Of all the players to crumble under the weight of a pennant race, Xander Bogaerts wouldn't have made my list.
He arrived in 2013 at age 20 exactly when the Red Sox needed an infusion of energy. By the World Series clincher over the Cardinals, he was a starter.
He might've been the team's best hitter in September of 2018 en route to another title, he played hard to the end in 2019 despite falling out of contention, and his return from the COVID list three weeks ago coincided with the Red Sox winning eight of 11.
In fact, when they hosted the Yankees on Sept. 24, we had no reason to fear the fortunes of either Bogaerts or his team were about to turn. The Red Sox led the wild card race by two games and Bogaerts was hitting .368 with an 1.151 OPS since rejoining the team.
Then the struggles started. Bogaerts managed just one hit in New York's sweep, striking out four times and grounding into a double play before heading off to Baltimore to right the ship.
The Orioles not only failed to bring relief, they added to his misery. He went 0 for 3 and hit into a pair of double plays in Thursday's 6-2 loss that dropped the Red Sox into a tie with the Mariners, of all teams, for the second wild card. He once again managed just one hit in three games, dropping him into a 2-for-23 slump. Not coincidentally, the Red Sox went 1-5 during his skid and now must fight for their playoff lives.
"Just not getting it done," Bogaerts said. "The quality of my at-bats has been bad. When you hit it good, there's someone right there, but I don't feel like there's been many at-bats throughout these last couple of days. It's just been very unproductive at-bats.
"It sucks, bro. It sucks. I have three more games to get going and try to help this team turn it around. I know a lot of it, I take responsibility for because you're going down the stretch like this, it's not a good sign when you're playing bad baseball. Sometimes it happens, man. It happens to the best of them, but you can't keep a good guy down for too long."
If only time weren't running out. The Red Sox visit Washington on Friday to close the season with three games against the lowly Nationals. The schedule makers gifted the Red Sox with the easiest stretch run of any contender, but they whiffed in Baltimore and will need to avoid a similar fate in Washington if they want to keep playing beyond Sunday's finale.
If they win out, they're guaranteed at worst a one-game playoff at Fenway vs. the Mariners on Monday for the right to visit New York for Tuesday's wild card game. For that to happen, they're going to need a vintage performance out of Bogaerts, who turns 29 on Friday.
"I think we're ready to go to Washington, to be honest," Bogaerts said. "They outplayed us here. It's a bad time for us to be doing that, playing worse than the Orioles. Obviously we need it more than them at this point. Let's get it out of here, man, get some good sleep and come back at it tomorrow."
Bogaerts vowed to do his part. He has delivered frequently in the past, but the hour grows late, and the Red Sox risk turning an uplifting season of exceeded expectations into just another choke job.
"Tomorrow I'm going to get to the field and go to the cage again early and continue to work," Bogaerts said. "I ain't prepared to go home yet. Better start turning it around."