The Top 50 Red Sox Seasons: 25-50

Our series continues. I’ll keep adding additional seasons to the same list, so you can look at them all at once instead of clicking through 20 different posts.

As a reminder, here are some of the ground rules, as it were, for what you’ll be seeing.

Each entry includes some statistics I found relevant or interesting,
with emphasis on those that led the league. League-leading numbers are
bolded (except BAA, for which I could only get league leaders after
1957). For relievers, league-leading numbers are for pitchers who
relieved at least 60 percent of the time and tallied a minimum number
of innings that is dependent on the era in which the reliever pitched.

Unlabeled "slash stats" are:
For hitters — BA/OBP/SLG
For pitchers — ERA/WHIP/BAA

50. Derek Lowe, 2000

74 G, 2.56/1.266/.259, 91.1 IP, 64 GF, 42 SV, 79 K, 3.6 K/BB, 198 ERA+

One year after breaking out as the Red Sox’ most reliable member of
the bullpen, the 27-year-old sinkerballer – already turning the 1997
trade of Heathcliff Slocumb for Lowe and Jason Varitek into a steal for
the Sox  — was installed as the team’s closer, and he excelled,
delivering one of the best seasons by any Boston closer to date.

Lowe led the league in saves and games finished and finished second
among all relievers with at least 50 innings in ERA, blowing the lead
in just five of his 47 save opportunities and none of his final 23.

Key game: Aug. 1.
Lowe does his part to keep the Red Sox tied with Seattle for the ninth,
10th and 11th innings of what ends up being a 19-inning marathon that
the Sox lose, 5-4. Lowe strikes out five of the 11 batters he faces and
throws 60 pitches, the most of any of the 11 relievers to appear in the
game for either side.

49. Cy Young, 1903

28-9, 2.08/0.969/.234, 341.2 IP, 176 K, 32 BB, 4.6 K/9, 1.0 BB/9, 4.8 K/BB, 34 CG, 7 SHO, 145 ERA+
Postseason:  2-1, 1.85/1.029/.233, 4 G, 3 GS, 3 CG, 34 IP, 17 K, 4 BB

For the third straight season, Young led the league in wins while
completing a phenomenal 97 percent of his starts. He once again
finished among league leaders in all major pitching categories, pitched
four consecutive shutouts in June and July, three of them ending in 1-0
scores and one a 10-inning affair in which Young drove in the winning run.

Young led the Americans to their first American League pennant and
the first World Championship of baseball in a nine-game series against
Pittsburgh. Young lost a lopsided Game 1, a contest most likely thrown
to extend the series as long as possible, entered in the third inning
of Game 3, a Boston loss, then cruised to complete-game wins in Games 5
and 7.

Key game: Oct. 7.
With Boston down three games to one, Young shuts out the Pirates for
seven innings while the Americans stake him to a 10-0 lead. Ultimately,
he allows just two runs on six hits in the complete-game win – the
first of four consecutive World Series victories for Boston en route to
the championship. (Of course, the Pirates may have thrown this game to
extend the series and thus enlarge the respective shares of both teams).

48. Ernie Shore, 1915

19-8, 1.64/1.105/.229, 247 IP, 102 K, 66 BB, 3.7 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 17 CG, 4 SHO, 170 ERA+
Postseason — 1-1, 2.12/1.176/.190, 2 GS, 2 CG, 17 IP, 6 K, 8 BB

In his first full season, Shore spun the best work of his career,
finishing third in the AL with his 1.64 ERA and 170 ERA+ (behind
teammate Smokey Joe Wood and all-time great Walter Johnson) and
throwing a 12-inning shutout in September against the Tigers, who
finished 2.5 games behind the Red Sox in a close race.

Shore opened the 1915 World Series against Grover Cleveland
Alexander, losing a close game before rebounding for a 2-1 victory in
Game 4 of the five-game series. Shore allowed three runs in the eighth
inning of his two starts, and just one run in the other 16 innings

Key game: Oct. 12.
Shore wins a tight one, allowing a single eight-inning run in a 2-1 win
that gives the Red Sox a commanding 3-1 lead over Philadelphia in the
World Series.

47. Roger Clemens, 1991

18-10, 2.62/1.047/.223, 271.1 IP, 241 K, 65 BB, 8.0 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 3.7 K/BB, 13 CG, 4 SHO, 164 ERA+

Cy Young,  All-Star, MVP – 10

Of Clemens’ monster 1990-92 peak, this performance was the “worst” –
a season in which the flamethrowing Texan only led the league in
strikeouts, ERA and shutouts and won the Cy Young Award, to boot. He
finished April with a 0.28 ERA and started the season 6-0 – his second
start of the year on April 13 being an 11-strikeout, no-walk shutout.

