2017 Boston Red Sox
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2017 Boston Red Sox / Franchise: Boston Red Sox / BR Team Page
Clinched Division: September 30, 2017, vs. Houston Astros
Managed by John Farrell
History, Comments, Contributions
The 2017 Boston Red Sox were for the first time since 2002 heading into a season without the familiar figure of DH David Ortiz in the middle of the line-up. "Big Papi" had retired following one final outstanding season resulting in a division title in 2016. To replace him, the Red Sox had moved 1B Hanley Ramirez to the DH spot and acquired Mitch Moreland in a trade with the Texas Rangers to play first. They also made two other major trades in the off-season, acquiring P Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox in return for a package of top prospects, and sending 3B Travis Shaw to the Milwaukee Brewers for set-up man Tyler Thornburg. That last move meant that they were counting on 3B Pablo Sandoval to return from an injury that had wiped out almost all of the previous season, after a very disappointing first season with the Sox in 2015. Injuries were the order of the day in April however, as P David Price started the year on the disabled list, and was soon joined by Thornburg and Sandoval. The Sox did manage to play above .500 ball in April (13-11) in spite of this, but the offense was finding it hard to replace Ortiz's lost production, while homers were few and far between.
The month of April was also marked by the beginning of a feud with the Baltimore Orioles. The whole ruckus started on April 21st, when 2B Dustin Pedroia was spiked on a hard slide by the Orioles' Manny Machado and had to miss a few games. On April 23rd, P Matt Barnes was ejected for throwing a pitch behind Machado and was handed a four-game suspension. When the teams met again at Fenway Park a week later, more incidents followed: on May 1st, Baltimore CF Adam Jones denounced racial slurs directed at him by spectators, prompting the Red Sox to apologize and take action by banning one of the offending patrons. But bad blood flowed again the next day when Sale threw a fastball at Machado, eliciting only a warning. Major League Baseball warned both teams to be on their best behavior before the game of May 3rd, but in the 2nd inning, Orioles P Kevin Gausman hit Xander Bogaerts with a pitch and was tossed, even if the pitch was a curveball. Umpire Sam Holbrook explained that "there needs to be an end to this stuff". For good measure, Jones was tossed out as well, in the 5th, but for arguing balls and strikes.
On May 25th, the Red Sox tied a major league record when five pitchers combined to record 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game, a 5-2 win over the Texas Rangers. Drew Pomeranz started things off with a personal-best 11 strikeouts in 6 innings; he was followed by relievers Heath Hembree and Matt Barnes who had two each, and Robby Scott who fanned the only batter he faced. In the 9th, Craig Kimbrel got four strikeouts, one of them coming when Nomar Mazara swung at a third strike that hit him on the back foot; umpire Chad Fairchild missed that last part and ruled a wild pitch and not a hit batsman, setting up the conditions for Kimbrel to notch the record-tying 20th punch out. Out of the six times this feat had been accomplished, it was the third time by the Red Sox: Roger Clemens had done it twice by himself, in 1986 and 1996, while Max Scherzer and Kerry Wood had also done so without any help; the only other combined effort had been accomplished by the 2012 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. That game coincided with the start of a fastuous period for the Sox, as they won 13 of 19 games from May 21st to June 10th. They were at .500 and 5 1/2 games back when the streak started, and three weeks later had improved to 7 games above .500, although they had only gained a game and a half on the first-place New York Yankees. That period saw the return of starting pitcher David Price, who had missed the start of the season with an injury and a very strong performance by Sale, who won all four of his starts during the stretch. Still struggling however was defending 2016 American League Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello, who was at 3-8, 4.46 and leading the lead in losses and hits allowed.
On June 18h, the Red Sox moved into a tie for first place with the Yankees, and after a few days of sharing the lead with them, began to build a cushion. It reached 4 1/2 games by July 7th and was at 3 1/2 games when they paused for the the All-Star Game. In the game, Sale and OF Mookie Betts were starters and Kimbrel also played. After that the Red Sox made some moves to consolidate their position by addressing the team's biggest problem, third base. They swallowed a bitter pill by releasing Sandoval and eating the remaining $49 million due on his contract in the process, then on July 23rd announced that top prospect Rafael Devers, fresh off starting in the 2017 Futures Game, was being called up to start at the position. This came on the heels of utility player Brock Holt returning to action after having been out of action since April. The Red Sox hedged their bets further when on July 25th, the day Devers made his big league debut, they traded for another 3B, Eduardo Nunez, acquired from the San Francisco Giants for a pair of pitching prospects. It was a crucial juncture, as the Yankees were back within one game of the lead and the Tampa Bay Rays were also knocking at the door. Nunez got off to a scorching hot start with the Red Sox, with 21 hits in his first 11 games, coinciding with an eight-game winning streak that gave the Red Sox some breathing room. Another player who was doing well in August was rookie LF Andrew Benintendi. He hit a pair of three-run homers to lead Boston to a 10-5 win over the Yankees on August 12th, their 9th win in their last 10 games. He was 15 for 31 with 4 homers and 5 steals since the start of the month, while the Red Sox's lead in first place was now up to 4 1/2 games.
On September 5th, the Red Sox were caught in an embarrassing situation when the New York Times revealed that their assistant trainer was capture on video stealing signs with the help of a smart watch and relaying them to some players during a series against the Yankees the previous month. Commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed that the matter was under investigation. The Sox's lead over the Yankees had shrunk to 2 1/2 games, although a win over the Blue Jays in 19 innings that night brought it back to 3 1/2. In that game, the Red Sox tied an American League record set only one day earlier by the Los Angeles Angels by using 12 pitchers. On September 15th, they "only" used nine pitchers in a 13-6 marathon win over the Rays (their opponents used 12) that took 6 hours and 5 minutes. The game was tied until Boston scored 7 runs in the top of the 15th. Their pitchers set another strikeout record that night, with 24: Chris Sale recorded 9 in 5 2/3 innings, and everyone of the men who succeeded him on the mound had at least one, with Craig Kimbrel striking out the side in the 9th. On September 19th, they defeated the Orioles, 1-0, in 11 innings to improve their record in extra innings to 15-3. That win total tied the club record set in 1943 and went a long way to explain why their magic number was down to 2 even though the Yankees had a better Pythagorean record. The domination in extra innings was largely the result of having a very deep bullpen: in the win over the Orioles, five relievers had kept the O's hitless over 4 1/3 innings, after another solid start by Drew Pomeranz. They clinched a playoff spot the next day with another shutout of the Orioles, this one 9-0 behind a 13-strikeout performance by sale that made him only the second pitcher in team history after Pedro Martinez to reach the 300-strikeout plateau.
Awards and Honors
- All-Stars: Mookie Betts, Craig Kimbrel and Chris Sale
- AL Gold Glove: Mookie Betts (RF)
- Mariano Rivera Award: Craig Kimbrel
- 2017 Topps All-Star Rookie Team: Andrew Benintendi (OF) and Rafael Devers (3B)
- Associated Press: "Red Sox win second straight AL East title, will face Astros in ALDS", ESPN.com, September 30, 2017
- Steve Gardner: "Red Sox players admit to tension in clubhouse last season", USA Today Sports. February 15, 2018. 
- Gabe Lacques: "As Chris Sale joins Porcello and Price, Red Sox know the odds are in their favor", USA Today Sports, February 14, 2017. 
- Bob Nightengale: "Red Sox sorely miss David Ortiz's bat, presence", USA Today Sports, April 30, 2017. 
- Jorge L. Ortiz: "Punchless Red Sox - last in the AL in home runs - are picture of mediocrity", USA Today Sports, May 22, 2017.