BOSTON — They began playing baseball in the cool air of a Maine spring evening, nearly seven months ago at Hadlock Field. Xander Bogaerts and Brandon Workman wore their Portland Sea Dogs caps, the ones featuring a cute seal holding a bat in its mouth.
They began as minor leaguers.
And now they are going to the World Series.
“We’re a long way from Portland,” Workman said, standing on the Fenway Park infield Saturday night, amidst a crowd of reporters, teammates, family and anyone else who got to sneak onto the field for the post-game celebration.
The Boston Red Sox beat the Detroit Tigers 5-2 Saturday and clinched a spot in the World Series, which will begin Wednesday at Fenway, against the St. Louis Cardinals.
This Boston team features many former Sea Dogs players, since Portland is the second-to-last stop for Red Sox minor leaguers working their way to the majors.
But Bogaerts, 21, and Workman, 25, are among that rare breed that begin a season in Portland, the Double-A level of the minors, and reach the majors in the same year.
“Amazing,” Bogaerts said. “I didn’t even think I was going to be called up.”
Not only were Bogaerts and Workman called up, they are now performing on the biggest stage, and contributing in big ways.
Bogaerts, starting as the Boston third baseman Saturday night, reached base all three times he was up to bat, scoring two runs. Workman pitched nearly two innings, allowing no runs during a crucial time of the game.
“They did a great job,” Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “Their composure, everything, you can’t teach that. These are two guys who have never been in this situation, around a lot of veteran guys.
“They are not trying to do too much. Just going out there and playing their game.”
Back in Maine, Portland Sea Dogs chairman Bill Burke watched, enthralled.
“Workman took the mound with such confidence,” Burke said. “And the kid (Bogaerts) is so poised, to see him thrust in there.”
Burke said he does not get to know the players real well, but was thrilled to watch first base coach Arnie Beyeler, who was the Sea Dogs manager from 2007 to 2010.
“To see him, as hard as he’s worked, not only coaching first, but knowing the influence he’s had on those players,” Burke said.
The current Sea Dogs manager, Kevin Boles, is in Venezuela, coaching a winter league team.
“I wasn’t able to watch (Saturday) night because our game was going on, but I heard from our people that ‘Work’ and ‘X’ did a great job,” Boles wrote via email.
“I saw the replay of the final out on a screen in the concourse of our stadium. I jumped up and down and probably looked like an idiot to everyone here. Unreal.”
Very real. Sea Dogs general manager Geoff Iacuessa said it was “neat to see” all the former Sea Dogs. He figured 17 of the 25 Red Sox players had spent time in Portland, either as minor leaguers or major leaguers coming back from injury on rehab assignments.
“Once they get to us, they are close (to the majors),” Iacuessa said.
And while every baseball player dreams of being the star in the big game, Bogaerts knows better.
“I was talking to (teammate Quintin) Berry. He was in the playoffs last year,” Bogaerts said. “He just told me, ‘Don’t try to be the hero. Just try to help.’ Help is the word. Just contribute and let the other guys do the rest.”
On Saturday, the Red Sox faced Detroit starting pitcher Max Scherzer, considered the best in the American League this year with his devastating mix of pitches, including a 96-mph fastball, a slider (like a curveball, but much faster) and a change-up.
With the count two strikes and two balls on Bogaerts in his first at-bat, he let a slider go by, just off the plate.
“Most people would swing at that pitch. I don’t know how I didn’t swing at it,” Bogaerts said with his usual candor. “From that pitch on, I started smiling. I knew it was going to be a good day.”
Bogaerts doubled his next time up and scored. In the big seventh inning, Bogaerts walked again and scored on Shane Victorino’s game-winning grand slam.
“He’s beyond his years,” Boston manager John Farrell said of Bogaerts. “He has a bright, bright future.”
Farrell summoned Workman in the sixth inning when Boston looked in trouble. Detroit led 2-1 and had runners on first and third base, with no outs. Dangerous hitters Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila were the next batters.
Workman got Peralta to ground into a double-play – on a heads-up defensive effort by second-baseman Dustin Pedroia – and then struck out Avila.
In the seventh inning, Workman allowed a few baserunners, but also got two outs.
“Workman tonight was outstanding,” Farrell said.
Workman is confident for a rookie, a confidence that he demonstrated at Hadlock Field – and now at Fenway.
“I believed I could get it done in that spot, and I did,” Workman said. “I made pitches that kept us in the game.”
Soon, Workman was rushing onto the field, joining his teammates, including Bogaerts. They hugged, cheered, gave interviews, and eventually joined in the champagne-spraying celebration in the clubhouse.
Their one-year, head-spinning journey is almost complete, from April games at Hadlock Field to World Series games in late October.