Boston's improbable run culminates in championship
Boston's improbable run culminates in championship
By Richard Justice
BOSTON -- There'll be more talented championship teams than the 2013 Boston Red Sox. They'll probably be among the first to admit as much. There'll be champions with more star power, too. That's pretty much a given.
To love these Red Sox, you have to appreciate other things -- for instance, such old-fashioned values as teamwork and unselfishness. You have to believe that those things really do matter.
If you can wrap your mind around a professional sports team that prides itself on its closeness and work ethic, you can fall in love with the Red Sox. How else can you explain this remarkable outfit?
Just a year removed from losing 93 games and finishing last in the American League East, Boston's hardball club completed an improbable journey of redemption on Wednesday night by winning the World Series.
The Red Sox defeated the Cardinals, 6-1, in Game 6 of the Fall Classic on a chilly evening in front of a rambunctious crowd of 38,447 at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox joined the 1991 Twins as the only teams to win a World Series a year after finishing last. Stories of rebirth were scattered around their clubhouse.
World Series MVP David Ortiz, who batted .688 over the six games, proved that he could still perform at a high level. When this season began, there was plenty of doubt about that.
Most World Series titles
Right-hander John Lackey, who allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings to win Game 6, remade his body and his career. First baseman Mike Napoli ignored a contract dispute that easily could have turned ugly.
Every single one of them decided to put away his personal agenda to focus only on what was best for the team and to prove that the team we saw last season wasn't the real Red Sox.
"A number of returning players were driven and motivated to rewrite their own story," manager John Farrell said. "The one thing that really stands out more than anything is just their overall will to win, and that was no more evident than in this entire postseason."
Almost no one outside the clubhouse believed it could play out this way. The Red Sox weren't loaded with stars.
"We're a scrappy team that played the game in old-school ways," president/CEO Larry Lucchino said. "We came together in a way that's truly remarkable."
Red Sox's World Series-winning managers
Ed Barrow *
Jimmy Collins ***
* -- Member of the Baseball Hall of Fame as executive
** -- Eight games played in series, but Game 2 ended in 6-6 tie due to darkness
*** -- Hall of Fame player
Last season's struggle was a motivating force.
"There was a tremendous feeling of embarrassment here a year ago," Farrell said.
Right fielder Shane Victorino slapped a three-run double off the Green Monster in the bottom of the third inning to get the Red Sox rolling in Game 6. Boston added three runs in the fourth, and that was pretty much that.
When the game ended, the emotions of a season that began nine months ago in Fort Myers, Fla., were unleashed in a torrent of bear hugs, laughter and accomplishment. In this era of unprecedented parity in baseball, the Red Sox are the closest thing to a dynasty, having won the World Series three times in the last 10 seasons.
"It's a dream I didn't even contemplate dreaming," COO Sam Kennedy said, "and I'm an optimistic person."
Remember when Boston was the team that could never get over the hump? Remember the bitter disappointments of 1967, '75 and '86? Now this is a franchise that is operated shrewdly, managed brilliantly and fueled by a collective burning desire to succeed.
It all begins with a vision general manager Ben Cherington had for his club. First, he hired Farrell, whom the players respected immediately because of his preparation, honesty and demand that things be done a certain way.
But as much as Farrell did for the Red Sox, it wouldn't have been nearly enough if Cherington hadn't been able to remake the roster. Cherington filled holes here, there and everywhere by signing seven free agents. None of them would be considered a star. None of them got really big money.
Cherington wanted players who had reputations for being good clubhouse guys. He wanted players who understand that playing for the Red Sox is a unique experience -- that is, expectations are high, and players are held accountable.
Cherington was methodical, adding a Victorino one day, a Jonny Gomes the next. Napoli signed on, too. So did David Ross, Ryan Dempster, Koji Uehara and Stephen Drew.
Everything clicked. The same things drove these players. They loved to work, and they cared for one another. Though the Red Sox got their star power from familiar names -- Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester -- they were fueled by all of them.
"You know, winning this World Series is special," Ortiz said. "I think it might be the most special out of all the World Series that I have been part of, to be honest with you. We have a lot of players with heart. We probably don't have the talent that we had in '07 and '04. ... And when you win with a ballclub like that, that's special."
The Red Sox improved by 28 games over 2012, led the Majors in runs and spent 158 days in first place. In short, they were pretty much a perfect hardball team. And although it was hokey at times hearing the things they said about one another, it was magical, too.
"We love each other," Napoli said. "We don't just hang out while we're here. We hang out off the field. Our families get together. It's a group that's so tight. We play for each other. No one is selfish on this team. We play for one another."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.