The team surrounding him, however, was merely mediocre: Clemens lost
five games and received five no decisions in 10 of his 28 quality
starts while he went 0-5 in seven non-quality starts.

Key game: April 13.
In his second start of the season, Clemens does his best work – a
three-hitter with no walks and 11 strikeouts. He strikes out at least
one in every inning but the first, yet never throws more than 16
pitches in any inning.

46. Wade Boggs, 1988

.366/.476/.490, .965 OPS, 719 PA, 214 H, 125 BB, 128 R, 5 HR, 58 RBI, 3.7 BB/K, 166 OPS+
Postseason: .385/.444/.385, 16 PA, 5 H, 3 BB, 3 K, 2 R, 3 RBI

All-Star, Silver Slugger, MVP – 6

was nearing the end of his stunning string of 200-hit seasons in 1988
(the next year would be his last to reach that mark), but this would be
his second-best, following up an amazing 1987 campaign with another
league-leading OPS and setting a career high in on-base percentage – at
the time the best single-season mark since 1962.

What’s more, Boggs put together an impressive 35-game on-base streak
from May 13 to June 22 that included 50 hits and 37 walks (a .530 OBP).
It was the second-longest of his career, then a month later, he kicked
off a 31-game streak. In the 96 games between May 13 and Aug. 28, Boggs
failed to reach base in a game three times. Overall, the third baseman
reached base in 144 of the 155 games (93 percent) in which he played
that season – clearly the lawsuit filed that summer by former
girlfriend Margo Adams was no distraction.

Key game: Aug. 3.
True to form, Boggs reaches base three times in four appearances –
coming a homer short of the cycle and scoring two runs in a
come-from-behind, 5-4 win over Texas. His one-out triple in the seventh
leads to the tying run.

45. Pedro Martinez, 1998

19-7, 2.89/1.091/.222, 233.2 IP, 251 K, 67 BB, 9.7 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 3.8 K/BB, 163 ERA+
Postseason: 1 G, W, 7 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 8 K

All-Star, CYA – 2

In the midst of likely the greatest run of regular-season pitching in the history of the sport (1997-2003), this was Pedro Martinez’s off-year, his transition to the American League – a transition that electrified Fenway Park, led the Boston Globe to print game stories of his starts in Spanish, and made Boston a northern cousin of Santo Domingo.

What an inauguration for the lanky righty who came to Boston at the cost of the club’s best prospect and the richest contract for a pitcher in baseball history – and a host of questions about his makeup, his talent and his physique: Seven shutout innings in his Boston debut, a 12-strikeout shutout in his third start. In the end, his “off year” should have been a 20-win campaign, as he sat with 18 wins entering the month of September, reeled off four straight quality starts and won none of them. It wasn’t quite the Pedro who would erupt in the next two seasons to post the most dominant seasons in baseball history, but he still struck out batters at a higher rate than any Sox pitcher in 10 years and finished second in Cy Young voting to the ace he replaced in Boston.

Key game: April 11. Making his debut in an electric Fenway Park filled with fans waving Dominican flags and chanting his name, Martinez shuts out Seattle on two hits, walking two and striking out 12. He finds his groove early – no strikeouts through 1.2 innings; five strikeouts through 3.1.

44. David Ortiz, 2007

.332/.445/.621, 1.066 OPS, 667 PA, 182 H, 111 BB, 35 HR, 117 RBI, 88 XBH, 171 OPS+
Postseason: .370/.517/.674, 1.191 OPS, 46 AB, 17 H, 14 BB, 3 HR, 10 RBI

All-Star, Silver Slugger, MVP – 4

Speaking of off years, what was largely regarded as a subpar season for Ortiz actually featured a career-high on-base percentage and OPS+, as well as a fifth-place finish in the league in batting and a third-place finish in slugging. Ortiz put together a nifty 31-game on-base streak in May and June, then ended the season on a brutal tear — .381/.500/.823 from Aug. 15 to Sept. 30.

In the postseason, Ortiz continued the October dominance for which he has become legendary – reaching base nearly 85 percent of the time in the ALDS, then posting an OPS of .966 in the ALCS and .945 in the World Series, helping deliver Boston its second World Series in two years.

Key game: Sept. 12. With a pair of home runs – including a two-run walk-off shot with the Sox down by one in the ninth – Ortiz accounts for all five of Boston’s runs in a 5-4 victory. The first home run comes with the Sox down 4-0 in the third – a three-run shot – and the second with one out in the ninth, the score still 4-3. The home runs and RBI allowed him to cross the 30/100 marks for the fifth straight season.

