It's not hard to see that the postseason magnifies every little thing, including your mistakes. Sure, it glorifies your successes, but for every pitch that kinda sorta seems down the middle, you'll get a thousand exasperated sighs in response, and unless you're an all-time great, people will remember your mistakes, your missteps, and your blunders. To this end, baseball is not a fair game.
Speaking of blunders, here is a list of the most famous and classic of them:
1. Never get involved in a land war in Asia
2. Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line
3. Never take copious amounts of pitches if the pitcher is a renowned strike-thrower
From the start of Game 3, the Red Sox still seemed to be in the funk that plagued them in the last week of the season. Josh Tomlin's 4.17 DRA and 1.86 HR/9 aren't because he's ineffectively wild, but because he throws a lot of pitches in the zone, and hitters often capitalize. The Red Sox tried to wait out Tomlin, hoping he'd throw a mistake, but they found few. Their strategy was to take pitches to run Tomlin in five innings, but Tomlin was undeterred, throwing strike after strike after strike. Three of Tomlin's first four innings of scoreless baseball were clean and perfect, and that was enough for the Indians to gain a lead.
To Cleveland's credit, they kept the pressure on from the get-go. Clay Buchholz did not have an inning in which he faced fewer than four batters, and yet he still had the best start of any of Boston's pitchers in the ALDS, churning out four innings of two-run ball with four strikeouts and no homers. Tyler Naquin was the Clevelander responsible for those two scores, roping a two-run single into right field in the fourth. Once again, the bottom of the Cleveland lineup beat the Red Sox, and while it wasn't Perez or Lonnie Chisenhall this time, it felt like a dagger all the same. A two-run lead that early allowed Terry Francona to get up to four innings out of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, and after the carnage we saw from them in Game 1, it sure seemed like the Red Sox were done.
But you know how it is with the Red Sox. Hope springs eternal, keep the faith, etc. The most productive Killer B of the series, Andrew Benintendi, hit a Monster-scraping double to score Xander Bogaerts all the way from first. Sure, they would still be down by a run by the end of the inning, but they scored! Signs of life! Even with Miller warming up in the bullpen, it looked like the Red Sox would at least keep it close. The best offense in baseball surely wouldn't go down without a fight.
Then Coco Crisp came up in the sixth inning and reminded the Red Sox that this is not 2007 by taking a hanging Drew Pomeranz curveball and turning it into two-run homer. That would make it 4-1 in Cleveland's favor, and after a Dustin Pedroia leadoff single in the bottom of the sixth, Andrew Miller came out of that bullpen. Being comprised primarily of legs, fire, and wipeout sliders, he got Aaron Hill to strike out. He would not get Mookie Betts the same way. Betts hit a double and pushed Pedroia to third base, which is notable because a) it was off Andrew Miller, and b) Betts had been slugging .389 since the start of September. Then some left-handed batter named David Ortiz made contact on one of his pitches and sent it far enough to turn it into a sacrifice fly–4-2, and the game was on once again.
Miller stayed in for the seventh, and whatever lethargy that might've carried over from the previous inning was gone. Two groundouts, a walk, and a strikeout of the hapless Jackie Bradley Jr. later, the inning was over. After Koji Uehara threw a perfect eighth inning–potentially his last in professional baseball, much less in a Red Sox uniform–the offense was back out there. Miller hadn't been particularly sharp, and having thrown 35 pitches, Francona wouldn't run him out there again. Instead, he'd send out Bryan Shaw, giving the Red Sox one last gasp of air before burying them. Shaw is by no means a bad reliever, but he's a couple magnitudes worse than either Miller or Allen.
Pedroia struck out. Travis Shaw singled. The Red Sox were in business with Betts up, and he hit an absolute rocket on the ground down the third base line. Problem was that Jose Ramirez was there, and made a sensational stab, spun, and got Shaw out at second base. If that gets through, it's runners on second and third with one out. Betts did all he could on that one, using his incredibly fast hands to hit a baseball at 112 mph off the bat. It just wasn't in the right spot. Then Francona would bring Cody Allen in to face David Ortiz.
This is where you'd think Ortiz would crush one to the moon. He'd wait for one of Allen's signature curveballs to hang, give someone sitting behind the bullpens a souvenir, and lumber around the bases with his all-too-familiar intensely-focused look on his face. It would be yet another historic postseason moment. Instead, Allen pitched around the zone, and threw a quartet of pitches that weren't remotely close. Ortiz's last plate appearance in the majors was a four-pitch walk. Depending on how accepting you are, that's almost too perfect for a hitter as feared as him to finish on. A 40-year-old slugger, too good to be pitched to, in a moment nowhere near as big as he is.
Hanley Ramirez then hit a single so hard that if it had any elevation, it would've landed in Iceland. That scored Betts. Bogaerts would be up next, and then he'd hit a scorcher as well, but Jason Kipnis stood right in its path for the third out. Craig Kimbrel threw a perfect ninth, and the Red Sox had one more shot against a wild Allen. Even Bradley's first hit of the series couldn't stop Cleveland here. The Red Sox would threaten, but Travis Shaw flied out to right field to end it. Game over, series over, and for some, career over.
Cleveland was dominant throughout the entirety of the series, from Francona's managing to Corey Kluber's pitching. As dangerous as the Red Sox seemed, they played less like they did in their 11-game winning streak, and more like the listless, complacent team they were in the final week of the season, where they allowed Cleveland to seize home-field advantage on the final day. The slumps we saw from Bradley and Bogaerts persisted, as did Betts' power outage, and when they did make contact, bad luck compounded, and those baseballs always seemed to find a glove.
On the other side, Cleveland excelled at making contact–both weak and strong–and forcing plays with smart baserunning. As much as you want to scream "luck!", putting a ton of balls in play almost guarantees a few errors and a fair amount of runs. That's (Royals-brand) baseball for you, and it worked to perfection for Cleveland.
While Cleveland moves on to face Toronto in the ALCS, the Red Sox must close out a historic era. David Ortiz is gone, and it almost feels unfair to see him go out like this. He deserved more, and that says a lot for a man who had a bridge and a street named after him before he even retired. It was probably foolish to think he'd go out by hitting a ball 450 feet into the bleachers a la Ted Williams, but damn, if anyone deserved that kind of exit, it was Big Papi.
Baseball just isn't a fair game. Farewell, David Ortiz.