BOSTON (AP) — Even a walk-off victory on the final day of the season was tinged with disappointment for these Boston Red Sox.
Eduardo Rodriguez missed out on a 20-win season when Boston’s bullpen blew a late lead, but the Red Sox overcame a soaring home run robbery by Stevie Wilkerson to beat the Baltimore Orioles 5-4 Sunday in the regular season finale on Mookie Betts’ ninth-inning dash home.
Betts scored from first on a single by Rafael Devers with no outs. Devers’ hit caromed off shortstop Richie Martin’s glove, causing Wilkerson to hesitate in right. Betts beat a late throw by Wilkerson to give his team a celebratory cap to a frustrating season.
“I think everybody was kind of ready to go. So I just decided to go home,” Betts said.
Wilkerson made a late entry for catch of the year in the eighth. He chased Jackie Bradley Jr.’s fly ball to the edge of the visitors’ bullpen, leaped over the short wall and pulled back Bradley’s would-be homer while nearly tumbling into the seats.
“I knew if I had the space to get to it, I’d have a chance to get it,” Wilkerson said. “I had a good bead on it and just jumped up and grabbed.”
Brandon Workman (10-1) pitched one inning and struck out three to pick up the victory. Dillion Tate (0-2) got the loss for Baltimore (54-108), which was denied its first sweep of the season.
Rodriguez pitched seven innings and was pulled with Boston leading 4-3, putting him in line for a career-high 20th win. But then Baltimore’s Hanser Alberto reached on an error by shortstop Xander Bogaerts leading off the eighth and scored the tying run when Jonathan Villar singled off Matt Barnes.
“That’s something I can’t control as a pitcher,” Rodriguez said. “I can just go out there and get three outs every time I go to the mound.”
Boston finished 84-78 a year after winning a franchise-record 108 games during the regular season. The Orioles made a six-game improvement from 2018.
The Red Sox are the 10th team since 2000 to win the World Series and not qualify for the postseason the following year.
“It was rough. A lot of ups and downs. We never really got hot,” Betts said. “When that happens, this happens.”
One last walk-off for 2019. pic.twitter.com/bfh4zAWF5x
— Red Sox (@RedSox) September 30, 2019
While this season is something for the Orioles to build on, the Red Sox trudge into an offseason that promises to bring several changes.
There will be a new leader in baseball operations following the firing of Dave Dombrowski. All-Star slugger J.D. Martinez must decide whether to exercise a player option. Starter Rick Porcello is a free agent. The person hired will have to deal with a payroll crunch that includes finding room for raises for Betts from $20 million and Jackie Bradley Jr. from $8.55 million. Both are eligible for free agency after the 2020 World Series.
“I had memories here and good times here,” Martinez said. “But it’s the business side of it and I always let (agent) Scott (Boras) handle that. But obviously it would be nice to be back.”
Controlling owner John Henry has also vowed to cut back after having baseball’s highest payroll for two straight seasons. Boston is on track to pay a $13 million luxury tax this year on a payroll of $243 million.
Manager Alex Cora, who ownership said will return for a third season no matter who replaces Dombrowksi, said identifying what went wrong in 2019 isn’t hard to put his finger on.
Cora said inconsistent pitching and an eight-day stretch from July 28 through Aug. 4 that saw Boston lose eight straight games — five to the Yankees and three to the Rays — will gnaw at him.
Boston was eight games out of first place in the AL East before that stretch and 14 1/2 out by the end of it.
The Red Sox hit more home runs and scored more runs than in 2018, but poor baserunning and injuries on the pitching staff doomed the club in close games.
On the mound, starters Chris Sale and David Price made only 25 and 22 starts, respectively, as Sale battled elbow issues and Price dealt with elbow and wrist problems.
Firming up the starting rotation and bullpen are areas that ownership has also said will be addressed this offseason.
Cora has been criticized for the message he gave to his team during spring training that this season was about continuing the system that propelled them to win the title.
“I was wrong saying continuation? Well maybe the other guys that said ‘turn the page’ and ‘this is a new season’ for 20 years have been wrong too,” Cora said.
Red Sox analyst Dennis Eckersley told reporters that Boston’s eight-time Gold Glove Award-winning right fielder Dwight Evans texted him during the game to say Wilkerson’s robbery was the best catch ever by a right fielder at Fenway Park.
SPEECHLESS ? pic.twitter.com/7xtO44Mntd
— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) September 29, 2019
An announced crowd of 35,427 was on hand for Sunday’s finale at Fenway Park. The Red Sox averaged 35,748 (2,895,575 total) in 2018. It decreased to an average of 35,518 (2,805,919) in 2019, but that was in 79 games because of two games in London against the Yankees.
Red Sox: Cora said Sale (left elbow inflammation) will head to their spring training facility in Ft. Myers, Florida, in the next few days to begin his rehabilitation program.
Orioles: Opening Day for next season is set for March 26 against the Yankees.
Red Sox: Begin 2020 regular season March 26 at Toronto, with home opener set for April 2 against the White Sox.