While various commentators and analysts parse every significant play down to its tiniest detail, the guy who knows more about what happened than anyone else tells us nothing. I find it mesmerizing, almost entertaining as the game itself.
On the last Sunday in September, I was visiting with my sister and brother-in-law on Cape Cod while I recovered from minor surgery (although, to be honest, I subscribe to the theory that it's never minor when someone gets sliced open, then sewn back up, especially when that someone they're slicing and sewing is me). In any case, I'm fine, but I was in Osterville for the weekend. I'm a baseball guy and my brother-in-law, another Dick, leans toward football. The Patriots and the Red Sox were both on TV, but there was no immediate choice to be made, the Pats' game started at 1:00 and the Sox didn't begin until 3:05.
In the early stages of the football game, it looked like another runaway for New England, as they got off to an early 13-0 lead, but the Patriots' offense stalled and the Buffalo Bills started mounting a comeback. By the time the Sox game was starting, the Bills and Pats were in the midst of a tension-filled battle, and there was no question that we were going to stick with the football game over the early innings of a meaningless baseball contest.
When the football game ended with the Pats winning by a closer-than-expected 16-10 score, we switched the channel, but not to the Sox game. We tuned into Patriots' Fifth Quarter, which features post game analysis and interviews with key personnel. I had no objection because I am hooked on Patriots' Fifth Quarter, not for the information we get, but for that we don't get. Coach Bill Belichick approaches post-game media appearances looking like he'd rather have a tooth pulled than go through another one. He manfully stands before the cameras and imparts as little information as possible. While various commentators and analysts parse every significant play down to its tiniest detail, the guy who knows more about what happened than anyone else tells us nothing. I find it mesmerizing, almost entertaining as the game itself.
Tom Brady, who had not had a good day, particularly by his lofty standards, followed Belichick to the microphone. He had completed only 18 of 39 passes for just 150 yards, earning him the poorest quarterback rating he'd scored in 13 years. Nobody asked him the question that was on everyone's mind but that no one wanted to think about: Could it be an omen that his long-running greatness might finally be running out of steam?
When we finally flipped onto NESN and the Sox-Orioles, it was late in the game and thus in the season, which was ending that day for both teams, as neither qualified for the playoffs. But it was not too late to witness the best defensive and offensive plays of the entire year.
In the bottom of the eighth, with one man on, two out, and the score tied at 4-4, Jackie Bradley, Jr. unleashed a long drive to right field that seemed ticketed for the visiting bullpen. But Stevie Wilkerson, playing right for the Orioles, raced back to the bullpen wall, leaped high, and snagged the ball in the webbing of his glove as his momentum carried him over the edge of the bullpen and into Section One of the grandstand, where it looked like he might suffer a dangerous fall. Somehow, though, he swung his right leg over, his foot landing atop the short retaining wall in front of the stands. He was able to right himself and hop back onto the field, the ball still safely in his glove. It was the catch of the year, no doubt. In fact, Dwight Evans, who knows about such things and has eight Gold Gloves to prove it, texted within minutes that it was the greatest catch he had ever seen.
Wilkerson, a utility player for a team that would lose as many games (108) in 2019 as the Red Sox won in their record setting year of 2018, had shown the competitive instinct to pull off the most spectacular defensive play of the year in an otherwise meaningless final game of the season. But the season was not yet over.
In the bottom of the ninth, score still tied, Mookie Betts led off with a base on balls. Then, Rafael Devers hit a ground ball to the right of second base that ticked off the glove of shortstop Richie Martin and on into short right field. Mookie rounded second and headed for third. And that's when it got interesting. Right fielder Wilkerson, the same guy who had saved the game just an inning before, jogged in to retrieve the ball and casually lobbed it back to the infield. No need to expend extra energy, after all, the play was over. Wasn't it? No, it wasn't.
When Betts got to third and looked back to see Wilkerson's lackadaisical lob, he took off for home, easily beating the relay throw with a headfirst slide. He had scored all the way from first base on a routine groundball single to short right field.
Thus ended the otherwise disappointing 2019 Red Sox baseball season, with Mookie Betts behind home plate, pounding his chest and roaring in jubilation as the ecstatic Fenway faithful roared back at him.
Is this our last memory of Mookie in a Red Sox uniform? Trade rumors are swirling around him as the Sox face an uncertain future beset with luxury tax and contractual problems. In any case, it's a play that anyone who witnessed will never forget.
And what of Stevie Wilkerson who had saved the game for the Orioles in the eighth inning and then cost them the game in the ninth by taking Mookie Betts for granted? Of this we can be sure, he'll never take Mookie for granted again. And neither will we.
September 29 was a lovely day, perfect for an outdoor activity; but, as my brother-in-law and I both agree, it was an even better day to be parked in front of a television screen.
- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox “Poet Laureate” and The Pilot’s recently minted Sports’ columnist.
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