Every Red Sox fan remembers the years 1918, 1967, 1975, 1978, 1986, and 2004. Some of those years are remembered fondly, others not so much. Now the year 2013 will be emblazoned in every Red Sox fans memory banks.
If you were to tell any baseball fan a year ago– nay, six months ago– that the Red Sox would win the World Series in 2013, you would have been asked to be fitted for a straitjacket. Tell them that John Lackey would be the winning pitcher in the clinching game and you would have been taken to the nearest mental institution.
It was just a year ago that then-manager Bobby Valentine called the Red Sox September roster “the weakest roster we’ve ever had in the history of baseball.” Twelve months later, new manager John Farrell commandeered a transformed roster into the best baseball team in the world. This new bunch of players packed their lunch bags and put on their hard hats every day from mid-February to the final days of October.
General manager Ben Cherington deserves the duck boat-load of credit for assembling this team. He said “no” to high price free agents like Josh Hamilton and B.J. Upton. He refused to trade the farm at the trading deadline for veterans arms like Cliff Lee or Matt Garza.
Instead he brought in second-tier free agents like Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Dempster, Stephen Drew, and Koji Uehara. None of them would have been perceived as “sexy” signings at the time.
The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo wrote an article entitled “Red Sox should have signed Josh Hamilton.” I’m not picking on Cafardo. He wasn’t alone in being disappointed the Sox didn’t make a bigger splash. Cafardo’s last line in that article read like this: “Twelve months from now, we should know which method was more successful.” We sure did.
What the 2013 Red Sox didn’t have in talent, they made up for with guile and resilience. They were a determined group, unified by a higher sense of purpose due to events following a Patriot’s Day game in April. Only a short time following the Red Sox 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, two low-life brothers decided to detonate bombs on Boylston Street near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Instead of the community cowering in terror, Boston was galvenized. From the ashes rose Boston Strong. David Ortiz epitomized the sentiment with his proclamation, “This is our (expletive) city!”
The months of the calendar flipped away one by one with the Red Sox remaining atop the AL East standings. Spring turned into summer. Summer turned into autumn.
The anticipated fade never happened. There would be no September collapse.
A season after only winning 69 games and finishing last in their division, the Red Sox would win 97 regular season games and be crowned American League East champions.
A higher power seemed to be at work right from the git-go of the playoffs. The Red Sox trailed, 2-0, after three innings in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa’s pitcher Matt Moore was cruising. David Price awaited the Red Sox in Game 2 of the best-of-five series. That’s when Wil Myers inexplicably let a ball drop next to him which opened up the flood gates for the Red Sox to score five runs in the inning. The Red Sox would go on to win, 12-2. They would dispose of the Rays in four games.
The Tigers came to town next for a best-of-seven series. Anibal Sanchez mowed down the Red Sox in a Game 1, 1-0, victory. The Tigers were well on their way to winning Game 2 as well. They led, 5-1, in the 8th inning. Max Scherzer continued the Tigers pitching domination, no-hitting the Sox through the first 5-2/3 innings. The Sox hitters were striking out at a record pace.
That’s when David Ortiz had the key play of the postseason run. With the score 5-1 in the 8th inning, Detroit manager Jim Leyland chose to go to his right-handed closer Joaquin Benoit instead of lefty Phil Coke to pitch to Ortiz with the bases loaded. Ortiz took Benoit’s first offering barely over the out-stretched arm of outfielder Torii Hunter into the right field bullpen for a grand slam which tied the game. It was a moment which will be etched in Red Sox lore forever.
The Tigers were never the same after that. Their unathleticism and bullpen deficiencies became exposed. They would be eliminated in six games.
The World Series brought the St. Louis Cardinals. Again, good fortune shined down on the Red Sox when the Cardinals stumbled out of the gate. Sure-handed shortstop Pete Kozma committed two errors in the first two innings. A simple infield pop up fell harmlessly to the ground between pitcher Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina in the second inning. The Red Sox would score five runs in the first two innings on their way to an 8-1 victory, their ninth consecutive World Series game victory.
The Red Sox would lose the next two games– the second on a controversial game-ending obstruction call. That would be the last game they would lose.
For the first time since 1918, the Red Sox would clinch the World Series on their home turf. This time Game 6 didn’t provide the same walk-off suspense as the Game 6’s the Red Sox had to endure in 1975 (Carlton Fisk home run) and 1986 (Bill… well, you know). This Game 6 was painless.
The beauty was everyone contributed on the run through the playoffs.
David Ortiz won the Series MVP hitting a ridiculous .688. His grand slam in Game Two against Detroit was the biggest hit of the year.
Mike Napoli hit two home runs in two different games against Detroit which the Red Sox won by one run.
“Mr. Intangibles” Jonny Gomes had the decisive three-run home run in Game 4 of the World Series which sparked the Red Sox final three game winning streak to the championship.
Shane Victorino hit the decisive grand slam in the Red Sox clinching game against the Tigers. He also hit the decisive three-run double to defeat St. Louis in the clinching game.
David Ross had a key RBI-double in Game 4 against St. Louis which saved manager John Farrell from having to make a critical decision about pinch-hitting for his highly effective starter, Jon Lester. Ortiz is the obvious World Series MVP, but people shouldn’t forget how important Ross was to the pitching staff. Give Farrell credit for making the switch.
Twenty-one-year old rookie Xander Bogaerts had a key walk in the Detroit series and hit a respectable .296 in the postseason. He finished third behind Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury on the team in runs scored in the postseason with nine.
I could go on and on. Even Stephen Drew hit a home run in the final game. His steady glove in the field made his ineptitude with the bat palatable.
The pitching staff got key contributions from Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Clay Buchholz– three of the perceived pariahs of the September 2011 collapse.
Felix Doubront, despite his reluctance to join the bullpen, had a couple of huge performances in relief.
Junichi Tazawa regained his early season form at the right time.
Brandon Workman, who started the season in Double-A, didn’t give up an earned run in 8-2/3 innings of relief in the postseason.
And Koji Uehara was, well, Koji– capping off the greatest season I’ve ever seen from a closer. High-fives all around.
In a season where, ironically enough, the Fenway ten-year sellout streak ended, these 2013 Red Sox were a very likable bunch. They put their hard hats on every day and night. They were the epitome of the word “team,” reminiscent of the 2001 champion New England Patriots where every game it seemed as if someone different stepped up. The 2013 Red Sox championship run was every bit as improbable as that 2001 Patriots championship run. This one, however, had more meaning.