43. Lefty Grove, 1939

15-4, 2.54/1.246/.250, 191 IP, 81 K, 58 BB, 3.8 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 1.4 K/BB, 185 ERA+
All-Star, MVP – 15

Grove, one of the most dominant pitchers of all time, had one last top-shelf season in 1939. His stuff was failing him, as evidenced by his fading strikeout and walk numbers – significantly down for the second straight season. This would be the last of the nine seasons in which Grove led the AL in ERA, but it was his lowest since 1930, and his ERA+ was the third-best of his amazing career.

Grove finished 1939 just 14 wins short of 300. It would take two more years of declining health and declining results to reach that milestone. When he retired, his ERA+ in 1939 was sixth-best in Red Sox history, behind only himself and the Leonard-Young-Wood trio of deadballers. Now, after a pair of aces named Clemens and Martinez, it still ranks 11th.

Key game: Amazingly, I can’t find one!

42. Dwight Evans, 1981

.296/.415/.522, .937 OPS, 504 PA, 122 H, 85 BB, 22 HR, 71 RBI, 215 TB, 208 TOB, 162 OPS+

All-Star, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, MVP – 3

Is this one of the most underrated great seasons in Red Sox history? Evans picked the worst possible year to have the best season of his career, as the midseason players’ strike cost him at least 50 games. Evans played in all 108 of the Red Sox’ games that season. Along with leading the league in OPS, walks and home runs, he finished second in OBP, third in slugging, second in OPS+ and fourth in RBI. By leading the league in total bases and walks, Evans joined an elite American League club consisting at the time of only Ruth, Foxx, Williams and Mantle.

Translated to 162 games, Evans could have finished with 183 hits, 128 walks, 33 home runs and 105 RBI. All those numbers would have been at or near Evans’ career highs set during his mid-1980s peak. As it is, Evans’ 1981 remains the best OPS+ ever put up by a Red Sox right fielder.

Evans also had a nice year in the clutch, driving in 22 more runners than would be expected for a batter with his number of plate appearances despite coming to the plate with just seven more runners on base than average (and 12 fewer on second and third). Oh, and Evans won the fourth of his eight Gold Gloves in 1981, too. The more one looks at his numbers, the more one concludes that voters did him a grave disservice by dismissing his Hall of Fame candidacy so quickly.

Key game:
May 30. Evans caps a five-run rally in the bottom of the ninth with a two-out, three-run homer over the Green Monster off Rollie Fingers. The blast ties the Sox’ game with the Brewers at six, and Dave Stapleton wins it in the 10th.

41. Roger Clemens, 1992

18-11, 2.41/1.074/.226, 246.2 IP, 208 K, 62 BB, 7.6 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 3.4 K/BB, 5 SHO, 175 ERA+

All-Star, CYA – 3

Clemens had one great season left in Boston, and 1992 was it. His strikeout rate declined, but his walks remained low, and as a result, Clemens led the league in ERA for a third straight year. He started strong out of the gate, throwing 20 consecutive scoreless innings in April, throwing another 19 in May that included consecutive shutouts on May 9 and 15. Later, on July 18, Clemens threw a two-hit shutout, the fourth of five times he would blank an opponent that season (and the second two-hitter). No Red Sox pitcher has matched that total since, and in all baseball only Randy Johnson in 1998 (six) threw more.

It was another season in which Clemens should have won 20 games. Though he received only three no decisions in his 33 appearances, each one was a quality start, as were six of his 11 losses. Meanwhile, only one of his 18 wins resulted in a Game Score lower than 50. Perhaps it was the frustration that led to Clemens’ increasingly antagonistic behavior – toward a Boston Herald columnist, at whom he threw food during a postgame media session; and toward Wade Boggs, who had requested that an error be rescored a hit in September.

Key game: Sept. 7. Clemens matches zeroes with Nolan Ryan for seven innings until the Red Sox strike for two in the eighth. Clemens finishes with nine strikeouts in eight innings as Sox win 3-0.

40. Lefty Grove, 1935

20-12, 2.70/1.233/.259, 273 IP, 121 K, 65 BB, 4.0 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 1.9 K/BB, 23 CG, 175 ERA+
All-Star, MVP – 14

Bob Grove’s career looked to be in its final stages – if not over entirely – when his arm went dead in 1934, just after being sold to Tom Yawkey’s Red Sox. Connie Mack even offered to take Grove back and refund Yawkey his money, but Yawkey declined. Good thing, as Grove rebounded in 1935, completing 23 of his 30 starts, leading the league in WHIP and ERA, and winning 20 games for the eighth time in nine seasons.

