The fall of the 2016 Red Sox is complete. The Sox were the feel-good story of our summer, but it seems that it all went away when they held their division-clinching toga party in the Bronx after an embarrassing 5-3 walkoff loss at Yankee Stadium Sept. 28.
The Red Sox rightfully won the American League East, sweeping through Baltimore and Tampa, winning 11 straight games during the most critical stretch of September. And then everything stopped. A day after clinching, manager John Farrell “rested” Dustin Pedroia and Mookie Betts and pulled David Ortiz after a couple of at-bats, triggering a losing pattern that carried straight through the playoffs. The Sox lost their way during an interminable series of heartfelt sendoffs for David Ortiz and had nothing left when the championship tournament started last week.
And now it is over. Just like that. Terry Francona got his revenge on the men who fired him five years ago, managing the overwhelming-underdog Cleveland Indians to a 4-3 victory Monday night and a three-game sweep of the front-runner Red Sox. MLB’s 24th-ranked payroll ($98 million) thoroughly spanked Boston’s top-three payroll ($200 million). The Sox outscored the Indians by 101 runs during the season, but lost three straight to the Tribe in October.
“I respect that we beat a hell of a team,’’ said Francona. “To celebrate with our own guys was meaningful for me.’’
Playing in the toughest division in baseball, the Red Sox won 93 games, but they lost eight of their last nine. Darlings of the national media, a myth of their own hubris, the Sox have now won a playoff game in exactly one of the last eight Octobers. Can you believe it?
The stunning sidebar of this abrupt ending is that David Ortiz has played his final game with the Red Sox. He has officially met the death that awaits all professional athletes: He has retired. Ortiz goes into the books as a probable Hall of Famer and one of the top Sox of all time (“He stands alone,” the club dubiously stated last week during Papi-palooza last week).
“It was something that I’m going to carry for the rest of my life,’’ said Ortiz, the greatest clutch hitter in franchise history. “Those moments are always going to stay with you. As long as I played in front of these fans, I never take anything for granted. The fans respect that. The fans love that . . . everywhere I go, the fans show the same love.’’
Ortiz’s final at-bat in the majors came when he faced Tribe closer Cody Allen with two out and one man aboard in the bottom of the eighth of Game 3 with the Sox trailing, 4-2. It was a chance to tie the game with a homer into the bullpen — a moment that would have matched Ortiz’s grand slam against the Tigers in the second game of the ALCS during the magical championship October of 2013. Ortiz walked on four pitches, got to second on Hanley Ramirez’s RBI single, and came out for pinch runner Marco Hernandez.
“That’s the game strategy,’’ noted Ortiz. “That’s what the game is all about. Short series, whoever plays the best is going to dominate . . . The Indians have this incredible momentum going on. It’s what the game is all about.’’
Let the record show that Ortiz ended his career on the bench, urging 39,530 to make more noise as Travis Shaw popped harmlessly to right on a 3-2 pitch with two on and two out at 9:51 p.m. Appreciative Sox fans chanted “Thank you, Papi’’ and “We want Papi” as the Indians celebrated on the Fenway lawn.
Ortiz respectfully let the Indians have their moment, waiting 10 minutes before emerging from the dugout. When he appeared, he walked to the middle of the infield, doffed his cap, tapped his heart, and apppeared to be weeping. It was emotional and . . . a little strange. The notion of celebrating an individual star was not helpful to the Red Sox in late September/early October.
“It was a shocker,’’ said Ortiz. “Nobody expected anything like that to happen. The other day when we had the ceremony here, the emotion came out. But I knew there was more games to go. Tonight when I walked to the mound, I realized that it was over. It was the last time as a player to walk in front of the crowd. I’m happy . . . Even though it didn’t end up the way we were looking for, but it was a big step. I told my teammates I wanted them to feel proud about themselves.’’
“David was doing his best to get the crowd on their feet, which they responded to really well,’’ said Farrell. “It’s an exciting moment.’’
The ignominious sweep no doubt will crank up the “Fire Farrell” bandwagon that rolled across New England for much of the spring and summer. Boston’s manager-under-siege appeared to be safe when his team rallied for a first-place finish, but a sweep at the hands of Francona will not be a party starter on Yawkey Way and gives Dave Dombrowski a hall pass if he’s been waiting for an opportunity to bring in his own guy to manage the local nine. Anything but a sweep would have bought security for Farrell, but now all bets are off. Francona vs. Farrell in the ALDS was Belichick vs. Marvin Lewis and Sox bosses might overreact.
It’s certainly not Farrell’s fault that Rick Porcello and David Price spit the bit in their starts in Cleveland. It’s not Farrell’s fault that the Sox — who led the majors with 878 runs — scored seven runs in three games and hit .214 in this series. A team that went 20-24 in one-run games during the regular season lost two more one-run games in the playoffs.
It was a terrific baseball summer, but the fall was hard. And now Big Papi is gone for good.
The farewell to Ortiz was nice and well-deserved, but this was a bad ending for a good team. The 2016 Red Sox underperformed madly in the postseason.
Video: Dan Shaughnessy reflects on David Ortiz’s career
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org