Who is hitting is only half the battle. These are the arms that shined the brightest in Boston this century.
Any championship team in baseball has a balance of offensive firepower, defensive prowess, and shutdown pitching. The Boston Red Sox have had some powerful lineups over the years, but there have also been numerous pitchers that have stolen the show. I used the same criteria in selecting the rotation as was used for the lineup. Winning matters and the length of time spent with the Red Sox was taken into account. Five spots in the rotation, five spots in the bullpen, and one pitcher who was an All-Star in both roles means that numerous worthy candidates will not make it. Without further ado, throwing out the first pitch…
Starting Rotation: Arms One and Two
SP Pedro Martinez gets the ball to start the season for this team. From 2000-2005, Pedro dominated on the mound for Boston. He was hampered by a rotator cuff injury in 2001 but the other four years he appeared in two All-Star Games, won the Cy Young in 2000, followed by 2nd-, 3rd-, and 4th-place finishes in ’02, ’03, and ’04. Pedro’s last pitching appearance for Boston was Game 3 of the ’04 World Series versus the Saint Louis Cardinals. He recorded seven shutout innings and retired the last 17 batters he faced. Being third all time for Red Sox in strikeouts and sixth in wins are the icing on the cake.
The second spot goes to SP Jon Lester. Lester was a workhorse in Boston. From ’08-’13, the fewest innings he threw was 191.2. His streak only ended because he was criminally traded to the Oakland A’s. Lester was a three-time All-Star, two-time World Series champ, and finished fourth in Cy Young voting twice. More importantly, he was a hero to all in Sox Nation for coming back from lymphoma in 2007. His finest hour was on a Sunday night in May 2008 versus the Kansas City Royals where he threw the most recent no-hitter for Boston, and the record-setting fourth for C Jason Varitek.
Back End of Rotation
SPs Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, and Tim Wakefield earn spots. No SP Curt Schilling or SP Chris Sale? I did not select them for two reasons. First, their brilliance in Boston shined brightly but briefly. Second, the argument could be made that they had better careers with another team. Schilling’s time in Arizona was remarkable and Sale’s time in Chicago was strong for the duration, unlike his Boston career. SP Rick Porcello had an admirable run, winning the last Cy Young for the Sox in 2016.
Back to the boys that made it. Beckett arrived in ’06 and made the most of his time. He was a three time All-Star, 2007 ALCS MVP, second in Cy Young voting in ’07, and won 89 games. Those wins put him in a tie with Babe Ruth for 18th in Red Sox history. The K signs were all the better with Beckett on the mound, and his name morphing into BECKKKKKKETT. Beckett was accompanied by Lester and Clay Buchholz for years in the rotation. Buchholz threw a no-hitter in his second career appearance and continued to be a reliable arm until 2016. He went to two All-Star Games while in Boston. His only downfall was in 2013. On a team of beautifully bearded brothers, Buchholz’s beard was grungy at best. These first four starters are ranked #1 (Pedro), #3 (Lester), #4 (Beckett), and #5 (Buchholz) in strikeouts per nine innings all time for the Sox.
The last spot in the rotation goes to Tim Wakefield, who also performed admirably out of the bullpen from time to time. In all sports culture accounts, and there may never be a better teammate or person than Wakefield to play for any Boston sports team in the future. Wakefield and DH David Ortiz are the only Sox to ever earn the Roberto Clemente Award. In the 2004 ALCS, Wake was the one to take the ball in a blowout Game 3 versus the Yankees to save the bullpen and set up the rotation for the greatest comeback in baseball history. Good teammate aside, you do not last 17 years in Boston by being a slouch. He earned one All-Star appearance and made his mark through his longevity. He is third all-time in wins for the Red Sox, only behind SPs Cy Young and Roger Clemens. Ever heard of them? He had the most starts and innings pitched, while being second in appearances and strikeouts.
SP Derek Lowe is the other hybrid since he began as a reliever but ended his time in Beantown as a starter. His first All-Star appearance was in 2000 for his work as a closer when he led the league with 42 saves. His next All-Star game was in 2002 where he started 32 games, had 21 wins, and finished third in the Cy Young. Lowe finished his time in Boston seventh in saves and sixth in game appearances (111 of those being starts). If there is an injury to a starter, slot Lowe into the rotation. Otherwise, he’s another arm in the bullpen.
Call to the Bullpen: Setup Men
RP Mike Timlin takes the first spot in the pen. The second spot is a debate between RPs Matt Barnes and Junichi Tazawa. Both performed incredibly well in front of an established closer. In the end, Barnes gets the ball which is partially influenced by the fact that he is from Connecticut (as am I), and I saw him pitch at UConn before he went pro. I’m only human, bias will be a factor. Anyways, Barnes’ end in Boston was not great but from 2016-’21, he was one of the most reliable arms from the bullpen. He earned an All-Star berth in 2021 and shined in the 2018 postseason, giving up one run and only three hits in 8.2 innings. Barnes is also third all-time in pitching appearances with 429.
Timlin was a model of consistency in Boston. During six seasons he appeared in 47 or more games. The “meager” 47 games were when he was 42 years old. 394 games (fifth in Sox history) with a 3.76 ERA are what I want from a reliever who will be called upon to stop the bleeding in a close game. Timlin took some lumps during the 2004 and 2007 championship runs, but nonetheless was a veteran influence on two championship teams.
Three closers make the list because I would trust them as relievers in any inning, not just the ninth. CPs Jonathan Papelbon, Koji Uehara, and Craig Kimbrel round out the bullpen. For the longest time, I only knew Papelbon’s walkout song (I’m Shippin’ Up to Boston) as “The Papelbon Song”. He was a four-time All-Star, second in Rookie of the Year voting, won one World Series ring, and is the franchise leader in saves with 219.
Uehara finished off the magical 2013 season with the last pitch at Fenway for the first World Series-clinching win in Boston in 95 years. That same year he finished seventh in Cy Young and was ALCS MVP. He recorded a 2.19 ERA after four years in Beantown and finished eighth in saves. Kimbrel rattled off three straight All-Star appearances and took just three seasons to reach third in saves for the Sox, with 108 at a 90% save rate.
Now the only thing left to wonder is, which is more daunting for the other team? Facing the lineup put together last week, or trying to defeat the pitchers assembled here today? I’m just glad they all played for the Boston Red Sox.
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