How did he recover to post three of the top 50 seasons ever in Red Sox history? Grove realized he could no longer rely on his fastball – one Hartford Courant headline from August 1935 proclaims: “Hurler Has Learned to Pitch, Not Just ‘Throw’”.

Key game:  July 5. Grove limits the newly Ruth-less (but not Gehrig-less) Yankees to seven hits in a 4-3 win in the first game of a doubleheader.

39. Jim Rice, 1978

.315/.370/.600, .970 OPS, 746 PA, 213 H, 58 BB, 46 HR, 139 RBI, 86 XBH, 406 TB, 157 OPS+

MVP, All-Star starter

Between Hank Aaron and the Steroid Era, only one player compiled more than 400 total bases in a season. It was Jim Rice in 1978. In the 60 years between Joe DiMaggio and Coors Field, Rice was the only player to do so while hitting at least 45 home runs. To cherry pick further, Rice was just the sixth player ever to collect 400 total bases, rap 200 hits and slam 45 home runs in a season (Larry Walker made it seven in 1997), and the first in 41 years. His 1978 season was that historic – an MVP masterpiece that is the beginning argument for those in favor of his Hall of Fame credentials.

Unfortunately, the Red Sox’ epic collapse of 1978 is equally (if not more) historic, and it’s difficult to discuss Rice’s season apart from the context of his club’s collapse. Not that Rice was responsible by any stretch. During Rice’s terrible slump in July, the Sox only lost two games off their division lead. In the 20-game stretch during which the Sox lost 8.5 games off their lead (culminating in the division-tying Boston Massacre), Rice’s OPS was over 1.000.

Key game: Sept. 11. With the Red Sox reeling after the Massacre, Rice carries the team to a 5-4 victory over Jim Palmer and the Orioles by hitting two homers — including a game-winner in the eighth inning. According to news reports at the time, Rice just misses hitting four homers – instead flying out deep to right and singling off the Monster in his other two at-bats.

38. Fred Lynn, 1979

.333/423/.637, 1.059 OPS, 622 PA, 177 H, 82 BB, 39 HR, 122 RBI, 116 R, 82 XBH, 176 OPS+
All-Star, Gold Glove, MVP – 4

Fred Lynn’s other season wasn’t too shabby – a Triple Crown of sorts, as he led the league in the three principal rate stats (a rarer feat than you’d expect) in what would prove to be his final healthy season in Boston. Lynn also set career highs in pretty much every offensive category in 1979 – hits, homers, RBI, walks, average, OBP, slugging, total bases. Lynn’s 1979 was the best season by a Sox center fielder since Fenway Park’s opening year.

Lynn began the season with a bang – a seventh-inning home run that helped fuel an Opening Day win. Then, already having a fine season as July wound to a close (.325/.415/.618), Lynn got hot. He would collect a hit in each of the next 20 games, his second such streak in his career. But this wasn’t just a hitting streak. Between Aug. 5 and Aug. 17 (12 days), Lynn homered 10 times. He strung together a seven-game two-hit streak. Before finally going 0-for-3 on Aug. 19, his averages sat at .346/.434/.678. His OPS had increased by .074. His .451/.530/.972 line over those 20 games marks the fourth-highest OPS in a hitting streak of at least 20 games over the past 50 years. Not until Larry Walker (him again) 20 years later did someone — anyone — better it.

Key game: Aug. 14. Lynn accounts for half the Red Sox’ 12 runs and four home runs by smacking two dingers and driving in six in a 12-1 romp over Minnesota. Lynn’s first-inning solo home run is the second of three in the inning for the Sox – a Jim Rice strikeout all that keeps Fisk, Lynn, Rice and Yastrzemski from hitting four straight homers.

37. Rico Petrocelli, 1969

.297/.403/.589, .992 OPS, 643 PA, 159 H, 98 BB, 40 HR, 97 RBI, 315 TB, 74 XBH, 167 OPS+
All-Star, MVP – 7

No, Petrocelli didn’t lead the league in any significant category, though he finished second in extra-base hits. All he did in 1969 was set an AL record for home runs by a shortstop that stood for 29 years, shortstop OPS that stood for 27 years, and OPS+ by an AL shortstop that still stands.

Petrocelli actually was better than his final line let on – his OPS was below 1.000 at the end of just seven games all season; unfortunately, they were within the final eight games of the year. Likewise, his batting average dropped below .300 for the first time on Sept. 23 and his slugging below .600 on Sept. 22. A “bad” September in which Petrocelli’s OPS was just .840 marred a line at the end of August that stood at .304/.418/.615.

