ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — For a second, it looked like Mike Piazza had tied the game with a home run off Mariano Rivera. But Bernie Williams caught the ball in center field, a step away from the warning track at Shea Stadium.
The final out of the 2000 World Series gave the Yankees their third consecutive championship.
Rivera turns 50 later this year; Piazza is 51; Shea Stadium is a parking lot and no team has repeated as World Series champions since.
The Red Sox became the latest of 19 consecutive teams who couldn’t figure out how to do it again when they were officially eliminated Friday.
The NFL, NBA, NHL, and Premier League have all had repeat champions during that time. The same is true for NCAA Division 1 football, basketball, and hockey.
But no MLB team since those dynasty Yankees under Joe Torre has found a way to win again. The Sox are the fifth defending champions in seven years to miss the playoffs
Outside of the Phillies in 2009 and the Yankees in 2001, no team has returned to the World Series a year after winning it, and only seven got as far as the League Championship Series.
“I wish I knew what it was about baseball that causes that,” Red Sox reliever Brandon Workman said Saturday before the Sox lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, 5-4, in 11 innings. “Maybe we could have changed it.”
I asked manager Alex Cora his thoughts about it Friday night after the Sox were eliminated and he asked for a day to think about it. Fair enough.
“It’s not easy, man,” he said. “We talk about hangover or whatever. The grind of going through the whole thing is gratifying. We only lost 57 games last year as a group.”
But Cora acknowledged for the first time that preparing for this year felt rushed and that it affected the first month of the season. The Sox started 11-17 and, other than a brief surge in July, were never really in serious contention.
It went back to the beginning. Depending on your view, the Red Sox were either justifiably cautious or alarmingly cavalier in spring training. Rick Porcello threw only 12 innings against major league opponents, Chris Sale nine, Nate Eovaldi seven, and David Price 6⅔ .
That group is 27-26 with a 4.99 earned run average and so far has pitched only 479⅓ innings. Eovaldi, Price, and Sale also spent long stretches on the injured list.
Their poor performance and lack of durability helped to wear out the bullpen and exposed the organization’s lack of rotation depth. The Sox had $88.3 million of their payroll tied up in the rotation and it failed.
The one starter who had a traditional spring training workload, Eduardo Rodriguez, is 18-6 with a 3.53 ERA.
The Sox are on pace to surpass the 876 runs they scored last season. But their pitchers went into Saturday already allowing 128 more. Their earned run average climbed from 3.75 to 4.63.
But Cora defended the approach in spring training, saying he had no regrets.
Eovaldi and Price had appeared in six of the 14 postseason games, Porcello and Sale five. All four also had other games when they warmed up and didn’t get in.
The feeling was they needed to be protected in spring training after the stress of October.
“We did what we thought was right,” Cora said.
The other question is motivation. Price and Sale spoke passionately throughout last season about wanting their first championship. The same was true for J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, Mitch Moreland, Andrew Benintendi, and other key players.
But there was less fervor to repeat. The Sox blasted out of the gate in 2018, going 17-2, and stayed in first place all season except for some scattered days in May and June. This team started slowly and hoped their talent would make up for it.
It never did.
“People can say whatever they want about were they satisfied with what happened last year,” Cora said. “What we talked about in spring training was the other way, nobody had [repeated] in 20 years.
“We were the only ones in the big leagues who could say we won, too. But this year we didn’t pitch. We didn’t put everything together.”
The Sox should benefit from a fresh approach to roster building following the firing of Dave Dombrowski. Cora also promised to “attack” the offseason given the extra time he will have.
“You turn the page on the things that are bad. You continue doing the things you’re supposed to do to get better,” he said.
In the end, maybe the following season is just the price you have to pay for a championship.
“At the end there’s no excuses, we didn’t play well,” Cora said.