Why You Should Have Cared About Red Sox' Season Finale: A farewell, and a new beginning

September 28, 2014 - 12:53 pm

For most in attendance, including those on the field, the reason to care about the 162nd game of a very, very long season boiled down to this: Beyond the final at-bat of the magnificent career of Derek Jeter, however, there were other important final notes to the season in the Sox' 9-5 loss to the Yankees that dropped the curtain on a 71-91 last-place campaign. Among them: -- Aside from the four-run third inning that included the last hit of Jeter's career (an infield chopper to third), Clay Buchholz pitched adequately through six innings, allowing five hits and walking one while punching out four. But his season ends with a cover-your-eyes 5.34 ERA. Among the 395 pitchers in Red Sox history who have had enough innings in a season to qualify for an ERA title, Buchholz's mark ranks 388th. The Sox saw enough down the stretch, and they have enough holes ahead of him in the rotation, that a combination of belief and necessity will dictate that they rely on Buchholz to be a solid No. 3 or No. 4 starter for them next year. Perhaps with the benefit of a fully healthy offseason, he will be able to claim such a role. And it's worth noting that he's responded to adversity at other points in his career, including recovering from a horrific rookie year (6.75 ERA) in 2008 to become a rotation staple by the second half of the following year. Still, there's a considerable amount of uncertainty about who he is going forward. -- Left-hander Craig Breslow, whose season seemingly represented a case study in the toll of the workload to win a 2013 title, allowed five runs on five hits in what could have been his final appearance with the Sox. The Sox hold a 2015 option for $4 million on his services, but given his struggles this year (5.96 ERA, .319 opponents' batting average), it seems unlikely that the team would pick it up. That should not diminish the essential role he played in winning a championship, serving as the primary setup man for Koji Uehara in a 2013 season when he served as arguably the only reliable bridge to the Sox closer. -- David Ross likewise appeared in what may have been his final game for the Sox, going 0-for-2. He hit .184 with a .628 OPS this year, after a 2013 season that saw him emerge as the Sox' postseason anchor behind the plate. His two-year, $6.2 million deal has reached its conclusion, and the Sox appear to seek a more natural complement for Christian Vazquez than Ross, who hits right-handed (like Vazquez) and who has struggled to deliver consistently reliable offense. -- Burke Badenhop made his career-high 70th appearance of the year, pitching a scoreless inning that included a strikeout. His 2.29 ERA was the best by any member of the Sox with at least 30 innings. He's a free agent. Manager John Farrell has said that the team would like to retain him, and Badenhop has said he'd like to be back. -- Mookie Betts punctuated an extremely impressive rookie run, going 2-for-4 with a double and stealing a base. The steal was his seventh of the year in the majors and his 40th overall between Double-A, Triple-A and the big leagues. He was one of two players in all of professional baseball this year (joining Chad Hinshaw) with at least 15 homers (Betts had 16 across three levels) and 40 steals this year. The Sox now view him as virtually untouchable, a top-of-the-order hitter with dynamism matched by few in the game. -- Rusney Castillo reached base two more times, going 1-for-3 with a single and getting hit by a pitch. He hit .333 with a .928 OPS in his first exposure to the big leagues. The combination of his multi-faceted skill set with that of Betts offers the potential to transform a Red Sox lineup that lacked dynamism or positive results in 2014. -- Catcher Dan Butler drove in a pair of runs with a bases-loaded double, the first RBIs of his career. (A third run scored on the play on an error.)