BOSTON — Winning brings entitlement and losing brings blame.
Blame and change.
None of it is ideal, but all of it is unavoidable. Especially here, when simply pointing out we’re dealing with a two-time defending division winner just four Octobers removed from a world championship will bring cries of “Apologist!”
“A lot of the guys that carried this team are young guys that are going to be here for a while,” Chris Sale said in a stone-quiet Red Sox clubhouse, about an hour after Houston ended the season with a 5-4, Game 4 win. “It’s hard not to be optimistic about this team.”
Little does he know.
We’ve come a long way in 13 years, from 3 million people coming to Boston to canonize 25 regional saints to the Red Sox needing night-before advertisements to sell out playoff dates. A simple $20 could have gotten you into the last baseball game at Fenway Park in 2017, a shock to the system even if was a rainy afternoon.
Not a bad return on investment, though Monday’s crowd probably walked out just feeling all wet. I give them all the credit in the world: It was not a day to spend out in the elements, but the diehards between the empty seats crystallized the raw desperation of the day.
They were chanting Jackie Bradley Jr.’s name in the second inning and banging the walls of the press box in the seventh. The cascading catcalls at Justin Verlander after Andrew Benintendi’s lead-claiming homer. Rafael Devers’ inside-the-parker in the ninth brought delirium to those who’d not disappeared down the tunnels.
It was a four-hour game that didn’t have you looking at your watch, the sort that makes knowing there are no more until spring sting all the more. Ultimately, though, the conclusion was simple.
As with the rest of the series, the Red Sox got their best in position, and their best failed them. Plain and simple.
A year after a 93-win team meekly went out in a Division Series they were supposed to win, a 93-win team scratched, clawed and nearly forced a Game 5 in one they weren’t.
“We did better this year than last year. Hopefully we can continue getting here,” said Mookie Betts. “As long as we continue to put ourselves in this position, something’s gonna break through.”
“Extremely proud of the way we went out and worked,” manager John Farrell said, “the way we were a competitive team throughout. We won a lot of baseball games. You win the division, that’s I think a major accomplishment. We didn’t meet all of our goals … but we have seen some really good young players continue to develop.”
“We were right there with them. We fought to the last out. ... That’s the part that hurts the most,” said Dustin Pedroia, who went 2-for-16 and faces some difficult questions about his injured knee. “There was never any quit in this team. Proud of everybody in here. We deal with a lot, and the fight continued every single day.”
Bogaerts, just 4-for-29 in the last two postseasons, praised the energy and motivation he got from the veterans. Sale praised the kids, a clubhouse full of “character” and “leadership” and guys who “aren’t afraid to fight.”
I say it all almost just to reset us, because we won’t hear about it again for a while. Cue that blame and change, Dave Dombrowski now tasked with identifying and executing what produces that next step.
Where the home runs will come from, after a winter spent getting pitching left them lacking. Where, with that luxury tax clock reset this year, the money is best spent.
Whether that lingering feeling of a clubhouse operating out of Farrell’s control is real or imagined. Whether he makes these Sox better than an alternative.
Whether his head-scratchers — Eduardo Nunez over Hanley Ramirez in Game 1, just six playoff at-bats for Christian Vazquez, plus a season’s worth of second guesses — speak to something larger.
The 2017 Red Sox, ultimately, ended up right about where they belong. They hoped better pitching would be how they replaced David Ortiz’s bat, and that’s what worked. They were the most talented team in their division, and though they made it difficult, they won said division. They were the third-best team in the American League playoffs, and they won’t be one of the last two playing.
This’ll end up in the books as a transition year, but as transition years go, the journey was a fun one. We can’t lose that. It must, however, lead to something, and that’s where this team’s gotten itself into some recent trouble.
All those free-agent buys, underperforming big contracts. The trades for relievers that we’re still waiting to hear from the jury on. They’ve built the young core, but the young core’s not proven it can take that next step on the grandest stage.
Is that Farrell’s fault? Is it the veterans? Do they need a new voice? Do they just need better luck?
This is what Dombrowski is here for, he being “one of the great architects of winning baseball clubs,” as the front office called him in the summer of 2015. He walked through the clubhouse on Monday night, shaking hands with some coaches before heading into Farrell’s corner office.
The players, satisfied but saddened, their job is complete for now.
Dombrowski’s, division titles or not, is only beginning.
Contact Jon Couture at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter @JonCouture