It all ends for Boston’s Lost Boys of Summer. Starting Friday, the Red Sox play the final three games of their season in the cellar at Fenway Park, against the New York Yankees. The Hub will bid retiring Derek Jeter au revoir forever and baseball adieu until next April, when the World Series champion Washington Nationals come to town for the Sox’ home opener.
With a bite of autumn crispness in the air and the Red Sox concluding a disappointing season, summer has turned its back and turned up its collar. So, let’s send off the 2014 regular season with a few random baseball thoughts:
■ Maybe the landmark $263 million salary dump deal the Red Sox made in August 2012 with the Los Angeles Dodgers isn’t such a clear-cut win for the Sox after all. Saddled with the salaries of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett, the Dodgers clinched their second straight National League West title on Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium.
Gonzalez leads the major leagues in runs batted in. Crawford missed a month and a half with a sprained left ankle, but has hit .317 with an .812 OPS since returning July 11, bringing his season totals to .295 with eight home runs and 46 RBIs. He has 23 steals, his most since 2010. Beckett’s contract comes off the books after this season. He is out for the year with a torn labrum in his hip and mulling retirement. But the cantankerous Texan threw a no-hitter this season and was 6-6 with a 2.88 earned run average in 20 starts.
■ If Red Sox chairman Tom Werner and the other members of Major League Baseball’s pace of game committee want to speed up the proceedings they should clone Clayton Kershaw. I attended an Aug. 21 Kershaw start against the Padres at Dodger Stadium. Thanks to notorious LA traffic we arrived in our seats at 8:12 p.m. for a 7:10 start. It was the fifth inning. Kershaw, who ended up going eight innings, allowing one run and striking out 10, was throwing a no-hitter. The no-no was broken up by San Diego pitcher Tyson Ross in the sixth. The Dodgers won the game, 2-1. It ended at 9:33 p.m., West Coast time. Time of game: 2 hours, 23 minutes. My time for Dodger baseball: 1 hour, 21 minutes. I barely had time to put mustard on my Dodger Dog.
■ Jeter should play the final three games of the season against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. It wouldn’t sit well if the man who bloodied his face launching himself into the seats at the old Yankee Stadium to catch a foul ball against the Red Sox in the 12th inning of a tie game in 2004 decided to sit out at the end for historical appearances.
In an ideal world, Jeter’s last at-bat would come in pinstripes. But skipping Fenway would be the antithesis of the essence of Jeter. He is a player whose career has been defined by his ability to do the right thing with class and grace, both on and off the field.
■ My signature memory of Jeter came at Fenway Park in 1998. A Yankees team that would go on to win the World Series and a club-record 114 games clinched the American League East crown at Fenway on Sept. 9. Jeter went 2 for 4 with a pair of solo home runs to center field off Tim Wakefield that should have had their own flight numbers.
That game spawned one of my greatest sports regrets. Emotionally scarred by watching the Bronx Bombers celebrate on the fabled Fenway lawn, I turned down tickets to Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series. Thanks, Derek.
■ Good thing the Red Sox signed Grady Sizemore instead of trading for the washed-up Matt Kemp. Kemp had six years and $128 million remaining on his deal entering this season, but the Dodgers would have eaten a portion of that to facilitate a trade. Kemp entered Thursday ranked seventh among qualified outfielders in OPS at .842. The players ahead of him were: Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Bautista, Mike Trout, Michael Brantley, and Yasiel Puig. The highest-ranked Red Sox outfielder was Yoenis Cespedes, who ranked 27th (.756).
Kemp’s defense is unquestionably subpar. But the ubiquitous WAR stat seems to overemphasize defensive play, which still remains more nebulous in relation to contribution to team success than the obvious impact of a productive middle-of-the-order bat.
For example, rWAR, which is baseball-reference’s version, says that Daniel Nava (3.3) has been more valuable to the Red Sox this season than David Ortiz (2.9).
■ The Sox have to find a place for Markus Lynn Betts next season. Mookie is the leadoff hitter this team so sorely lacked after the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury. It’s difficult to understand why the Sox are so resistant to the idea of exploring his ability to play third base or shortstop, the position he was drafted at and initially played in the minors.
If the team wants to focus on Betts remaining an outfielder, it has to clear a spot for him. Right now, the Sox have more outfielders than concrete answers about how they’ll be a better team next year. Betts could be one of those answers.
■ It’s hard not to pull for the Kansas City Royals to make the playoffs for the first time since 1985, as they stagger to the finish line. We know a thing or two about ignominious baseball droughts in these parts. There are 30-year-old Royals fans who have no recollection of watching their team play playoff baseball. That just seems cruel.
■ The wrist discomfort of Ortiz is alarming. For all the folks who derided him for maneuvering for a contract extension, he turned in another 30-homer, 100-RBI season. If the Sox can’t count on that type of production in their lineup for 2015, that immediately jumps to the top of the list of offseason concerns.