After dancing amidst champagne showers in Arizona's visiting clubhouse, the Dodgers jogged out to right field and Chase Field's pool. Adrian Gonzalez led the charge, and Nick Punto plunged into the water with a cannonball. "We're a veteran ballclub," Gonzalez said, on the occasion of Los Angeles returning to the postseason for the first time since 2009. "We understand it's not how you start, it's how you finish."
The Red Sox were restrained, saving the celebrations for the division title. Handshakes and hugs and a quiet, upbeat clubhouse preparing, too, for its first playoff appearance in four years. "We've still got some other goals ahead of us," John Lackey said. "Hopefully, here in the next night or two we can get a party going."
It's nothing short of incredible that, 390 days after one of the most star-driven, expensive, and controversial trades in baseball history, the two teams involved would be their leagues' first to clinch playoff spots. Sometimes, a deal works out for both sides.
The Dodgers' gratification was delayed. Gonzalez struggled and Beckett scuffed and Crawford rehabbed as a 2012 playoff berth slipped away, and even as late as the first day of summer, when L.A. was 30-42, manager Don Mattingly seemed a loss away from being fired. But a 45-10 run, over which the team led the majors in both batting average and ERA, and here we are.
The Red Sox's plan to return to competitiveness proceeded ahead of schedule. They picked up a pair of decent prospects in Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, but the real gain was the financial flexibility to rebuild the team in GM Ben Cherington's image. Boston was able to sign Shane Victorino, (a Dodger whose presence was made superfluous by the arrival of Crawford) Ryan Dempster, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, and Koji Uehara, productive players all. They were able to ink Dustin Pedroia—one of only five Red Sox still around from the 2009 playoff team—to a long-term extension. Perhaps most importantly of all, they were able to powerwash the clubhouse of the lingering psychic stenches of chicken, beer, and Bobby Valentine.
“It’s not fair to blame Adrian, Carl, and Josh, because it wasn’t their fault by any means,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “But we needed to make changes. It was a rough year for everybody and something had to be done.”
Think of it: a salary dump to address character issues, and both teams' chemistries improved. Has there ever been a trade this big that so immediately paid dividends for both sides?
Of the two, the Red Sox might be best equipped to go forward. Of the nine players they acquired this winter, only Victorino is signed for more than two years. And the Dodgers—perhaps unnecessarily—allowed the Red Sox to cover just $11 million of the $276 million they traded away. Future flexibility is on Boston's side; the Dodgers went over the luxury tax threshold, and penalties will only increase. But both teams will be playing into October, riding horses provided by the other, and that's just about the only practical outcome that matters.