Celebration much more rewarding than '16

It took 161 games, but Red Sox savor 2nd straight East title

Celebration much more rewarding than '16

BOSTON -- This time, the champagne tasted sweeter. The celebration felt more natural. The journey was more satisfying.

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The Red Sox made it back-to-back American League East titles for the first time in team history with Saturday's 6-3 win over the Astros -- the team Boston will play in the AL Division Series presented by Doosan beginning with Game 1 on Thursday in Houston.

The accomplishment was pulled off with just one game to spare.

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"I think we thought all along we were going to win the division," said Red Sox owner John Henry. "We just had to go out and actually do it, which is hard to do. We've never won back-to-back divisions. I think [president of baseball operations] Dave [Dombrowski] did a tremendous job to put us in position to win, and the players actually did it."

For the players who were part of the past two Red Sox teams, last year's division title doesn't compare.

The first reason is obvious. Last year, Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel served up a walk-off homer to Mark Teixeira at Yankee Stadium, and minutes later Boston had an AL East clinch party because Toronto had lost to reduce the magic number to zero.

It felt weird, and nobody on the Red Sox wanted to have that type of feeling again. This time, Kimbrel finished off the division crown by blowing a 98-mph fastball by George Springer.

It didn't matter that the hard-charging Yankees beat the Blue Jays again. Boston leads the AL East by two games with just one to play. You do the math.

"It was great, especially after last year," said Kimbrel. "It was great to get the final out, to be able to celebrate on the field and to come here and have a little bit more of an enjoyable celebration. It's been a long, tough season. We have a long way to go. We have a lot to celebrate."

Last year's Red Sox rode one last monster season from David Ortiz and had a juggernaut of an offense to produce a barrage of blowout victories en route to 93 wins. This year, the 93 wins with one game left to play have been harder to come by. There have been 15 extra-inning wins and 10 walk-off victories.

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"We're always fighting from behind and we're never going to give up," Kimbrel said. "That's the kind of team you've got to have by going to the playoffs. You've got to be scrappy and you've got to create runs and not always hit it over the fence. We have the team to do that."

And while last year's division title felt inevitable for weeks after an 11-game winning streak in early September, this one was a battle, particularly after a 1-4 start to the final homestand reduced the lead from five to two entering Saturday.

"We had our work cut out for us," said Red Sox ace Chris Sale. "We knew it wasn't going to be given to us. That was kind of our mindset the whole time: 'Let's go win these games. Let's not hope for somebody else losing. Let's go get our own wins and set our own destiny.' So we did that and here we are."

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"It makes it more fun, so I guess it makes it more sweet. I think the anxiety and everything that kind of built up toward the end of the year makes it more fun," said Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts.

"It took us 161 games to win the division," said Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts. "That's the main goal in Spring Training. You start off with that and then the World Series. One-hundred and sixty-one games, that took a long time."

But the Red Sox remained patient and methodical and finally came through in the end.

"We don't panic," said Red Sox designated hitter Hanley Ramirez. "You can see it in our faces. We know what kind of team we are. We are winners and mentally strong. We knew we could get it done."

In the end, they were right.

"This year has been more memorable because it's included everyone -- even from the Minor Leagues and the guys who got called up doing their job," Ramirez said. "It is a great feeling when you've got the whole group of guys doing work."

"I couldn't be more proud of this group and the way they were able to go out and do it on their own terms," said Red Sox manager John Farrell.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.