(For the final month of the regular season, ‘Closing Time’ will be called ‘Why you should have cared,’ looking beyond the final score ‘ at a time when losses are arguably more valuable to the Sox than wins (for draft and waiver position) ‘ for either meaningful signs for 2015 or simple aesthetic considerations.)
David Ortiz keeps adding to his resume as one of the greatest Red Sox hitters ever. (Getty Images)
BALTIMORE — Reality check: The Red Sox offense has been little better than atrocious this year. The team entered Friday with the fewest runs (583) and runs per game (3.81) of any club in the American League. And so, when a player proves capable of delivering run production within that group, it commands notice.
In an otherwise forgettable year, David Ortiz has commanded plenty of notice. The slugger continued to do just that in the Sox’ 5-3, 10-inning victory over the Orioles on Friday night, slamming a pair of homers — his 34th and 35th of the year — and driving in three runs — his 100th, 101st and 102nd of 2014 — to further distinguish his place in Red Sox history.
He now has eight 30/100 seasons with the Red Sox, breaking a tie with Ted Williams for the most such years in franchise history. He is the sixth player ever to produce a 30/100 season at the age of 38 or later (joining Frank Thomas, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Fred McGriff and Babe Ruth) His 34 homers are his most since hitting 35 in 2007. He is in the top five in the American League in both homers and RBIs.
On a team that has had a shortage of even average performances to buttress him, Ortiz has remained elite.
OTHER REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD HAVE CARED ABOUT FRIDAY’S GAME
Mookie Betts, in his first exposure to the big leagues, has proven capable of delivering excitement. Friday night at Camden Yards offered a glimpse of what increasingly looks like a player with game-changing offensive abilities.
Against a pitcher considered one of the top young talents in the game in Orioles starter Kevin Gausman, Betts had three tremendous at-bats in an eventual 2-for-5 game. He drilled a 2-1 fastball for a long flyout to the warning track, about 400 feet from home plate, to open the game, spit on a pair of sliders before smoking a 95 mph 2-0 fastball up the middle for a single in the third and then navigated an 11-pitch at-bat that included six two-strike foul balls (three on splitters, three on fastballs) before ripping a liner up the middle for a single.
But what he did after reaching first in that second single was what truly commanded notice. When David Ortiz lined an 0-2 pitch off the warning track in right, Betts never hesitated. While Ortiz could advance no further than first given the proximity of the right field scoreboard in right at Camden Yards, Betts pushed the envelope with two outs and, though beaten to the plate by the relay throw, kicked the ball out of the glove of catcher Caleb Joseph for a run scored from first.
While most of the Red Sox look like they are running on fumes, Betts is showing another gear. In 31 games since the Red Sox recalled him in mid-August to be an everyday player, he is now hitting .302 with a .391 OBP and .448 slugging mark.
His ability to see a lot of pitches, work counts and impact the game while on the bases suggests that, while the Sox remain in a period of evaluation with Rusney Castillo, they already quite clearly possess a player with top-of-the-order skills. Barring a trade, the Sox will not enter 2015 with the same riddle at the top of their lineup that they encountered in 2014.
– Though he was facing a skeletal Orioles lineup that was without most of its regulars, Allen Webster made his third straight solid start, permitting one run on seven hits (five singles, two doubles) in 5 2/3 innings. He walked just one — the second straight outing in which he issued but one free pass — and struck out three. Over his last three starts, Webster now has a 3.18 ERA with four walks and 10 strikeouts in 17 innings.
– Rusney Castillo offered a bit of a defensive showcase, getting good breaks on a pair of liners in the bottom of the first inning (making one catch on the run and another with a sliding catch just off the ground) and also recorded his first big league assist by throwing out Alejandro De Aza, attempting to score from second on a single, with a one-hop seed to the plate.
– The promising defensive glimpses from Castillo stood in contrast to the performances by other members of the Sox. Daniel Nava failed to haul in a long fly ball to right center, which clanged off his glove for a run-scoring triple. Xander Bogaerts made a bad throw to first on a routine grounder that permitted the tying run to score. Garin Cecchini once again sailed a throw to first (though Allen Craig managed to extend just far enough to bring it in for the out). Craig struggled to hold the bag with his foot.
The struggles of Cecchini and Bogaerts on what should have been routine plays are particularly noteworthy. Bogaerts has been considerably better in recent weeks at shortstop than he was just after shifting back to the position, but still, the long-term possibility of pairing the two of them on the left side of the infield will require considerable defensive improvement from at least one.