For only the second time in Sox general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona’s tenures, there will be no playoff baseball in Boston this year. Like 2006, they finish the season in third place in the AL East, and for similar reasons to that fateful season can blame it largely on a rash of injuries to key players, along with a mostly lousy bullpen (that Epstein did nothing significant to help before and during the season) and disappointing starters (Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Tim Wakefield).
But the 89-73 Red Sox had one, make it two last victories to celebrate last weekend: they won the last two games of the season against the Yankees to tie the season series at 9-9, and more importantly, prevented their arch rivals from winning the AL East division in the process, making Tampa Bay the champs and for a change, the Yankees the AL Wild Card representative in the 2010 postseason that starts on Wednesday.
Mike Lowell Day
But the real celebration that occurred this weekend was the Red Sox’s tribute to retiring hero, cancer survivor and longtime third baseman Mike Lowell a half hour before the first game of a Sox-Yankees double header at Fenway Park on Saturday afternoon.
With the whole Red Sox and (equally classy) Yankees teams looking on and applauding the festivities at the top of their respective dugout steps, they watched as Lowell’s wife Bertha, their two kids and good friends Mike Redmond and (former respected Sox utility man) Alex Cora made surprise appearances to help out with the presentation of gifts. It was a warming, memorable moment for both fans and the participants on the field.
Taking place at the Fenway third base bag (naturally), Lowell was given a watch by the team, a third base bag by Josh Beckett, who has spent his whole career with him between the Marlins and Red Sox, and other gifts and donations to him and his charitable foundation from the team.
Lowell’s speech was gracious to the fans and organization, even though it tried to trade him a couple of times in the past calendar year. All of that was in his past now.
And for the final at-bats of his 13-year career, he went 2-for-2 against the Yankees team that originally drafted him, and nearly hit his sixth homer of the year over the Green Monster in his last ever plate appearance. The Sox would lose that first game, however, but celebrated later that night as a team upon Eric Patterson’s game-winning hit in the second game.
A Classy Send Off To The Captain and Big Papi
David Ortiz went a perfect 3-for-3 in Boston’s final game of the season on Sunday (an 8-4 win), to push his batting average to an even .270 (which is the same average as Derek Jeter, believe it or not) and on-base percentage to a very respectable .370. Together, with his 32 HR and 102 RBI, 2010 was his best season since 2007.
Though likely, given his impressive 2010 season (after a bad April start), it is not certain that Epstein will pick up the 34-year-old DH’s $12.5M team option for 2011. Knowing that, it was a very classy move on Terry Francona’s part in the bottom of the sixth inning to let the “Fenway Faithful” applaud him for possibly one last time, as he called for a pinch runner (Josh Reddick) for Ortiz after he reached first base following his last hit, a (smart and surprising) bunt single to third base with the Yankees playing the shift.
As loud and cheery as the Sox fans were for Ortiz, they were equally rowdy when Francona let The Captain, Jason Varitek take warm-up tosses for possibly his last time in a Boston uniform before the top of the ninth inning. Then, he motioned for Kevin Cash to take over catching duties, while Varitek made a slow walk back to the Sox dugout to be congratulated by his teammates and receive standing ovations by the Sox fans for the long and successful career he’s had here.
Though not as likely as Ortiz, Tek could be back in Boston next year, depending upon whether the Sox are able to sign Victor Martinez to a longterm deal or not. But it also may depend on whether or not the Sox front office values the younger catcher they acquired from Texas, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, as a back-up more than the leadership of Tek, a future Red Sox Hall of Famer.
If you’ve read my former columns, you know I just don’t get Boston’s fascination with Saltalamacchia. And the recent revelation that he pulled a Dice-K (Daisuke Matsuzaka) by hiding a torn thumb injury from both the Rangers and the Red Sox shouldn’t make the Sox front office or other Sox fans happy with him either.
In future columns, I will get more into what direction I think the Red Sox should go in. But one thing is for sure: the tandem of V-Mart and Tek worked out very well while both were healthy, and it is my hope that they will get another chance to rotate behind the plate next season.
For now, it’s time to try to get into the Red Sox-less postseason. And that, of course, means rooting for anyone who can knock off the defending champions. Let the games begin!