Except for the acknowledgment on the videoboard that the “Red Sox have clinched a 2013 postseason playoff berth,” there was virtually no mention and certainly no celebration of the accomplishment Thursday night.
The crowd stood and applauded for much of the ninth inning in anticipation, but there was no wild postgame celebration on the field, just the normal shaking of hands and patting of backsides following a 3-1 win over the Orioles.
If ever a team could have boasted, celebrated, went a little crazy over sealing a postseason spot, it would be this one, but the only liquid spotted in the Red Sox clubhouse were the bottles of Vitamin water and cans of soda in the old refrigerator at the far end of the clubhouse.
“We didn’t even talk about it,” David Ortiz said.
“We never even had a discussion about it,” echoed Daniel Nava. “I don’t know who made that call, to be honest with you. I know our goal here has always been to win the division, and when that happens I’m sure we’ll celebrate. But this is great. We worked hard to get to this stage and now we want to finish that off.”
When John Farrell addressed the media after the game he said he hadn’t talked to his team, noting the goal has been to win the division and there will be a suitable recognition when it happens. Even the players said there was nothing unusual or different about the end of this game compared with the rest.
Once the division has been won — the magic number is down to one — the Red Sox will likely focus their attention on nailing down home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Clinching the postseason was big, but just a small piece of bigger things to come.
In their quest for the league’s best record, the Red Sox won’t have to worry about resting a lot of players, either. The way Farrell has managed, positional players have received plenty of rest through platooning and prearranged days off.
There aren’t many players who won’t feel fresh.
Dustin Pedroia, who has played more games than any player in the league, could probably stand to sit out a game or two, but good luck getting him out of the lineup, even though he spent some time in the trainers’ room Thursday taking care of an unspecified issue.
Could Ortiz benefit by resting his troublesome heels? Sure. But he may get that rest when the Red Sox play in Denver Tuesday and Wednesday, and then he’ll get four days off between the end of the regular season and the Division Series.
Shane Victorino has played the entire season with various injuries, so he’s definitely a candidate for downtime.
The Red Sox don’t need a lot of rest, so they’ll have a full arsenal of players — and the anticipated return of Jacoby Ellsbury — in the final few games of the regular season to gear up for the next big thing.
Even more important than clinching a postseason spot was stopping the Orioles’ momentum. The Red Sox beat Chris Tillman, who had been the best pitcher they had faced all season and has a 2.35 ERA against Boston in 10 career starts.
Even more important was that John Lackey, making his 28th start after returning from Tommy John surgery, was flirting with a no-hitter until Adam Jones broke it up with a mammoth home run over the Monster with one out in the seventh inning.
Lackey pitched a complete game — his second of the season — giving the bullpen a night off and sparing them some wear and tear.
“It’s been a remake,” Farrell said of Lackey’s 2013 comeback, “and it’s somewhat fitting that to clinch a playoff spot, to get into the playoffs with him on the mound, and to go nine innings the way he did, like I said, very fitting.”
Farrell indicated the team’s low-key approach to clinching was simply what felt right at this time.
“We know what was pending,” Farrell said. “We still feel like the next step is a more important one than this. We’ve said that winning the East has been our stated goal since Day 1 of spring training. That’s getting closer and I think that will probably be a little bit more the realization of where we’ve come from and where we are at that moment.”
This was tasteful. It was humble. It was understated. It was all the things this team has exhibited all season.
“After the last two years here, so many of us as first-year guys, just loved the feel of the team from the moment we were put together in spring training,” shortstop Stephen Drew said. “This is huge. We have a bunch of guys who come to the clubhouse to work and who know what their job is once they take the field. So yeah, this is a big night for us and all of us know it. We’re going to celebrate it, but we’ll do it when we think the time is right.”
When they win the division.