Key game: Sept. 5. In a game in which the Red Sox fell behind 7-0, Petrocelli’s three-run, two-out, seventh-inning homer gives Boston an 8-7 lead over Washington, then with the game tied in the bottom of the ninth, Petrocelli draws a bases-loaded walk to win it.

36. Bobby Doerr, 1944

.325/.399/.528, .927 OPS, 536 PA, 152 H, 58 BB, 15 HR, 81 RBI, 95 R, 165 OPS+
All-Star starter, MVP – 7

Undoubtedly helped by the diluted competition he faced as more and more of the league’s ballplayers fought in World War II, Doerr nevertheless took full advantage, posting the best season ever by a Red Sox second baseman, relative to his era. Though leading only in slugging, Doerr finished in the top three of each major rate stat, and second in OPS.

Never mind that, Doerr’s 165 remains the 20th best OPS+ posted by a second sacker in the history of baseball, and those 19 seasons were put up by four players – Hornsby, Lajoie, Morgan and Collins. In fact, since Collins in 1915, Doerr in 1944 has been the only American League second baseman to post a single-season OPS+ of at least 165. Bobby Grich in 1981 is the only other to come close. The Sporting News named Doerr the AL MVP and AL Player of the Year for the season (the BBWAA voted him seventh).

Key game: April 26. Doerr smacks three doubles, including one in the top of the 14th of a 4-4 game against Washington. He scores the winning run on Roy Partee’s sacrifice fly.

35. Ted Williams, 1939, 1940, 1951, 1956, 1958

Williams has 12 seasons in the Top 35, but wanting to avoid taking up more than a third of the entries with one player, I combined eight similar seasons into two groupings. Williams’ remarkable consistency as a hitter makes this easier. These five were Williams’ third-tier seasons, the level right behind the three seasons that were just off the four monster years we’ll see in the Top 20. Got that? Combining the worst of Williams’ rate stats of these seasons, he put up no worse than a .318/.436/.556, while topping out at a combined-best line of .345/.479/.609. He hit no fewer than 23 and no more than 31 home runs. His OPS+ bottoms out at 160 (1939) and tops out at 179 (1958).

Essentially, these seasons are the two leading up to his peak, and the final years as he came back down. Williams was an All-Star every year but 1939, he led the league in OBP every year but 1939, batting in 1958, slugging in 1951, OPS in 1951 and 1968, total bases in 1951, RBI in 1939, walks in 1951, OPS+ in 1951, extra-base hits in 1939, times on base in 1951 and intentional walks in 1956. Not bad, for Williams’ “bad” years.

34. Keith Foulke, 2004

2.17/0.940/.212, 83 IP, 72 G, 32 SV, 82.1 SV%, 79 K, 15 BB, 8.6 K/9, 5.3 K/BB, 225 ERA+
Postseason: 0.64/1.071/.143, 14 IP, 11 G, 1 W, 3 SV, 19 K

The regular season aside, Foulke’s performance in the 2004 ALCS may have ruined his career and defined it at the same time. For his role in the 0-3 comeback alone, Foulke gets bumped up the list.

One of the Sox’ two major acquisitions after the terrible end of 2003, Foulke didn’t blow a save until May 30, then saved 16 straight over 25 games between July 20 and Sept. 20 as the Red Sox roared back to take control of the Wild Card race. Upon reaching the playoffs, Foulke was again intricately involved in the historic ALCS rally, throwing 100 pitches in five innings over Games 3, 4 and 5. Foulke then appeared in every game of the World Series, throwing another 85 pitches in another five innings, allowing just four hits, one walk and one run, while striking out eight.

Key games:
Oct. 17, 18, 19. Coming into Game 4 of the ALCS with the Sox down by one in the seventh, Foulke allows just two walks in 2.2 shutout innings as the Red Sox come back to tie the game and send it into extras. Foulke is called on again during the eighth inning of Game 5, throwing 1.1 scoreless innings as the Sox again rally to tie the game. Finally, in Game 6, a clearly exhausted Foulke strikes out Tony Clark, representing the winning run with two on in the ninth, on his 100th pitch of the previous 36 hours.

33. Jim Lonborg, 1967

22-9, 3.16/1.138/.228, 273.1 IP, 246 K, 83 BB, 8.1 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 3.0 K/BB, 15 CG, 111 ERA+
Postseason: 2-1, 2.62/0.667/.163, 24 IP, 11 K, 2 BB, 14 H, 7 ER, 2 CG

Cy Young, TSN Pitcher of Year, All-Star, MVP – 6

Jim Lonborg’s out-of-nowhere 1967 season is statistically decent – his league-leading win and strikeout totals in no small part attributable to his hefty number of games started and innings pitched – but the context in which it occurred is priceless. Without Lonborg’s season in ’67, the Red Sox don’t enter the pennant race. And without the ’67 pennant race, the Red Sox likely would have left Boston.

