The Red Sox and Yankees have swapped places in the standings because of a rental, and on Wednesday night, Anthony Rizzo gave his former team an up-close-and-personal look at why he has meant so much to his new one.
The Red Sox could've acquired Rizzo at the July 30 MLB trade deadline, but not only did they watch him go to New York for a pair of good-but-not-great prospects, they decided not to upgrade first base at all. They have paid the price for that decision ever since, most acutely as the Yankees completed their three-game sweep in the Bronx.
The respective performances of Rizzo and Red Sox first baseman Bobby Dalbec provided what English majors would call a juxtaposition. On one side, Rizzo didn't just chop the game-breaking two-run single down the first base line, he hit it off of Dalbec's glove on a play that absolutely needed to be made.
On the other side, Rizzo converted two stellar defensive plays in the ninth inning to keep the Red Sox at bay, including an expert snag of an in-between hop to erase Kevin Plawecki on a bang-bang play to end the game and send the Red Sox back to Boston a full game behind the Bombers in the standings.
They say that sometimes the best trades are the ones you didn't make, but in this case the aphorism does not apply. Passing on Rizzo may be the reason the Red Sox miss the playoffs and spend the winter wondering just how long their overachieving run might've lasted if they had just brought their former draft pick home from the Chicago Cubs.
Sound like hyperbole? It's not. All Rizzo has done since arriving in New York is hit .278 with three homers and eight RBIs. Thanks to a bout with COVID, he has only appeared in 10 games, but the Yankees have won nine of them.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, continue to struggle with the ripples caused by Dalbec's struggles. Red Sox first basemen began the night with the fifth-worst OPS in baseball (.683), which still placed them 25 points ahead of the Yankees. The difference, of course, is that New York recognized how little it had been getting from Luke Voit and Co. and decided to do something about it.
The Red Sox stood pat, and at the risk of continuing to whine about something that happened three weeks ago, it remains astounding that they could not find even a league-average upgrade, offensively and defensively, from Dalbec.
The ball he missed bounded to his left. It took a late tricky hop and he slid to knock it down, but it instead ticked off his glove into foul territory while two runs scored. If he makes the play, the Red Sox only trail 2-1, a far more manageable deficit than 4-1 in a game they'd lose 5-2.
"That last hop was kind of like in between, and he tried to knock it down, and he wasn't able to," said manager Alex Cora. "But if you ask Bobby, probably he'll tell you he needs to make that play."
The contrast with Rizzo's ninth inning was glaring. A proven big-game performer with a World Series ring and no shortage of playoff experience, Rizzo did as much as anyone to preserve New York's lead, first by smothering a Rafael Devers smash for the second out of the frame, and then by handling Andrew Velazquez's tailing, bouncing throw from deep in the hole to end it, a play that was upheld on review.
"It was a bang-bang play, the kid made a nice play, Rizzo made a nice pick and it was a bang-bang play," Cora said. "Probably too close to overturn."
Imagine the last three weeks with Rizzo in the Red Sox lineup instead of Dalbec or Marwin Gonzalez. While Kyle Schwarber has proven to be a solid offensive addition, particularly working the count, he didn't debut until last week.
Even after missing time for COVID, Rizzo has played 10 games for the Yankees, who once trailed the Red Sox by 10 games and now lead them by one.
Does that happen with Rizzo in red instead of pinstripes? We know the answer, and now Chaim Bloom and the front office can only hope it doesn't haunt them.