By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
In an October full of stunning developments for the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, the biggest shocker may have come in the bullpen. Specifically, much-maligned righty Joe Kelly, who just authored a redemption tale of his own in helping the Sox reach baseball’s pinnacle.
Let’s be honest, nothing tops David Price subverting his entire postseason narrative. But Kelly came damn close to earning his place as the Red Sox’ most pleasant surprise in October, transforming practically overnight. In an astonishing run for a beleaguered bullpen, Kelly became the team’s most dominant reliever.
A question no one thought they’d ask on Oct. 1: where would this team have gone without Machine Gun Kelly?
Excluding one hiccup in Houston, when the Astros scored the go-ahead run off him in Game 4 of the ALCS, Kelly blew through the 2018 postseason and built to an overpowering crescendo in the World Series. The Dodgers couldn’t touch the guy. And he was throwing strikes, too: six innings, no runs allowed, no walks, 10 strikeouts.
Kelly threw strikes early and often, with all of his pitches. He dotted the corners with both 100-mph heat and well-placed breaking balls. He flummoxed everyone in his path, putting an exclamation point on his month by striking out the side in the eighth inning of Game 5.
WATCH: Joe Kelly strikes out side
Same guy who trudged through the regular season with a 4.39 ERA and 1.36 WHIP, who frustrated Red Sox Nation to the point of bewilderment. How could a guy with stuff this good be this unreliable?
So much for that narrative.
Kelly’s redemption tale goes back even further than Price’s. It’s hard to believe that Kelly has been around since 2014, when the Red Sox acquired him along with Allen Craig from the Cardinals for John Lackey. He’s signed a series of one-year deals since, most recently one year and $3.8 million this past season.
It felt like the Red Sox were banging their heads against the wall with this dude. Like that trade would never pay off. Man oh man has it paid off now.
Overall, Kelly struck out 13 batters in 11.1 postseason innings, letting only one earned run cross the plate. He was a major part of why the Red Sox’ biggest flaw in the regular season, middle relief, suddenly became one of their biggest strengths. He dominated the Dodgers, and he did it with the same kind of psychotic swagger he showed when he willingly tussled with the Yankees’ Tyler Austin back in April.
I’d be cool if Joe Kelly was my uncle pic.twitter.com/1zxIJN1UpZ— Dan Wrenn (@dan_wrenn52) October 29, 2018
Kelly always had this in him. He’s always had the stuff. He’s always had the Bulldog Mentality™. He just never had the command or consistency for those qualities to really deliver.
Until this past October.
The fireballng righty most certainly earned himself a raise with the way he performed. He’s due to hit free agency, and could even have some closing jobs lined up for him. So it could be tough for the Red Sox to keep him around long-term if they want to. But with Craig Kimbrel also set to hit free agency, perhaps Dave Dombrowski looks to retain him.
If he’s going to get that from Kelly once the games really start to matter, could you blame him? For a Red Sox team that silenced so many critics and killed so many longstanding narratives, Kelly is right near the top of that list.
Four years ago, Kelly looked like a throw-in in a trade. Hell of a throw-in he turned out to be.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.