There were two parties at Yankee Stadium last night. One was on the field, where the Yankees celebrated their five-run ninth-inning comeback to beat Boston, capped by a walk-off grand slam from Mark Teixeira. The other one came in the visitors’ clubhouse, where by dint of the Orioles’ win over Toronto moments before Teixeira’s dinger, the Red Sox drank to becoming AL East champs.
Closer Craig Kimbrel struggled, throwing 28 pitches without recording an out: A single and three straight walks cut the lead to 3-1 with the winning run at the plate. But just before John Farrell came out to relieve Kimbrel, the Orioles closed things out, leading the Red Sox owners sitting in the front row in the Bronx to start the celebration. Joe Kelly came on and got two outs before serving up Teixiera’s homer, and then each team was off to begin its respective party.
“I wanted to celebrate on that field so bad,” a beer and champagne-soaked David Ortiz said, “but it is what it is. We’re going to celebrate anyway. I’m going to drown in this, man!”
It’s a worst-to-first division title for the Red Sox, and like any truly complete team, their roster construction was successful from multiple angles. Big free agent signing David Price has anchored the front of the rotation, while trade aquisition Kimbrel has solidified the endgame. Rick Porcello unexpectedly had an ace-caliber season, with a potential Cy Young award waiting, and Hanley Ramirez too has bounced back in his second go-around with Boston. The veterans have done it; David Ortiz has had one of the greatest final seasons in MLB history, and Dustin Pedroia put up his best numbers in half a decade. But the heart of the Red Sox, and the reason this team feels built to last, is the kids. Jackie Bradley Jr. is 26, Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Eduardo Rodriguez are 23, and Andrew Benintendi is 22.
“Looking ahead, we’ve got a lot of exciting young players who are just going to get better,” Pedroia said.
“Superstar in the making” isn’t quite the descriptor for Betts—he’s already there. A .320/.365/.538 slash for the young outfielder will probably be good enough for an MVP award, and his combination of power (31 HRs) and speed (26 SBs) is a rare thing that can only get better. Betts paced one hell of an offense: Boston scored 100 more runs than the AL’s second-best team, and their run differential is second in MLB only to the Cubs. In Betts, Ortiz, Ramirez, Bradley, and Bogaerts, the Red Sox have five 20-HR guys for the first time since 2003.
“I think we can definitely use this as a stepping stone. But this is step 1,” Betts said. “We’ve got to win a World Series and once we get there, everybody will know who the Red Sox are.”
Who are the Red Sox? A team that is going to mash the shit out of the ball, and has two sure playoff-caliber starters, each of whom is likely to take the mound at least twice in a series. There’s a reason Boston is solidly favored to represent the AL in the World Series. And to make life miserable for everyone else in their division for years to come.