Red Sox defy skeptics, as lofty goals come to fruition
After last-place finish, offseason notion of contending seemed rather optimistic
BOSTON -- Coming into Spring Training, the Red Sox had a new manager for the second year in a row and a bunch of unfamiliar faces. What they didn't have, at least in the opinion of some outside observers, was a chance to be particularly good. Not coming off the late-season crash of 2011 and a last-place finish in '12.
A team for which contending had become as much of a fixture around historic Fenway Park as Yawkey Way, the Green Monster and the Citgo sign had missed the playoffs each of the previous three years.
As the whole world knows by now, the Red Sox did more than contend. They rolled to 97 wins, tied with the Cardinals for the best record in baseball. The Sox rolled by the Rays in the American League Division Series and the Tigers in the AL Championship Series. And on Wednesday night, in Game 6 of the World Series, Boston completed its remarkable turnaround with a 6-1 win over St. Louis that gave the franchise its third World Series championship in the last 10 seasons.
Now that it's in the books, it all seems so obvious, so inevitable. It wasn't. But what the holdover and the new acquisitions saw was a front office that was committed to doing whatever it could to get better.
"Your goal every year if you play for the Red Sox is to ... try to win the World Series," said second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who won the AL Rookie of the Year Award for Boston in 2007 -- the previous time the club won the Fall Classic. "That's never going to change here."
Beasts of the East
Shane Victorino, one of the seven free agents signed by the Red Sox in the offseason, said it was just a "bump in the road" that this team hadn't even made the playoffs since 2009.
"Even though they were in last place, I knew this was a first-class organization," Victorino said. "They're about winning. They want to be on top."
Fair enough. But any team that wins the World Series needs a break here and there. And the 2013 Red Sox were no exception.
• Koji Uehara was just about as automatic as a closer can possibly be. His WHIP was an almost incomprehensible 0.57. But Uehara didn't become Boston's designated closer until the end of June after Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey were injured. Even Junichi Tazawa briefly held the title before Uehara.
• The Red Sox were so sure that John Farrell was the right man to manage the team that they compensated the Blue Jays for letting him out of the last year of his contract in Toronto. Farrell proved to be the steady presence that was needed, but it's also a fact that he was 16 games under .500 in his two seasons at the Jays' helm.
• When a team brings in so many new faces, it isn't a surprise when it takes awhile for the personalities to mesh. Not this group. The Sox went 18-8 in April and spent 158 days in first place.
"[General manager] Ben Cherington deserves all the credit in the world for the players he's brought in. And, most importantly, [credit] to the players," Farrell said. "To come in and see the energy and commitment they had, the buying into a team concept every single day ... and the one thing that stands out more than anything is just the overall will to win."
The Red Sox, the team that led the Major Leagues in runs scored during the regular season, won despite batting just .211 as a team in the World Series. They won because left-hander Jon Lester and Uehara were almost unhittable, and because Ortiz had a ridiculous .760 on-base percentage.
But what really made this season special was the way the team and the city came together after the Boston Marathon bombings. In the first game back at Fenway after the tragedy, the Red Sox trailed, 2-1, going into the bottom of the eighth. But Jonny Gomes led off with a double, then stood at second base in a Popeye-after-eating-his-spinach pose that came to symbolize the team's refusal to lose and the city's refusal to cower in the face of terrorism. Maybe it's not a coincidence that the Red Sox had 11 walk-off wins, the most for the franchise since 1961.
Ortiz spoke to the crowd after accepting the World Series MVP Award.
"First of all, I want to say, 'This is for you, Boston,'" Ortiz said to wild cheers. "You guys deserve this. You've been through a lot this year, and this is for all of you and all of those families who struggled with the bombing earlier this year. This is for all of you."
Victorino touched on the same theme.
"All those who were affected in the tragedy, Boston Strong," Victorino said. "Thank you very much."
A few feet away, "B STRONG" had been carved into the outfield grass. The "B" was the Red Sox logo.
"In a time of need, in response to a tragedy, I go back to our players understanding their place in this city," Farrell said. "For lack of a better way to describe it, they get it. They get that there's a responsibility that we have wearing this uniform, especially here in Boston. It became a connection, initially, with the way our guys reached out to individuals or through hospital visits. And it continued to build throughout the course of the season.
"It got to the point where they appreciated the way we played the game. And in return, they gave these guys an incredible amount of energy to thrive on in this ballpark."
So many extraordinary things happened to the Red Sox this year. It's standard, after the champagne has been sprayed and the trophy carried around the field, for players to insist that they knew all along that something special was brewing.
Pedroia tweeted in March that Red Sox fans would be advised to jump on the bandwagon immediately.
"Because we were going to do something special," Pedroia reminded on Wednesday night. "And we did."