Four seasons ago, the last time the Red Sox ended a season without admission into the postseason, the brand new ownership group inexplicably handed a brand new convertible over to Rickey Henderson, a player who toiled for 72 games in a Boston uniform. Even stranger, yet.
Then came yesterday.
In a day that contained four hours and four minutes of rain delays, a five-inning no-hitter by pitcher Devern Hansack, who had been out of baseball for the previous two seasons and was playing in Holland at this time last year, dramatic exits and behind-the-scenes intrigue, this one took the cake.
Would you expect anything less from a season that began with a general manager walking out of his office in a gorilla suit?
The obvious storylines entering the afternoon centered around the litany of players who resided on the precipice of not calling themselves members of the Boston Red Sox beyond the final out of what turned out to be a 9-0, rain-shortened victory for third-place Boston.
For some, such as free agent-to-be second baseman Mark Loretta, there was no time like the present to get a grasp on the future.
"I talked to (Red Sox general manager) Theo (Epstein) today," Loretta said. "Without giving too much away, I think where they are now is going through a series of scenarios, maybe eight or 10 with free agent, trades, ect., and I fit in a few of those.
"He initiated in the last couple of days, and I appreciated it. But in other words, they aren't sure. ... I wouldn't rule anything out."
Open-mindedness was a mantra permeating throughout the Sox yesterday. But, at every turn, it was met with a sense of reality.
It was why Loretta was taken out at the beginning of the fifth inning, and right fielder Trot Nixon exited two outs later, both receiving standing ovations from what was left of Boston's 81st straight sellout this season.
"I would love to stay here without a doubt," said Nixon, who revealed that neither he nor his agent, Ron Shapiro, have been in contact with the Red Sox. "I feel like I can compete on an everyday basis. If it doesn't work out, maybe there is an opportunity to come back (after his next contract).
"It's been a great ride. If any ballplayers were thinking about coming I'd tell them it's probably the greatest atmosphere they've ever played in."
Nixon and Loretta join fellow Red Sox players Alex Cora, Alex Gonzalez, Ken Huckaby, Gabe Kapler, Doug Mirabelli, Mike Timlin and Haverhill's Carlos Pena as players who have a chance to become outright free agents. Tim Wakefield's $4 million option will most likely be picked up by the Sox, and reliever Keith Foulke is thought to be leaning towards activating his own option of $3.7 million for next season.
"The last thing you want to do in the middle of a game is get emotional," said Sox manager Terry Francona, whose embrace of Nixon, a veteran of nine big league seasons with Boston, supplied the day's most telling show of sentiment.
And in the midst of the hugs and heroics (Mike Lowell managed to punctuate his fine season by ripping his 20th home run, while also reaching 80 RBI), was the day's mystery man, Hansack.
The 28-year-old, who Boston director of pro and international scouting Craig Shipley discovered playing for Nicaragua in the World Cup in Holland, hadn't pitched above Double A before Sept. 23. He began the season in the bullpen for Portland, found his way into the Sea Dogs' starting rotation, and eventually landed in Boston, where he was called upon yesterday to make his second major league start.
"Nobody knew who he was in spring training, but then you could see he had some nasty (stuff)," said Hansack's teammate in Portland, Kason Gabbard. "Once they turned him into a starter he was light's out."
Using a 92 mph fastball, a combination slider/curveball, and a bit of deception, Hansack held Baltimore to no hits and one walk while striking out six in five innings. He did come out and conduct his warm-up tosses for the sixth innings, only to be told by umpire Larry Vanover that the teams' were headed into the second, and final, rain delay.
Even though the performance wasn't officially a no-hitter (not going a full nine innings) it was the first time since Matt Young's eight-inning complete game no-hitter on April 12, 1992 that a pitcher had finished with a less-than-nine-inning no-hitter.
Just to add to the surreal nature of the event, Hansack tossed the symbol of his first major league win and mini no-hitter, his most recently-used ball, over the Red Sox dugout and into the stands.
And, after the game, with the players' boxes packed and farewell handshakes and hugs dispersed, Epstein joined Francona up in the Fenway Park interview room for one final time this season.
The GM recognized his mistakes, displayed his optimism regarding the youth of Boston's organization, and officially declared Jonathan Papelbon a starter. And with one sentence - coming after being asked how much will have to be done to get the Red Sox back untracked - Epstein put the period on his team's 86-win campaign.
"This is one of those years we have a lot to address," Epstein said.
And it all starts today.