More importantly, when the Sox were in the pennant race, Lonborg stepped it up – a 2.31 ERA in 10 games from Aug. 25, during which he averaged better than 7.1 innings per appearance and threw eight quality starts. During the World Series, he was simply dominant, throwing the fourth one-hitter in Series history and accounting for two of the Sox’ three wins by setting a Series record, still unbroken, for fewest hits in consecutive starts (four). He came up far short only when asked to make his 42nd start of the season on two days’ rest in Game 7.

Key games: Any of the Lonborg’s three career-defining starts – Oct. 1, Oct. 5, Oct. 9. First, Lonborg allows just one earned run in a complete-game victory on the season’s final game, clinching the Red Sox’ first pennant in 21 years. Then, with two outs in the eighth of World Series Game 2, Julian Javier ruins Lonborg’s no-hit bid with a double down the left-field line. A seventh-inning walk to Curt Flood is the only other baserunner marring the performance. On three days’ rest, Lonborg returns with the Sox against the wall, down three games to one, and three-hits the Cards, the only run coming on a ninth-inning Roger Maris homer.

32. Jonathan Papelbon, 2007

1.85/0.771/.154, 58.1 IP, 59 G, 37 SV, 92.5 SV%, 84 K, 15 BB, 12.96 K/9, 5.6 K/BB, 256 ERA+
Postseason: 0.00/0.843/.135, 10.2 IP, 7 G, 1 W, 4 SV, 7 K


Papelbon’s gaudy 0.96 ERA in 2006 – as a rookie, no less – carried him very close to this list, but ultimately his season-ending injury must be factored in. Also factored in: Papelbon’s star turn in the 2007 postseason, including saving three of the four World Series games – all requiring more than three outs. Even without October, however, Papelbon simply was dominant as few others have been out of the bullpen for the Red Sox. In fact, only two relief seasons get a nod higher than this one.

How dominant was he? In 59 games, Papelbon gave up runs in just nine and more than one in just three. He never gave up more than two runs. Fifteen times he was called into a one-run game, and 15 times he left the mound with the lead intact. From Aug. 1 to Sept. 12, as the Sox fended off the Yankees for the AL East title, Papelbon appeared in 16 games and allowed seven baserunners – two hits, four walks, one hit batter – while striking out 25 and recording 12 saves and a win. That’s an opponents’ batting line in 15.2 innings of .041/.130/.041.

Key game: Oct. 25. Papelbon comes into the eighth inning of World Series Game 2 against the Rockies with two outs and the Red Sox leading by one. After allowing an infield single to Matt Holliday, the dangerous Todd Helton at the plate as the go-ahead run. Before even throwing a pitch to him, however, Papelbon picks off Holliday. He then comes out for the ninth and strikes out two of the game’s final three batters – including Helton.

31. Carlton Fisk, 1972

.293/.370/.538, .908 OPS, 514 PA, 134 H, 52 BB, 22 HR, 61 RBI, 9 3B, 59 XBH, 162 OPS+
Rookie of the Year, All-Star, Gold Glove, MVP – 4

In modern baseball, only one catcher had put up a better season than Fisk did in his rookie season of 1972 – and that was his National League counterpart the same year, fellow 24-year-old Johnny Bench, whose 166 OPS+ held the modern record (with Fisk running second) until Mike Piazza broke it three consecutive years beginning in 1995.

Fisk unanimously won the Rookie of the Year award for this, still the best season ever by an American League catcher, ranked by OPS+. No Sox catcher ever had hit even 15 home runs in a season until 1972, when Fisk hit 22. Fisk remains one of just two Sox catchers to have hit more than 20 homers (Jason Varitek the other). His nine triples is the modern Red Sox catching record (Lou Criger hit 10 in 1903).

Although Fisk would top most of his 1972 numbers in 1977, that was thanks to an overall increase in offense leaguewide. Fisk put up his 1972 numbers in an atmosphere in which the average OPS was .649 (versus .735 in 1977).

Key game: July 12. Pudge breaks a 1-1 tie against Jim Lonborg and the Brewers by leading off the seventh with a home run over the Monster, then provides insurance by banging a double off it with the bases loaded to score Rico Petrocelli and Rick Miller in a 3-1 win.

