It’s all over but the accounting.
Maybe you were with me through the summer in believing that the defending champion Red Sox would find their strangely absent mojo, go on a winning streak reminiscent of their 2018 magic, and reward faith by slipping into the postseason and perhaps even sticking around a while.
It’s not happening, of course. It never really came close to happening. They never got hot, some important players got hurt, and the slog through the spring and summer will end with a suspense-free September.
There’s no more resisting what the math is insisting on telling us. After Tuesday’s 7-6, 15-inning loss to the Giants at Fenway Park, there were 12 games left in the season, seven on the road, and they were nine games out in the wild-card race.
These are the last days of the 2019 Red Sox. There will be no postseason, just portmortems. There will be a new World Series champion this year.
I suppose many of you realized this several weeks, ballgames, and degrees on the Fahrenheit scale ago. Maybe you wrote ’em off when Chris Sale went down for the season with an elbow injury a month ago, or the bullpen blew its 20th save (or its 21st, or 22d . . . ), or when another Joe Hardy clone came through for the Yankees, or when you’d check the box scores after a Red Sox win and realize the Indians, A’s, and Rays all refused to yield in the wild-card chase.
Maybe you came to grips with it when president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski did not add a helpful pitching arm at the July 31 deadline.
You probably came to grips with it before Dombrowski was informed he was no longer the president of baseball operations approximately six weeks later.
There’s a little less hustle, a little less bustle around Fenway now, with the kids back in school and the knowledge that the tension of the postseason isn’t coming to Jersey Street this fall.
The sausage guy and the program peddlers still compete for your attention and dollars as you head toward the entrance, but it’s a quieter experience, even as you encounter moments of denial about the team’s status here and there.
The scoreboard still plays a “We were born for this” highlight reel before the anthem that leaves you wondering exactly what “this” is this year. Third place in the AL East?
Even Tuesday night, with Carl Yastrzemski’s 29-year-old grandson Mike making his anticipated Fenway Park debut as the leadoff hitter for the Giants, the crowd fell somewhere between late-arriving and non-arriving.
If the actual attendance was within a few thousand of the announced 35,925, it must have been because many of them were masterfully disguised as red seats. By the time the 5-hour-54-minute affair — which featured a major league-record-tying 24 pitchers — was finished, the crowd seemed to consist mostly of Yastrzemski’s buddies from Andover and St. John’s Prep.
But Tuesday’s game, if prolonged, was a nice reminder that small satisfactions can be found at the ballpark even if the outcome takes too long to arrive and carries little consequence.
Jackie Bradley Jr. homered in the fifth — helping the Red Sox rally from a 5-1 deficit — and made a spectacular leaping catch at the wall in the 12th. Juan Centeno — go ahead, Google him, I’ll wait — tied it at 6 with a five-pitch, bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the 13th.
Did I mention that there were 24 pitchers, a group that may or may not have included John Montefusco, Greg Minton, and Ed Halicki?
More than anything, it was a nice night for the sentimental and nostalgic. Yastrzemski crushed a Nathan Eovaldi fastball over the center-field fence in the top of the fourth — the first MLB home run at Fenway by a Yastrzemski since his grandfather hit the 451st of his 452 on July 31, 1983. If that didn’t make your cynical little heart grow three sizes, you’re rather hopeless, Grinch.
If the game had mattered, it would be considered a frustrating defeat for the Red Sox. But it was just one more line in a redundant story, one more loss for a team that has lost 17 more games than it did a season ago, with nearly two weeks still to play. You endure enough tough losses, and eventually they don’t seem so tough anymore, as that descent from the fringes of the playoff race refuses to cease.
There are reasons to still watch these Sox in their final days of the season. Rafael Devers, still playing with joy, is seeking his 30th homer to go with 50-something doubles; Xander Bogaerts, the leader of this team for the foreseeable future, has already hit those milestones. There are young bullpen arms to watch; Darwinzon Hernandez and Josh Taylor in particular offer hope for next year. Andrew Benintendi, who has had an season inferior to Mike Yastrzemski’s, would be well-served by finishing strong and reminding us he can be a cornerstone.
On the bummer side, Mookie Betts’s next home run, and J.D. Martinez’s too, could be their last in a Red Sox uniform. Let’s hope that’s not the case, especially in regard to Betts, who in his “down” year is on pace to slash .293/.391/.527 with 30 homers, 85 RBIs, 43 doubles, 183 hits, and 142 runs. He’s a generational player, a Red Sox star who has the chance to be the Yaz of his time.
Tuesday night, we were pleasantly reminded of Yaz’s time, thanks to his grandson. It’s been that kind of season, when the best we can do while waiting until next year is to appreciate a sweet meeting between the present and the past. It almost makes a near-six-hour game in a lost season worth it.