There’s a time-tested saying in the McCoy Stadium press box – the actual games might seem long, but the season always tends to fly by.
They’ll be some nights at the local Triple-A ballpark where the game passes the three-hour mark even when it’s not a slugfest. Before you know it, Labor Day is upon us, a reminder that another season is ready to be added to the franchise annals.
The Pawtucket Red Sox applied the finishing touches to the 2018 season this past Monday afternoon. Seems like only yesterday that the curtain was set to be raised on a 140-game slate when in actuality the season opener scheduled for April 6 was postponed due to snow.
The 46th season for the PawSox as the Class AAA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox featured plenty of headlines on the field and away from the diamond. With a final record of 66-73, Pawtucket missed out on the Governors’ Cup playoffs for the fourth straight year.
“We’re disappointed we didn’t go into the playoffs. That’s a goal of ours every year,” said manager Kevin Boles.
As always, Boles elected to take a big-picture view. Sitting at the desk in his office, Boles raised his finger and pointed upward. It was code for Boston’s successful season to date and how so many players who at one time or another plied their trade under Boles’ watch have played key roles in the Red Sox owning the distinction as the possessors of the game’s top record heading into September.
“They’ve got a special thing going on up there,” Boles said. “Hopefully it’ll continue, but I’m very proud of how our guys played. It was an honor to be their manager.”
Below is a list of five items designed to put a bow on the recently-completed PawSox season:
1). Hit king
As long as Rusney Castillo remains in the Red Sox organization, the outfielder’s mammoth contract will keep him grounded as far as consideration for Boston’s 40-man roster. Castillo’s seven-year deal that’s worth $72.5 million doesn’t expire until after the 2020 season.
In the interim, Castillo has been a valuable performer for the PawSox, particularly over the past two seasons. In 2018, he became the first Pawtucket player to capture the International League batting title since Wade Boggs in 1981. Castillo’s .319 batting average was eight points better than the runner-up (Lehigh Valley’s Joey Meneses).
A two-time International League in-season and postseason All-Star, Castillo finished this season with 151 hits in 117 games. Shin splits kept Castillo out of the lineup for the final four games, yet his accomplishments were already safely secured.
“He still wanted to play. He wanted to be in the lineup,” Boles said. “For him to win the batting title … he turned in a great body of work. He had a great year and he earned it.”
2). Landing on the radar
Ryan Brasier was home when the Red Sox opened spring training in February. Now, the 30-year-old has emerged as one of the more vital cogs in Boston’s bullpen.
It was the body of work that Brasier turned in while with the PawSox that helped set the stage for an MLB call-up on the same July day he was scheduled to fly out to Columbus, Ohio, site of the Triple-A All-Star Game. When the season began, Brasier seemed an afterthought in a Pawtucket bullpen that was bursting at the seams with 40-man roster candidates.
Very quietly, Brasier climbed the ladder and emerged as a premier ninth-inning stopper. When he left Pawtucket for what turned out to be for good, he had 13 saves in 14 chances.
If you’re looking for a feel-good story about a player who seemingly came out of nowhere, Brasier is the pick, hands-down.
“I just don’t think we realized how good he was, but early in the year, we were able to use him in different situations,” Boles said about Brasier. “You see the swing-and-miss capability and the life to the fastball and how the slider developed … there was a belief in himself. The work that he did while with us was impressive.”
3). Rehabbers galore
When the PawSox played their 139th and final game of the season on Labor Day, it included a Red Sox player who was sent out to Pawtucket on a rehab assignment. Rafael Devers, the promising 21-year-old third baseman, was one of 11 different Red Sox players who wound up rehabbing in Triple-A.
It was impressive list that included a former Rookie of the Year and MVP (Dustin Pedroia), two selectees to the 2016 MLB All-Star Game (Steven Wright, Drew Pomeranz), and a 2013 World Series contributor (Xander Bogaerts). Also appearing were pitchers Bobby Poyner, Tyler Thornburg, Austin Maddox, and Hector Velazquez, along with catcher Christian Vazquez, and INF/OF Brock Holt.
Some of the Red Sox rehabbers took care of their temporary PawSox teammates with lavish postgame spreads. In May, Pedroia sprung for a meal from the Capital Grille that featured steak, lobster macaroni & cheese, Cesar salad, green beans, and potatoes.
4). Helping out big brother
The PawSox used 59 different players this season (29 position players & 30 pitchers). Of those 59, 13 received call-ups to Boston. Veteran second baseman Brandon Phillips earned the distinction as “Lucky 13″; the 37-year-old joined Pawtucket in July and remained with the ballclub despite having two-opt dates he could have triggered in August.
“I achieved my goal of getting back up there,” said Phillips, a 16-year MLB veteran.
Besides Phillips, those also taking a ride on the Pawtucket-to-Boston shuttle were pitchers Bobby Poyner, Jalen Beeks, Marcus Walden, Robby Scott, William Cuevas, Brandon Workman, and Justin Haley, along with 1B/OF Sam Travis, INF Tony Renda, INF/OF Tzu-Wei Lin, and catcher Dan Butler.
5). Limited time left
After several years of trying to land a stadium deal that would keep the team in Rhode Island and ensure the next generation the chance to see future wave of Red Sox talent pass through, the PawSox on August 17 signed a letter of intent to build a ballpark in Worcester. The team is scheduled to begin playing games in New England’s second-largest city in 2021. The deal means that after the 2020 season, an important part of Rhode Island’s landscape will cease to exist.
“A lot of mixed emotions as far as what happened with Pawtucket and Worcester this year,” Boles said.
Beginning with the 2019 season and continuing through the final out of the final home game of the 2020 season, fans will have 140 chances to catch the PawSox at McCoy Stadium. In other words, catch ’em while you can.