The last Red Sox game of 2022 felt incredibly final for Xander Bogaerts
The last game of the 2022 Boston Red Sox season felt especially final.
Not just because it was a cold, rainy afternoon and sundown came much earlier than the time of year fans typically associate with baseball, and not because tears blended with the drizzle as fans, players, and media members watched a stunning tribute to Dennis Eckersley on the Fenway Park video boards.
It felt like the end of an era because Wednesday evening was the changing of the guard. The 2018 team is fading before our eyes; Nathan Eovaldi and JD Martinez are going to be free agents.
Xander Bogaerts could be too.
Bogaerts isn’t retiring and he isn’t reaching free agency via expired contract, but he could be leaving. The Sox have insulted him with an extension offer far beneath his worth, and now, he might opt out of the remaining three years on his contract and seek a more generous team; there will be many eager to pay a player of his caliber. For months, team brass has raved about the longtime shortstop, who’s played more games at the position than any other in franchise history and won four Silver Sluggers and two World Series. But they’ve also spent years lowballing and underappreciating their homegrown, proven stars while throwing bags of money at free agents who almost never live up to who the Sox already had and squandered.
So, it felt like goodbye when Alex Cora pulled Bogaerts from the game in the sixth and he slowly walked off the field, tipping his cap to the adoring, despondent, desperate crowd, many of whom only braved the damp chill to see him, just in case. In many ways, it wasn’t unlike Ted Williams’ final game: the cold weather, the low attendance, success at the plate. Williams famously homered in the final at-bat of his career; Bogaerts hit a mammoth grand slam in Tuesday night’s truncated contest and then went 2-for-3 on Wednesday.
Cora’s decision to pull him so that he could receive a standing ovation was a preemptive measure, the same ‘just in case’ mentality fans had that prompted them to pay to see a last-place losing team in a pointless game played through icy rain. The Sox did not do that for Mookie Betts in the last game of the 2019 season; on a sun-soaked day at the end of September, he scored the winning run on a walk-off hit by Rafael Devers and roared in triumph as he crossed the plate for what would turn out to be the last time.
A few months later, Betts was a Los Angeles Dodger.
So, it makes sense that Cora would make sure Bogaerts got his due, just in case. But it’s also a reminder that there is a strong possibility he won’t be here in 2023, and that in itself is unacceptable. There should never have even been an inkling of doubt, let alone the torment of the speculation that’s hung over the past year like a storm cloud.
I hope I’m wrong. I’d love to be wrong about this if it means he’s here next year, the year after, and every year until he decides to hang it up and move into coaching or managing, where he’d also likely excel. Chaim Bloom said Thursday morning that Bogaerts is the “number-one priority” and that they will re-open talks with him immediately. We’ll see.
Xander Bogaerts belongs here. More than almost any player in franchise history. Certainly more than anyone they might be eyeing on the open market this winter.
But it just felt like goodbye. I hate goodbyes.