Boston’s Xander Bogaerts, middle, is greeted at home plate after hitting a two-run homer in the first inning of the American League wild card game on Oct. 5, setting the tone for what would be a deep playoff run for the Red Sox. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

How will we look back on the 2021 Boston Red Sox?

Were they overachievers? It’s easy to say yes. Coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history, the Red Sox were one of the last four teams standing in the MLB playoffs.

Were they a disappointment? Certainly the final days of those playoffs were disappointing for Sox fans. Despite holding a 2-1 lead in the series, and an eighth-inning lead in Game 4, they did not win another game.

So … they were a little of both. Not what anyone wants to hear in this good-or-bad binary world we live in. Yet that’s exactly what they were.

The ending was gut-wrenching. The Red Sox were dominated by the Astros beginning with the final innings of that fourth game. An offense that set a franchise playoff record with 22 home runs this postseason went ice cold down the stretch as the Sox were outscored 22-1 over the final 26 innings of the American League Championship Series.

It was a stunning ending to a playoff run that captivated the region. Fenway Park had its largest crowds in years, with fans engaged on every pitch. Players noticed — there was a new energy surrounding baseball in Boston.

That might be the biggest takeaway from the season when it’s all said and done. For three weeks, baseball was back on top of the Boston sports scene. The Patriots were struggling, the Bruins and Celtics just getting started and the region was glued to the nightly drama of postseason baseball.

These weren’t just the most engaged crowds in years. They were the most positive crowds to support the Red Sox in decades. We can harken back to the glory days of 2004 all we want, but those crowds had a nervous energy to them. Back in the days of the Curse of the Bambino we waited for the inevitable collapse. Now, we wait for an expected comeback.

And the Sox had plenty of them this year. They just needed one or two more in October.

Now the Red Sox must build on this foundation. Chaim Bloom will have some tough baseball decisions to make. There are looming free agents and options on key members of this roster like Kyle Schwarber and Christian Vázquez.

We know Bloom won’t factor popularity into his roster-building equation. He didn’t when he shipped off all three members of the beloved outfield. Losing Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley, Jr. didn’t make Bloom the most beloved executive in town, but it did set the Sox on a course for the future.

That future included the additions of Kiké Hernández and Hunter Renfroe, two veterans with World Series experience. They were two key members of this team.

Like his predecessors, Bloom will use Boston’s financial strength to bring free agents to town. Yet he will also find value in other, unexpected ways. Like the Rule 5 Draft, which brought Garrett Whitlock from the Yankees. And the waiver wire, which is how Christian Arroyo became Boston’s starting second baseman.

Whitlock, along with Tanner Houck, gives the Sox a chance to bring youth to a starting rotation that has featured older pitchers in recent years. Nick Pivetta could be in that rotation, but also showed that he has the makeup and courage to be a tremendous closer. Adding him to the back end of the bullpen could allow Matt Barnes to regain his confidence as a setup reliever.

There is much work to be done, particularly in that bullpen. Yet the 2021 season reminded us that Boston doesn’t need to enter a three-to-five year rebuilding process to get back to where they want to be.

The Red Sox were the final AL East team standing in mid-October, eliminating the Yankees and Rays from the playoffs before losing to Houston. More than anything, those outcomes are what re-engaged the fans in Boston. They may not have gone all the way, but the Red Sox outlasted and outperformed divisional rivals who were expected to go much farther than Boston.

That’s how we should view this season. The Sox proved themselves against the best. And while they ultimately came up short, this season lasted a lot longer than anyone expected.

Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN.


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