THE [@)!*] 2018 BOSTON RED SOX — THE GREATEST TEAM OF ALL-TIME???

They went 22–9 in Spring Training leading the Grapefruit League, compiling the best record in both circuits (Grapefruit and Cactus).

They finished the ’18 regular season with a mark of 108–54, setting a franchise record for wins, no small feat; the team began play as one of the American League’s original entries 117 years ago in 1901.

They roared through the 2018 Playoffs laying waste to a pair of 100-win teams in the AL (New York — 100; Houston 103) before decimating the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series 4–1.

(Sabermetrics/run differential or some such measure reclassified the 92-win Dodgers as a team worthy of 102 victories).

Their postseason waltz? 11–3.

They won 141 games in total. Aggregate? 141–66.

(141–66–1, according to Boston Globe scribe, Peter Abraham).

119–57 in games that counted while facing one of the most imposing and unforgiving dockets of playoff opponents ever.

The 2001 Seattle Mariners registered 120 wins before bowing out in that season’s ALCS.

The 1998 Yankees knocked out 125 victories on their way to the ’98 World Series title.

Just four teams — -those ’98 Yanks — 114; the 1909 Pirates — 110; the 1927 Yankees — 110; and the 1961 Yankees — 109 — -won more regular season games than this year’s Red Sox unit while also hoisting the Fall Classic hardware.

(And since 1969 when each league added a championship series, only the ’98 Yankees remain on this list).

Moreover, the best team in the regular season often doesn’t win it all, which further separates and exalts the achievements of the 2018 Sox, underscoring their greatness and securing their position in the most rarefied air.

Venerated.

Deified.

Immortalized.

It is unfathomable to imagine a more dominant wire-to-wire performance for any modern baseball team with all due respect to the Yankees.

The Red Sox crushed three very good clubs; no team in the last decade has won the World Series with so few playoff losses.

And in an interesting and ironic twist, it was their supporting cast and heretofore unreliable bullpen that not only actively contributed to — but daresay fueled — their meteoric march through October.

Brock Holt. Eduardo Nunez. Christian Vasquez. Steve Pearce. Nathan Eovaldi. Joe Kelly. Ryan Brasier. Matt Barnes.

These guys on the fringe of the “best ever” conversation?

Really?

How?

Because ‘you play to win the game,’ as then-Jets head coach Herm Edwards deduced and most emphatically verbalized.

And they stepped up when it mattered most.

The much-maligned bullpen?

With midas-touch rookie manager Alex Cora calling the shots, the relief corps posted a 2.71 ERA throughout the playoff run, including well-conceived starter appearances in relief.

And how about clutch hitting?

Two-strike and two-out damage was done by the Red Sox clinically and was vital to their postseason success.

What was predictable turned sustainable. The Red Sox had a better split-adjusted OPS (sOPS+) with two outs than any other 2018 team in baseball and they scored more runs with two outs than anyone else this season. Same result with two outs and runners in scoring position.

At one point in the postseason the Sox had scored 36 of their 68 runs with two outs — a whopping 52.9%. Contrast this to the Brewers figure of 41.9% of runs scored with 2 outs which led baseball in the ’18 regular season.

As for the two-strike success, it was all about the approach deeply rooted in their self-effacing team-first mentality.

Keep the line moving. Next man up. Grind out at-bats. Just get on base. Don’t give away outs. Or strikes. A three-run homer is better than a solo shot. Be patient. Two strikes does not have to guarantee a third. Wear ’em down.

[Sidebar: In the bottom of the seventh inning on May 12, 2004 in what the iconic Vin Scully described as “the finest at-bat I have ever seen,” Dodger Alex Cora worked the count to 2-and-1 against the Cubs’ Matt Clement. He never saw ball 3 in this plate appearance because Cora proceeded to foul off 14 pitches in a row, blasting a home run on the eighteenth pitch of the affair.

(It was one of the longest ABs in baseball lore, but not the longest. The modern record belongs to the Astros’ Ricky Gutierrez who stepped in against the ageless Bartolo Colon, then with the Indians on June 26,1998. After two swinging strikes he fouled off 14 of the next 18 pitches before Colon struck him out — swinging of course — on the 20th. offering of the at-bat).

For a little perspective, in 2014 Jake Odorizzi then of the Tampa Bay Rays led the Majors in average pitches per inning with 18].

Alex Cora, a native of Caguas, Puerto Rico, played college baseball at the University of Miami. He was a College World Series All-Tournament selection in both 1995 and 1996 and was rated by Baseball America as the best collegiate defensive player entering the 1996 draft.

Chosen by the Dodgers in the 3rd. round (88th. overall) he made his major league debut on June 7, 1988 and parlayed his versatility as a middle-infielder into a 14-year career in the bigs, wearing six different uniforms.

Cora’s .243 career BA with 35 HRs and 286 RBI reveal next to nothing about the man who made himself into a valuable member of every team for which he played, coached or managed.

His keen understanding of the game through analytics and gut — evident as a player — along with his uncanny ability to relate to people made him a great teammate and seamlessly segued to his extraordinary successes as a coach and manager.

(And general manager. Cora was the GM of Puerto Rico’s silver-medal-winning entry in the 2017 World Baseball Classic).

Self-effacing team-first mentality.

Before day one of Spring Training ’18 Cora deftly began to deliver this message in his own inimitable way. Cora was named the Red Sox manager on October 22, 2017 the day after the Astros, for whom he served as bench coach, eliminated the Yankees in the ALCS.

After Houston vanquished the Dodgers in a 7-game World Series he made it his business to meet personally with many of the Sox players scattered about. He laid the groundwork from the very beginning, methodically mining and cultivating the team concept. He was building a chemistry from square one which would catalyze and define the team, ultimately piloting and propelling it to heights never before reached.

May the debate rage forever.

The 1909 Pirates? 1927 Yankees? The 1961 Yankees? The 1998 Yankees? The 2018 Red Sox?

Others worthy of knocking on the door?

Suffice to say that the best regular-season team in years became the best playoff team in years and in so doing, anointed itself as one of the best teams in MLB history.

Period.

[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in November 2018.]

ADDENDA:

In January 2020 Red Sox manager Cora and the organization “mutually agreed to part ways” as a result of the sign-stealing scandal which rocked the sport and in which Cora was alleged to have taken part.

The 2020 Boston Red Sox open their Covid-shortened 60-game regular season tonight (July 24) at Fenway Park against the Baltimore Orioles.

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store