Red Sox family keeps hope alive for next season
Death of Tim Wakefield caps end to disappointing year
With the death to brain cancer of 57-year-old, 17-season Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield on Oct. 1, the last day of their season, the focus of the team playing in Baltimore against the Orioles was not on what happened on the field. Wakefield won 200 games as a major leaguer. He pitched 3,006 innings for the Red Sox, more than anyone. He was one of their most beloved former players.
Wakefield was also honorary chairman of the Jimmy Fund, which supports the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. The sobering irony of his passing and his wife Stacy being left to battle her pancreatic cancer was lost on no one.
The emotions generated by Wakefield’s passing illustrate the meaning of Red Sox family. That atmosphere had been on display at Fenway Park the previous Thursday, the last home game of their season. It was truly festive. Arriving four hours before a game, you are struck by the amount of preparation going on for the party soon to take place.
You cannot help but note the hundreds of people of color working security, organizing the concession stands and cooking food for a crowd that frankly will mostly not look like them. The Red Sox team on the field, however, is diverse, a mixture of white, Black, Afro-Latino and Asian ballplayers and a similar staff of coaches and trainers led by a Puerto Rican manager, Alex Cora.
Only 12 of the 30 Major League Baseball teams make it to the postseason. The managers of the other 18 teams worry they may be fired. Not Cora.
With the Red Sox completely out of the post-season picture at the end of their final homestand, Cora took the unprecedented step of naming his opening day starter for the 2024 season, which begins March 28 in Seattle: Chris Sale.
That choice is symbolic in many ways. First of all, Cora is serving notice that he plans to be back next season. He is also giving Sale, who bounced back from an early injury to be an effective starting pitcher at the end of this season, a vote of confidence.
Cora is also saying to the fans that Sale is his ace around whom he can build a winning staff. The Red Sox manager has made it clear he believes he can guide the team to another World Series championship, as he did in 2018. He is determined to help the front office recruit the additional players he needs.
Doing so will be particularly challenging, since the Red Sox have yet to name a replacement for Head of Baseball Operations Chaim Bloom, who was fired in the middle of September. After Bloom’s departure, they continued to lose, going 9-19 over the last month of the season.
But when you are family, losing doesn’t matter. On the last night at home in September against Tampa Bay, the Sox were sporting a record of 76-81, but you never would have known it from the recorded attendance of 34,559. Fans were having a good ol’ time from start to finish of the 5-0 loss to the Rays.
The Red Sox struck out 16 times, according to the Banner’s official scorecard that night. At least one Boston daily, however, reported it as only 14. It didn’t seem to matter to the assembled, most of whom stayed until the last out. They were laughing and cheering all night, with one fan being shown on the giant centerfield jumbotron popping the question on bended knee with an engagement ring in hand.
In pure baseball terms, the Red Sox do stand an excellent chance of bouncing all the way back from consecutive 78-84 records. The Orioles went 101-61 in the 2023 regular season despite losing over 100 games a few years back. They did it this year, of course, with great pitching and hitting from their young position players.
In fact, that rebound is a source of encouragement for Cora. During his post- game interview following the final loss to Tampa, when asked by the Banner what his most pleasant surprise of the season was, Cora responded it had been the younger Sox players.
There were also older players who did not disappoint.
One of the older relief pitchers this year who became a bright light was 31-year-old journeyman Brennan Bernardino, a Valencia, California native. He is a probable Red Sox Unsung Hero awardee for 2023.
After breaking into the big leagues in 2014, Bernardino spent eight years in the minors and Mexico before being called up to the Seattle Mariners in 2022. He came to Boston this year. He told the Banner he is living the dream residing in East Boston, where he has enrolled his son in school.
The season may be over for the Red Sox, but there will be plenty of exciting October playoff baseball leading up to the World Series. The Atlanta Braves, owning the most wins at 104, will have the home field advantage throughout and have to be the favorite to go all the way, but Mookie Betts and the Dodgers are likely to give them a run for their money over in the National League.
If you want an American League favorite to win the World Series. try the Orioles, the sentimental favorite with the recent passing of Brooks Robinson. Dusty Baker and the Houston Astros will be the choice of many other fans.
The Hot Stove League will get through the winter. Before you know it, it will be Valentine’s Day and time for pitchers and catchers to report to their respective Grapefruit and Cactus League teams, and hope will spring eternal for everyone.