With some long-running sitcoms, the postscript of the series finale will show key characters filming their last scenes. The director yells "cut" and shouts the actor's name, the crew and audience applaud, and hugs and tears commence.
The final week of 2014 strikes similar chords, at least when it comes to watching the starting pitchers wrap up their seasons. By and large, the various permutations of the rotation have pulled their weight. The starters aren't all equal, but even the guys who didn't have good seasons had redeeming moments, or nice stories. It doesn't rise to the level of a misty moment when Dylan Axelrod exits after 5⅔ innings, but he was in some episodes I liked, and he probably did all he could.
Andre Rienzo is a better example of this dynamic. He pitched six effective innings against Kansas City on Thursday night, departing after giving up a leadoff single. It locked in an no-decision at best during the worst September some of us may ever witness, so it's not exactly warm and fuzzy. But he had a nice season and actually provided some legitimate entertainment along the way, so he deserves an isolated applause track.
"Isolated" can't be stressed enough, because immediately after he left, the Sox bungled two bunts and allowed the decisive run to score (unearned, of course). At that point, CSN Chicago could've shown an Andre Rienzo retrospective instead of the last three innings, and everybody would have been better off.
Rienzo had a nice year for himself. He entered as the season as the Sox's fifth-best prospect, with his ceiling limited by doubts about his ability to stick as a starter. He kept his command in line well enough to remain in a rotation for an entire season. He proved himself worthy of a long look. He gave Brazil its first major-league pitcher. He picked up a couple of wins.
He might not come out of his extended audition with the job, mostly because the competition is formidable, and his peripherals need work:
But there's a path to success somewhere in there. His cutter and curve look legit when he locates them, so even if he can't do it for six innings every five days, he'll probably have a nice future in the bullpen. Even his inconsistency is a selling point at this stage in his career, because it means he found ways to bounce back from awful outings. Some rookies don't take lumps well, but he showed resilience. Add it all up, and he didn't close any roads.
The realistic best-case scenario for Rienzo entering the season was a taste of big-league success, so he got what he needed out of 2013. You can say the same thing for the other starters who have thrown their last pitches of the season this month, Hector Santiago (23 starts), John Danks (his health), and even Axelrod (a big-league paycheck for an entire year).
Those aren't necessarily ingredients for team success, but the league's worst group of position players forced the pitchers to fend for themselves for most of their 162 games. Good actors on bad shows usually don't have to endure the indignity for more than a handful of episodes.