By Jack Belanger ’21
After Boston Red Sox legend David Ortiz retired following the conclusion of the 2016 season, there was a lot of uncertainty as to who would fill his role as Boston’s power hitter, go-to guy in the postseason, and leader. With such a big hole to fill, there was plenty of reason to wonder how long it would take the team to return to the World Series. After all, in Ortiz’s last season, he had one of his best performances of his career and the team still fell to eventual American League champions, the Cleveland Indians, in the first round of the playoffs.
But who knew it would only take two years? Especially with how the 2017 season unfolded.
While the Red Sox still managed to win the American League East, the team lacked a true power hitter without Ortiz. Outfielder Mookie Betts finished second in the MVP voting in 2016, but suffered a down year in 2017. Veterans Dustin Pedroia and David Price were supposed to take over as the clubhouse leaders, but neither could stay on the field due to injuries.
In the postseason, the team bowed out after four games in the first round to the Houston Astros, losing the series three games to one. Outside of a 10-3 win in Game Three, the Sox struggled to score at any consistent rate. The team was lacking the voice that Ortiz brought in the dugout as well as his big bat in the lineup. It was clear general manager Dave Dombrowski had to make changes for the team to return to contention in 2018.
Newcomer J.D. Martinez proved to be the power-hitter Boston needed as he hit 43 homers during the season, and Betts played like he had back in 2016 to lead the offense in the regular season.
In past World Series runs, it was stars such as Ortiz and Manny Ramirez who would heat up come October; this year it was Jackie Bradley Jr. and under-the-radar, mid-season acquisition Steve Pearce who would prove to come up in key moments for the Sox. Bradley Jr. would lead the team with nine runs batted in to lead the team over the Astros and head to the World Series.
Pitcher Chris Sale became the rallying voice the Sox needed in Game Four of the World Series when the team was down 4-0. A moment reminiscent of 2013 when Ortiz voiced his displeasure with the team’s hitting in the World Series, Sale fired up his teammates and sure enough, the Sox were able to come back and win 9-6.
Somehow Pearce became one of the unlikeliest of heroes in Red Sox history after winning World Series MVP. The 35-year-old journeyman came up big for Boston in the final two games of the series. In Game Four, he had a home run and four RBI’s and in Game Five he hit two home runs to seal the series for the Red Sox.
The 2018 Red Sox will likely go down as one of (if not the) greatest teams in franchise history, and while the stars filled Ortiz’s shoes during the regular season, it was the role-players who came up big on the field during the postseason.