BIG PAPI FINISHED HIS SEASON with a curtain call — following a bunt single. In a (mostly) meaningless final game, it was something to cheer for. Jon Lester finished his season one win shy of 20. The Red Sox finished one win under 90. And, in what was possibly his final at-bat in a Red Sox uniform (the only major league uniform he’s ever worn), Jason Varitek drove a ball that was destined for the bullpen, but caught on the warning track. This season, a lot of things came up just a little bit short.

Today, the standings show the Red Sox seven games out of first place in the American League East and six games out of the wild card, with zero games left to play. But back when there were still 130 games left to play, CHB was already on the ledge, just short of declaring the end of everything in early May. “I don’t want to panic or overreact,” he wrote, “but is it possible the Red Sox season is already over?” This was the outlook even before Beckett, Matsuzaka, Buchholz, Martinez, Varitek, Pedroia, and Youklis all went down with one kind of injury or another, two of them the season-ending kind.

And, of course, Papi was done for, we all knew that. (Never mind that he was done for last season, as well.) This time it really was the end — it certainly sounded like it: “I miss the old days, too,” he said. Yikes. No matter what time of year it is or where the team is in the standings, it’s hard not to take a gloomy view of the season when your affable, heroic, universally beloved DH starts talking like this:

“Do you understand that this is killing me?” [Ortiz said]. “Do you know when I’m going good I cannot sleep because I’m trying to remember everything that I did right so I can repeat it the next day and the next? And that’s when I’m going good. When I’m going bad, it’s even worse because everybody looks to me to be the guy who comes through for this ballclub. It’s like I never sleep anymore.”

So, the 2010 Red Sox season was ending before the spring would. Not just ending, but scuffling, crashing, breaking its ribs (twice), breaking its foot (also twice), catching mono, and developing mystery infections. And then getting up off the dirt to play again. Because despite the mess, somehow there was still plenty of baseball worth watching, right through the summer and even into the first weeks of fall when playoff chances looked more like lottery odds. As the Boston Globe’s Chad Finn said, “Can’t think of a Sox team that missed the postseason that I’ll remember as well as this one. Call it the D-Mac Effect.”

Last year, there was the improbable rise of Nick Green. This year, half the line-up was filled with D-Macs. After being hastily added to the 40-man roster and following a memorable pinch-hitting debut, Darnell McDonald kept showing up to the park and playing major league baseball all season long, even after nearly being designated for assignment halfway through. Daniel Nava, a 27-year-old rookie, played 60 games for the team, hitting exactly one home run. And Bill Hall, a utility player who turned into a 96-game starter, seemed to be everywhere, including the pitching mound, playing every position except catcher and first base.

Hall was also part of one of the most exciting half-innings of the season, in which the Red Sox stole four bases off Mariano Rivera, and rallied to take the lead from the Yankees in the bottom of the 8th. Of course, the Sox went on to lose that pivotal game in the 10th, following their own blown save, because that’s just the kind of season it was. Their record was 6-12 in extra innings, and they had 13 walk-off losses on the road — two statistics that add up to a lot of heartbreak and sleepy-eyed muttering. After 149 games, the team had used 133 different batting orders and 43 different starting outfield combinations – often filled with no-name journeymen, rookies, minor league call-ups, and banged up regulars.

In short, a great many things happened in this shortened season, and, as expected, none of it could be expected. That’s why they call it baseball. Fifty years ago, Ted Williams hit the very last major league pitch he ever saw for a home run. Fifty years later, Daniel Nava hit the very first major league pitch he ever saw for a grand slam. The very last major league pitch to Mike Lowell was dinged high off the top of the Green Monster, just another long Fenway single. Varitek’s last swing was just a loud out. And, Ortiz, he finished his season with a bunt.

But the once beleaguered big guy also ended up with 32 home runs and 102 RBI this season — and he’s just three short of the all-time RBI record for a DH (currently held by Edgar Martinez). The informed baseball watcher will tell you that RBI is a meaningless statistic. That may be true, but so was the last game of the season: a surprise bunt single, a frivolous curtain call; a well-struck ball by the team’s captain that might have made it out of the park, but didn’t; and one more win. None of it really adds up to anything. But just like the statistically meaningless RBI, at least it was still fun to watch.

We’ll get ’em next year.

ADDENDUM: Somehow I wrote an entire recap of the 2010 Red Sox season without mentioning how much fun Adrian Beltre was to have on the team.

First, a chart detailing the “Causes of Red Sox Injuries”.

Second, one of my favorite Jerry Remy/Don Orsillo on-air exchanges, during a dustup with the Indians:

Orsillo: I tell you, one of the last people I’d throw at is Adrian Beltre.
Remy: The human destroyer.