he doesn’t act like it. He continues to work hard every single day and prepare like he’s still a rookie, and that’s what makes him special.”
Bogaerts takes his role in the organization seriously, on and off the field. He has come a long way from a 21-year-old rookie unsure if he was ready to help, to being one of the steadiest contributors in baseball.
He hit .295/.370/.493 with 23 homers in a down year, marks that still placed him in the AL top-10 for Wins Above Replacement (as calculated by Fangraphs). His 13.9 WAR since the start of 2019 is third in the big leagues, behind only Marcus Semien and Juan Soto, and just ahead of Mookie Betts.
Yet for all his consistency in the regular season, Bogaerts — after his electrifying arrival on the postseason stage in 2013 — struggled to carry his elite performance into October. There were occasional playoff highlights, but from 2016–18, he hit .195/.260/.287 in 21 playoff games.
This October has been different. Bogaerts has already delivered multiple monumental homers. First, a two-run shot to put the Red Sox ahead of Gerrit Cole and the Yankees in the first inning of the Wild Card Game. Then, an almost impossible solo homer on a 98-m.p.h. Shane Baz fastball on the inner edge of the plate in Game 2 against Tampa that allowed the Sox to start reversing the momentum of the series.
“Him turning on 98 in doesn’t surprise us at all. … He’s very talented — just a special player, a superstar,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “You look at the Red Sox teams from the past, and there are many names. I think Xander kind of blended in, he was a young guy, and now he’s taken over.”
To earn such lauds based on postseason performance for Bogaerts represents a significant development.
“It’s even more special when you’re able to [perform] in the playoffs,” said Bogaerts. “Coming into the postseason I was struggling. I wasn’t swinging right. The last couple of games [of the regular season] I was at least getting a lot of base on balls. I was at least seeing it. Maybe they were kind of putting it in their head that they were a little scared of me — I don’t know for what reason.
“But it’s been good to get your pitches and not miss them [in the playoffs],” he added. “It makes you feel proud of yourself.”
Bogaerts remains, as Shaw noted, humble. Yet a player who impressed team officials early in his career with the way he aspired to greatness in his work is now pleased with the player he’s become. More specifically, Bogaerts appears to relish being the player he’s become for the Red Sox.
On a team that has advanced deeper into October than anyone thought, Bogaerts is the one to link this run to past postseasons. He’s reached a point where it’s almost unimaginable to think of the Red Sox without Bogaerts, and in some ways, for Bogaerts to think of life in any place except the one where he’s spent his career.
“He’s the longest tenured guy with the Red Sox. He took that role upon himself to be that guy in the clubhouse [who helps everyone], and I definitely see it paying off. He’s been happy. He’s been happy to be here,” said Jair Bogaerts, who joined his twin brother in signing as an amateur with the Sox out of Aruba in 2009. “This is home. This is home and he definitely wants to stay here. This is it. He doesn’t ever want to play for any other organization. That’s as real as it gets.”