The Improbable Dream Part II: The Story Of The 2013 Boston Red Sox

One day can change everything and life can change in a matter of moments.    

The narrative around the 2011 Boston Red Sox would be totally different if the 9th inning on a rainy night in Baltimore had gone differently. The Red Sox had a disastrous September, having only won 7 out of the previous 26 games. However, the Sox walked into Camden Yards in complete control of their destiny. A win would send them to the playoffs and hit the reset button. 

A win may have also reshaped Red Sox history and dramatically impacted the 2013 team. 

A Moment in Time

Jonathan Papelbon’s blown save against Baltimore in 2011 was the catalyst for major change in Boston. Photo by AP Photo

Jon Lester started the game, pitched six innings, and only gave up two runs. The 7th and 8th were pitched scoreless by Alfredo Aceves and Daniel Bard. All that was left was for Jonathan Papelbon to shut things down. At the time, anyone who was a Sox fan was completely calm. It was a one-run game, but everyone believed Papelbon would shut it down and end the nightmare final month of the season. 

The 2011 Red Sox were 77-0 when leading into the ninth inning. Papelbon had blown two saves that year, but none of those had resulted in a loss. The Red Sox leading with Papelbon on the mound was as close to an automatic win as you could get. 

Until it wasn’t. 

Papelbon struck out the first two batters he faced. However, a line drive from Chris Davis put the tying run in scoring position. Papelbon came so close to sending the Sox to the playoffs by working a 2-2 count to the next batter, Nolan Reimold. 

Just one pitch. One pitch could decide the Red Sox season. 

Unfortunately for Papelbon, the next pitch led to a ground-rule double, bringing Davis home and tying the game. Papelbon had blown the save, but all hope wasn’t lost – if he could hold the tie, the Sox could win in extra innings. 

One pitch had put the Sox into a corner. 

The next batter, Robert Andino, hit a line drive that left fielder Carl Crawford couldn’t field. This resulted in Reimold scoring and ended the game in a walk-off win for the Orioles. A victory by the Rays over the Yankees sealed the Red Sox fate, sending the Rays to the playoffs. 

A moment in time changed everything. Papelbon was one out, and at one point, one pitch, away from sending the Red Sox to the playoffs. Yet, he couldn’t close the door. 

High Hopes

Carl Crawford was a huge misfire by the Red Sox. Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The 2011 Red Sox had high hopes and were considered the preseason favorite by many pundits. They had missed the playoffs in 2010, and General Manager Theo Epstein attempted to correct that by trading for Adrian Gonzalez and signing Carl Crawford to a 7-year, $142 million contract. 

A lot of money was tied up in this team.  Gonzalez was signed to a 7-year, $154 million contract in the first month of the 2011 season. Ace pitcher Josh Beckett was also in the first year of a 4-year, $68 million contract. 

Gonzalez and Beckett had All-Star seasons, while Crawford was a tremendous disappointment. Crawford’s performance and general lack of contentment created a situation that the Sox would ultimately address the following season. 

However, Beckett, Crawford, and Gonzalez would have been on the 2013 Boston Red Sox if all had gone according to plan. Ultimately, none of them were. 

What If?

Had Boston not had their epic collapse in 2011, Terry Francona might still be the manager in Boston today. Photo by AP Photo

What if Papelbon had held the lead? What if Reimold has whiffed on that pitch instead of sending it for an RBI double? 

The Red Sox would have made the playoffs and faced the Texas Rangers in the Division Series. The Rangers went on to win the 2011 AL Pennant, so they were a formidable opponent. However, the Rangers won games 3 and 4 of the ALDS by one run, so they weren’t unbeatable.  

I don’t think the Red Sox ultimately win a World Series, but an ALCS berth was possible. However, the Sox’s lack of pitching depth would have been their downfall. You can’t make a World Series run with shallow pitching, and the Sox pitching was indeed shallow. 

It’s possible that Terry Francona isn’t run out of town, and Theo Epstein sticks around if the team makes the playoffs. They would have been competitive, which may have enticed management to double down. 

It’s likely that the team sees a return to the playoffs as a validation of their methodology and a base from which to build in 2012. It’s also unlikely that the Sox trade Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett (and, as such, are stuck with the underperforming Carl Crawford).

If Francona sticks around, the issues with Kevin Youkilis and new manager Bobby Valentine that led to his departure don’t happen. So he would stick around through 2012 and likely into 2013. 

It’s likely that Theo sees pitching as a hole to be addressed so the team possibly trades some prospects to grab a reliable arm. It’s possible that in this reality, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. are part of a trade to get that arm.

Without that one pitch, the Red Sox would have entered 2013 with money tied up in an overpaid Carl Crawford (who was, by his own admission, miserable in Boston), a declining Josh Beckett, and possibly even fewer top prospects because of moves made to contend in 2012. They definitely wouldn’t have had the payroll flexibility to hire the rag-tag group of guys that formed the core of the Band of Bearded Brothers.  

One pitch changed everything. 

Coming Up

The Sox had gone all-in on 2011 and came up short of even making the playoffs. They had multiple players on costly multi-year deals. Ownership was going to make changes and they made some pretty drastic changes after the 2011 season, which set the stage for 2012 and the remaking of the team that led to 2013.  

If the Sox had won that game on that rainy night in Baltimore – we might not be having this discussion. But a moment can change everything, and one pitch can set the stage for moves that echo throughout the years to come. 

To quote Nationals manager Davey Martinez, “bumpy roads often lead to beautiful places.” And 2012 was a bumpy road.

In the next part, we’ll discuss the 2011 off-season (including the media’s treatment of Terry Francona), the rampant scapegoating that accompanied it, and how the 2012 season set the stage for 2013.

But never forget – the seed for the 2013 World Series win was planted by a pitch that led to a ground-rule double on a rainy Baltimore night.

EDIT (4/26): An earlier version of this stated that the Rangers won the 2011 World Series. Unfortunately for Rangers fans, they won the AL pennant but lost the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals.

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