BOSTON (CBS) — Today, as another summer fully fades and another autumn earnestly begins, we step off the mound or out of the batter’s box and take a moment to reflect, to collect ourselves, to give the 2016 Boston Red Sox a most sincere appreciation in the most traditional way: with a subtle, grateful and honest tip of the cap.
Because the 2016 Red Sox did not have the American League East Division championship given to them, nor did they win it by mistake.
They won the division in the most impressive fashion.
Which is to say they blistered the competition down the stretch.
We tip our cap to Red Sox manager John Farrell, who overcame cancer and endless speculation about his job to plod on, always going forward, whether you loved him or hated him during a season in which the Red Sox more than once looked as if they were on the verge of collapse.
Because whether you believe that Farrell is a good game manager or a bad one, whether you believe he is too soft on his players or just simply supportive, you must agree that he is absolutely, indisputably a survivor.
And that every team, at least in part, takes on the personality of its manager.
We tip our cap to veteran baseball man Dave Dombrowski, now slightly more than a full year old in his Red Sox life, for leaving no stone unturned in his quest to bring the Red Sox back to where they are now, from David Price to Craig Kimbrel to Carson Smith, Chris Young, Brad Ziegler, Drew Pomeranz, Fernando Abad and beyond, because Dombrowski kept adding and adding and adding to a Red Sox team that we sometimes wondered whether was worth adding to at all.
And because the arrival of Dombrowski, as much as anyone, helped usher in what now feels like a new era in Red Sox history.
We tip our cap to Rick Porcello for being the de facto Sox ace and for bringing attitude and swagger back to the mound at Fenway Park, where it has too often been absent, because we know the Red Sox of recent years lacked mound presence as much as anything else.
And we tip our cap to David Price for living up to his contract in the second half.
And to Eduardo Rodriguez for beginning to fulfill his potential.
And to Clay Buchholz for simultaneously having one of the worst seasons of his career and one of the best, because Buchholz has not always handled adversity well during his major league career, and because Buchholz this year kept trying to move forward, even when he was sliding backwards or sideways, and because he easily could have quit or been quit on.
And because we all know that adversity builds character.
We tip our cap to Steven Wright for keeping the Red Sox on the beam when everyone else was falling off, early in the year, because in a 162-game game baseball season, always, there will come a time when someone has to minimize the damage.
And because Wright was that guy, this year, that time.
And we tip our cap, too, to Drew Pomeranz, whose acquisition was controversial in more ways than one, because good, big-market teams like the Red Sox are supposed to add not subtract, because the Red Sox have recently been sellers rather than buyers, and because his arrival was the clearest indication that the Red Sox, as former general manager Dan Duquette once put it, are back in business.
We tip our cap to Craig Kimbrel, Joe Kelly and Matt Barnes for continuing to throw the ball at ungodly velocities, even if they didn’t always know where it was going, because power pitching often wins, especially in October, and because that is where the Red Sox are headed.
And we tip our cap to Robbie Ross for becoming the hard-throwing lefty reliever that every team covets, whether he is Andrew Miller or not, because Ross has allowed just three extra-base hits – and no home runs – to lefties all year.
And in that same breath, we tip our cap to Koji Uehara for continuing to get people out, throwing 86 miles per hour, and to Brad Ziegler and now Robby Scott for doing the same, and for reminding us that there is a reason we call it pitching.
And not throwing.
We tip our cap to Junichi Tazawa for trying to keep himself in the conversation despite an insane workload over the last four years, often for bad teams, because Tazawa may have wasted the best years of his career firing bullets in vain.
And so we tip our caps, too, to Carson Smith, Henry Owens, Tommy Layne, Roenis Elias, William Cuevas, Carson Smith, Pat Light and even Ryan LaMarre because entering this week the 2016 Red Sox had thrown precisely 22,682 pitches, and because as anyone will tell you, well, there are just a certain amount of those that must be thrown in futility, and because every pitch thrown by one man is a pitch that does not need to be thrown by someone else.
Because, even in a world of increasing instant gratification, baseball is still a marathon and not a sprint and because, as we all know, pitching is a war of attrition.
In that same vein, we tip our caps, too, to Brock Holt, Aaron Hill, Christian Vazquez, Ryan Hanigan, Blake Swihart, Bryce Brentz, Josh Rutledge, Marco Hernandez, Bryan Holaday, Yoan Moncada, Deven Marrero, Rusney Castillo, Michael Martinez and some guy named Mike Miller because nobody plays 162 games anymore and because every inning they played was an inning where someone else got to rest.
And because in baseball, again, that matters.
We even give thanks to Pablo Sandoval because, well, every team needs fat to trim because the season is just too darned long to endure without something substantial in reserve.
We tip our cap to Sandy Leon for giving the Red Sox a catcher when they desperately needed one.
And to Travis Shaw for fighting to win a job, then fighting to keep it.
And because, when you get right down to it, this entire Red Sox season has been about fighting to regain respect.
We tip our caps to Chris Young and Andrew Benintendi for forming a platoon in left field that ranks No. 4 in the AL in OPS and that exemplifies what the Red Sox are about, an older guy and a younger guy, working together, doing their parts.
And to Benintendi, especially, for that swing and that hair.
That glorious, wavy, flowing and young McCartney hair.
We tip our cap to Xander Bogaerts through a good half and a bad, because any manager in baseball will tell there is value in the guy who plays every day, because at least 50 percent of success in baseball is just showing up and going to the post, and because Bogaerts leads the Red Sox in games played.
We tip our cap to Jackie Bradley for becoming the best all-around center fielder in the American League this side of Mike Trout, because were it not for the otherworldly Trout, Bradley might very well be the AL winner at his position for both the Gold Glove and the Silver Slugger.
And because there just aren’t many players who can do that.
We tip our cap to Mookie Betts for being the most dynamic young talent the Red Sox have had in years, maybe since Nomar Garciaparra, maybe even further back than that, because it’s hard to think a Red Sox player who could hit, run and play defense the way Betts does without going back to … whom?
Because Betts is that gifted.
And that unique.
We tip our cap to Hanley Ramirez for proving us all wrong, for making us look like the donkeys this time, for playing representative defense and for absolutely pulverizing the baseball during an awe-inspiring second half, because Ramirez is a potential game-changing talent and always has been.
Mostly, we tip our hat to Hanley for caring.
We tip our cap to Dustin Pedroia, as always, for being the consummate competitor, for being someone who always gets the most out his abilities, because in the span of about 24 hours over the weekend, Pedroia helped win a game with his defense and smarts, his bat and his grit, his base running and his guile.
And because that is exactly who Pedroia is and has been over 10 full major league seasons.
And we tip our cap, finally and forcefully, to David Ortiz for doing what no 40-year-old logically has the right to do, for proving that good leadership does not always have to come with an iron fist, for gleefully welcoming and greeting young men like Benintendi at the top step of the dugout as if they were his own, for a career filled with clutch hits and big moments and for taking the Red Sox back to the place where he and they belong.
For leading us all back to October.
And for the chance, maybe, at one or two memories more.