30. David Ortiz, 2006

.287/.413/.636, 1.049 OPS, 686 PA, 160 H, 119 BB, 54 HR, 137 RBI, 355 TB, 161 OPS+
All-Star, Silver Slugger, MVP – 3

The top 30 seasons are truly amazing – as evidenced by the fact that
the season in which the all-rime Red Sox home run record is set can’t
crack the 20s. That’s not a reflection on Ortiz’s season, which is his
top-ranked campaign. It’s a reflection on the truly amazing seasons
we’re about to look at.

In 2006, Ortiz officially became the league’s most feared clutch
hitter. He followed up a near-MVP season in 2005 with a campaign that
would have easily netted him the award, had the Red Sox not crashed and
burned in August. Ortiz’s 2006 will be remembered for two things:
Breaking Jimmie Foxx’s 69-year-old club homer record, and the five
walk-off hits, including three game-ending home runs.

Key game: July 31.
Having already tied a game against Cleveland at five with a
third-inning home run, Ortiz comes to the plate with two on and the Sox
down 8-6 with one out in the ninth – and does the unthinkable (and
completely expected) by crushing a Fausto Carmona pitch into the
center-field bleachers for his third game-ending home run of the

29. Derek Lowe, 2002

21-8, 2.58/0.974/.211, 219.2 IP, 127 K, 48 BB, 5.2 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 2.7 K/BB, 6.8 H/9, 177 ERA+
All-Star, CYA – 3

A lights-out closer in 2000, Lowe struggled in 2001, giving up runs
in eight of his first 11 appearances en route to a 10-loss season and
losing his closing job to Ugueth Urbina. He started his last three
games of that season and began 2002 in the rotation. Not a bad move.
He’s never gone back, and this Cy Young-worthy line is why. If not for
teammate (and shoulda-been Cy Young winner) Pedro Martinez, Lowe would
have led the league in ERA, WHIP and ERA+. He finished behind Martinez
and Tim Wakefield in hits-per-nine, and finished behind only Barry Zito
in wins.

The sinkerballer 10 times in his 32 starts left a game having given
up zero earned runs – most notably when he left in the arms of third
baseman Shea Hillenbrand after throwing a no-hitter in April. No wonder
he finished the season with a remarkable average game score of 60,
throwing only six non-quality starts. He never left a game before
completing the fifth, and only twice failed to complete the sixth –
explaining why he ended the season with only three no-decisions.

Key game: April 27.
Three weeks after a no-hit bid in his first start of the year was
broken up in the eighth inning, Lowe sealed the deal against Tampa Bay,
tossing the first gem at Fenway Park in nearly 40 years. The ninth was
ultimately anticlimactic – no hard outs, and all game long, there were
no defensive gems to speak of. Lowe simply set down the Devil Rays
every inning except the third, when he allowed a leadoff walk.

28. Wade Boggs, 1987

.363/.461/.588, 1.049 OPS, 551 PA, 200 H, 105 BB, 24 HR, 89 RBI, 70 XBH, 307 TOB, 108 R, 173 OPS+
All-Star starter, Silver Slugger, MVP – 9

For the first and only time in his spectacular career, Boggs found
some power, tripling his previous career high in home runs and topping
a .500 slugging percentage for what would be the only time in his 18
seasons. Added to his by-now ho hum .360/.450 batting line, the
slugging created the best season of his career and easily the best ever
by a Red Sox third baseman.

Ironically, his 1987 season became a flashpoint for those critical
of the enigmatic Chicken Man. The power surge took place in a contract
year, and fans argued Boggs intentionally gave up trying for home runs
to pad his enormous batting averages. Boggs (famously referring to
himself in the third person as he did so) said the shift midseason to
third in the lineup was good for him – and 20 of his home runs came in
that position.

Key game: June 29.
Falling a double short of the cycle, Boggs nevertheless powers Boston
to an easy win over the Orioles. He drives in the first run with a
first-inning line single, then extends a 5-2 lead with a two-run triple
into the triangle and ices the contest with a sixth-inning grand slam
to right. His seven RBI are the most by a Red Sox third baseman until
Bill Mueller tallies nine in 2003.

27. Fred Lynn, 1975

.331/.401/.566, .967 OPS, 605 PA, 175 H, 62 BB, 21 HR, 105 RBI, 47 2B, 103 R, 161 OPS+
Postseason: .306/.350/.444, .794 OPS, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 3 BB, 5 K

MVP, Rookie of the Year, All-Star, Gold Glove

Not much can be said about this amazing season from Fred Lynn, who
was the first and only (until Ichiro Suzuki) player to win the MVP and
Rookie of the Year simultaneously. Although Lynn’s 1979 was
statistically better than his 1975, to put up such numbers as a rookie
is truly an accomplishment few have ever replicated.

