The final game was close. Travis Shaw hit a 3-2 fly out to right field with the game-tying run on second, and the game winning run on first. The Red Sox lost 4-3. Series over, season over and of course, David Ortiz’s career is over.
The last time the Red Sox were in the postseason, they won the World Series. That 2013 team never even faced an elimination game. Not once did they take the field with the season on the line. They won the ALDS over Tampa Bay 3-1, they won the ALCS over the Detroit Tigers 4-2 and then polished off the Saint Louis Cardinals in the World Series in just six games.
This Red Sox team took a 2-1 lead in Game 1 over the Indians heading into the bottom of the third inning. That was the last lead the Red Sox would ever have.
It was an exercise in frustration for the Red Sox offense. A league best squad that had routinely pummeled teams all year long went through the LDS looking as if they’d been sedated.
The Red Sox slashed .214/.278/.378. They had only three players hit over .250 in the series, and odds are the first three names to pop into your mind were not Travis Shaw, Brock Holt and Andrew Benintendi.
While the Red Sox bats rested, the Cleveland Indians seemed to be in the right-time, right-place sort of mindset. It wasn’t that Cleveland pounded out a ton of runs or destroyed Red Sox pitching (David Price being the lone exception,) it was more that they just seemed to get big hits when they most needed them.
Coco Crisp hit a two-run home run off of Drew Pomeranz in the sixth inning of Game 3. That blast would provide the difference in the 4-3 series clinching victory. Lonnie Chisenhall who had not hit a home run off a left handed pitcher all season long, broke through to crush a three-run blast off of David Price in the second inning of Cleveland’s 6-0 Game win.
Then there was the third inning of Game 1. With the Red Sox leading 2-1, three of the first four Indians hitters of the third inning hit solo home runs. By the time the onslaught was over, Cleveland led 4-2, and even though we didn’t know it at the time, the Red Sox season was effectively over.
Cleveland manager Terry Francona pushed buttons and each one seemed to result in something good happening.
Bring in your best relief pitcher in the sixth inning? Yes please, Andrew Miller was dominant in two, mid-game, two-inning appearances. He pitched four innings, allowed two hits, walked two and struck out seven. No runs were scored with Miller on the mound.
The move did carry some risk, after all that meant that Cleveland would have to navigate the late-innings with Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen. Neither pitcher was dominant, but the Red Sox in spite of putting runners on base, were never able to get the big hit to push the runs needed to win across the plate.
Francona started left handed Lonnie Chisenhall against David Price, and was rewarded with a three-run home run that blew the game wide open.
All season long the Red Sox had struggled to win close games, that does not always mean those struggles will continue into the postseason, but this year that was the case.
Dustin Pedroia, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr, Hanley Ramirez, and even David Ortiz. Not one of them was able to replicate their regular season success at the plate against an Indians team missing two of their three best starting pitchers.
Corey Kluber may silenced the Red Sox bats in a Game 2 6-0 blowout, but Games 1 and 3 were started by the not-so-immortal Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin, two starters who the Red Sox really should have been able to put up runs against. Instead over 9.2 innings the Red Sox managed to score a total of five earned runs, which would have been find had that been in just one game, but it was over two games.
Two games the Red Sox lost. Two of the final three losses of a ALDS sweep at the hands of a Cleveland Indians team that might end up in the World Series.
If the standard for success is World Series title or bust, then clearly the 2016 season was a failure for the Boston Red Sox, but if the bar is set at a more realistic level, one that rewards improvement, that celebrates the development of young stars, and the fulfillment of previously unfulfilled potential, then the 2016 season was by no means a failure. Even better, there’s ample reasons to think that the 2017 season could be even better.