Ringless Red Sox veterans crave World Series title
Gomes, Napoli, Dempster among Boston players trying to win first championship
ST. LOUIS -- The Red Sox clearly boast a championship pedigree, with previous winners like David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino making up a big chunk of the roster.
But there's also a rather large segment that falls on the opposite side of that.
"We have a pretty unique group in here of world champs with rings," left fielder Jonny Gomes said, "and on the flip side of that, veteran guys like myself and Nap, Demp, and other guys on the utmost pedal-to-the-metal grind for that ring."
"Nap" is Mike Napoli, "Demp" is Ryan Dempster and "other guys" include the likes of David Ross, Jake Peavy, Craig Breslow and Gomes himself, all of whom have played long and won nothing. They bring an important element to this Red Sox team -- any World Series team, for that matter -- because they know how hard this is.
They've tasted the bitter, which allows them to appreciate the sweet.
"There are a number of guys who I think have looked forward to this point in their careers and don't take that for granted," Breslow said. "I also think there is a consensus in here that this is a special team with a chance to do something special. And now, we've got five games left to do it."
Breslow, the Red Sox's 33-year-old lefty reliever, is in his first postseason after seven previous years -- and five other teams -- without meaningful October baseball. Then there's Gomes, an 11-year veteran who went through five straight years of at least 90 losses with the Rays and got beat by the Tigers in last year's American League Division Series. Or Dempster, the 36-year-old right-hander who suffered through a combined 206 losses with the Marlins from 1998-99 and lost 90-plus games with the Reds in 2003 and the Cubs in 2006 and 2011.
Not long ago, Ross, 36, wasn't even sure he'd play anymore. A second concussion in 2013 forced him to miss two months midseason and, as he said, "I was looking at the end of my career." Now, after 11 years without even making it past the first round, he's three wins away from his first title.
The other day, he got a text message from one of his old Dodgers teammates, Shawn Green, who simply said: "Enjoy the moment."
"A bunch of old teammates text me on a daily basis just of how jealous they are and how happy they are for me," Ross said. "It's great. We try to stay focused on game to game and not look at the end result, but this is a dream come true, just being here. I would hate to get this close and not get a ring."
Napoli experienced that just two years ago.
The Rangers were one out away from securing a World Series championship at Busch Stadium in 2011, and Napoli was on his way to MVP honors after a Series that saw him bat .350 with two homers and 10 RBIs. But Texas tanked Game 6 and lost Game 7.
"The main thing was trying to get back here," Napoli said, "but I think it's nice being able to play against them. They took a world championship away from me."
Nobody ever took a world championship away from Peavy, because he's hardly ever sniffed one. Three times, Peavy pitched for Padres teams that lost at least 95 games. And when the Red Sox clinched the AL East, the 32-year-old right-hander was reaching the postseason for the first time since 2006, when San Diego lost to the Cardinals in the National League Division Series for the second straight year.
On Saturday, he'll take the mound with an opportunity to correct that -- as one of many Red Sox veterans still chasing that elusive ring.
"I don't know if we bring anything else to the mix other than I can tell you there's 25 guys and a coaching staff and an organization on the other side that wants this as bad as we've ever wanted anything in life," Peavy said, "and are going to do all we can do to make it happen. That's not saying it's going to happen, but I promise you this, we're going to exhaust every effort we can possibly do as a group to try to win a World Series. As I'm sure St. Louis is doing it, and that's what makes it so great."