Ironically, Lynn didn’t look like a future ROY when he began 1975
0-for-9 with a sac fly in his first 10 plate appearances. Then he went
8-for-10 with three walks in 13 plate appearances. On May 25, he began
a 20-game hitting streak. It would be more than a month before he’d be
kept off the basepaths again. During the 38 games, Lynn reached base 70
times, scored 37 times and drove in 38 runs. A testament to Lynn’s
greatness in 1975 – the rookie was made the cleanup hitter in the ninth
game of the season and never relinquished it.

Key games: June 18.
Two feet separate Lynn from a four-homer game; instead, he gets just
three home runs, a single and a triple, driving in 10 runs – tying a
Major League record that would be broken in 1993, and setting a Red Sox
record that will eventually be tied by Nomar Garciaparra – in a 15-1
thrashing of Detroit. Lynn crushes a two-run homer in the first, a
three-run shot in the second, a two-run triple in the third off the top
of the wall, a leadoff single in the eighth and another three-run shot
in the ninth.

26. Manny Ramirez, 2002

/.450/.647, 1.097 OPS, 518 PA, 152 H, 73 BB, 33 HR, 107 RBI, 64 XBH, 184 OPS+

All-Star starter, Silver Slugger, MVP – 9

Although Ramirez’s counting statistics in 2002 finished in the bottom
half of the Top 10 or out of it altogether, consider this: He managed
them in just 120 games played, the result of a broken finger suffered
May 11 that likely cost him another 40 home run season.

As it was, only a monster season by old teammate Jim Thome kept him
from sweeping the Triple Crown of rate statistics, as well as OPS and
OPS+ (which remains the best in a season by any Red Sox hitter since a
fellow named Yaz in 1967). At the time of his injury, Ramirez was
hitting .372/.497/.673. He slumped upon his return, hitting just .267
in 43 games – perhaps distracted by the loss during a rehab assignment
in Pawtucket of a $15,000 diamond earring. His final 44 games, however,
were insane – a .414/.495/.790 line, with 15 home runs and hits in 39
of his 43 starts – and included a team-record-tying 10-game RBI streak
from Sept. 14-24.

Key game: Sept. 7.  In a game featuring both aspects
of Manny Ramirez’s unique relationship with the Red Sox and their fans,
Ramirez turns and walks out of the batter’s box after a third-inning
groundout to the pitcher, angering teammates, fans and pundits alike.
Then, in the seventh, Ramirez hits the tiebreaking homer in a 6-3 Red
Sox win over the Devil Rays.

25. Lefty Grove, 1936

17-12, 2.81/1.192/.249, 253.1 IP, 237 H, 130 K, 65 BB, 4.6 K/9, 2.0 K/BB, 6 SHO, 188 ERA+

Grove followed his 1935 bounce-back year with one even better, featuring the second-best ERA+ ever in his career. Along with his league-leading ERA, WHIP, K/BB and shutouts, Grove finished second in fewest hits-per-nine and fewest walks-per-nine and added Top 10 finishes in wins, strikeouts, K/9, innings and complete games.

A notorious sore loser described in press reports of the day as “lean and dour,” Grove was the only AL pitcher to post an ERA under 3.00, an accomplishment labeled “a successful climax to his come-back climb” by the New York Times.

Key game: April 17. “The game Bob Grove pitched against the Yankees in the opener at Yankee Stadium reminded the critics of the same old Robert Mose before he injured his arm two years ago,” writes the Sporting News on its front page April 23. Grove throws a two-hit shutout, with Lou Gehrig collecting both hits. No Yankee reaches third base. The start is Grove’s first of the season, and “his showing was most reassuring,” as he strikes out four and walks one. The 8-0 win is Grove’s third shutout in four starts against the Yankees – all wins.

5 comments… add one
  • Paul, you’re off the chart, buddy. Really, where do you find time to put all this together?
    Thanks just the same!

    Brad March 8, 2008, 11:49 am
  • Correction needed unless I am missing something: “Ortiz accounts for all five of Boston’s runs in a 4-3 victory.”

    CincySox March 8, 2008, 12:44 pm
  • No, that’s just how awesome Ortiz is, Cincy. ;-) Should be 5-4, I’ll fix it…

    Paul SF March 8, 2008, 1:17 pm
  • Talking about Pedro’s first Boston season brings back great memories… thanks for the nostalgia Paul! Once again you’ve outdone yourself.

    Atheose March 9, 2008, 12:50 pm
  • I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    susan September 5, 2009, 9:56 am

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