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Red Sox ready to deliver knockout punch

Posted by Adam Kaufman  October 30, 2013 06:46 AM

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Even before reporting to spring training in February, the Red Sox were counted out in 2013.

Three years at $39 million to Shane Victorino, on the heels of the worst year of his major league career. Two years and $10 million for Jonny Gomes, a role player with some pop at the plate who had never earned even $2 million in a single season. Two years totaling $6.2 million for veteran backup catcher David Ross, a career .237 hitter who had never made close to that kind of money.

That was the best way to tap into their Dodger-provided lottery winnings?

Sure, they got a good deal on strikeout-prone slugger Mike Napoli when they told the long-time backstop he had a hip problem, and bringing in Ryan Dempster seemed to provide depth to a rotation filled with questions, but the offseason didn’t exactly scream, “Contender!” to the Fenway faithful.

In fact, Boston was picked to finish near or at the bottom of the American League East by most national pundits and a vast majority of the local authorities.

As it turned out, the Sox wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Throughout their worst-to-first turnaround, the increasingly affable Red Sox were counted out at every turn.

A 20-8 record right out of the gate? Just a great start.

The first team to 50 wins? Nice accomplishment, but it’s only June.

The majors’ best team at the All-Star break? Who have they played? They lost three of four to the Tigers!

Boy, this Koji Uehara guy is pretty good, huh? He’s 38, pitching too many innings in too many games, and he’s never really been a closer, either.

But they took two of three on the road from the Dodgers! Yeah, and they dodged Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.

Come on, they’re first in the division, and it’s nearly September. Good for them. The Rays are a game back.

Boston ran away with the division. The Rays blew it. Well, those 36 come-from-behind wins are a pretty dangerous way to live in a playoff series. You know that’s not sustainable, right?

The Sox have arguably the best offense in baseball. That’s nice. They also struggled against lefties and top-level pitchers. Even if they get past David Price and Matt Moore, they still have to face Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.

They did it. They survived them all. They’re going to the World Series. Not sure if you know this, but the Cardinals are the banner organization in all of baseball. They’re as good as the Red Sox in nearly every category. Maybe better.

Each step of the way, the Red Sox have been counted out. And yet here they are, their miserable 69-win season deep in the rearview mirror as they sit only one triumph away from a third championship in the span of a decade.

Weren’t we foolish.

Just as they’ve done what seems like a million times before, this Boston Strong group of hairy overachievers will laugh last when they stamp their 108-win season with Fenway’s first title clincher for the home team since 1918.

And could there be a better guy to finish the job than John Lackey?

Once detestable for his on-field results, off-field diet, and surly demeanor everywhere, the veteran hurler is now a fan favorite. Thanks to his friends, Tommy John and Jenny Craig.

With talents like David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and Jon Lester, or character additions such as Gomes and Victorino, Lackey isn’t the face of this year’s Red Sox, but he should be.

The Sox were as consistent as any team in baseball, and Lackey was their most dependable starter from April to October. For both him and the organization, a new season represented a rebirth. A redemption tour.

When the 2012 incarnation of the franchise flopped, it became utterly apparent that changes had to be made, and it was far more severe than anyone would have guessed. And when Lackey posted a 6.41 ERA during that unfavorable 2011 campaign, it was clear that his issues were more serious than an inability to find the strike zone.

No longer should he be traded for a bag of balls, or his contract eaten at the rate he devoured fried chicken and beer.

Now, this bargain pitcher is as healthy and reliable as his team is superior.

Lackey outdueled Verlander – a guy with four top-five Cy Young finishes – in the ALCS, and he’s pitched well in two appearances in the World Series.

Two? Sure. Who needs a bullpen session after a Game 2 start when you can just pitch a pivotal scoreless eighth inning to hold a Game 4 lead instead?

Fittingly, that relief appearance marked the first time Lackey had emerged from the bullpen in the playoffs since he did so in the 2002 World Series, when he also had the opportunity to pitch his team to a title in the clinching game. It was a Game 7 that year, but the then-rookie allowed one run over five innings and, after 3 hours and 16 minutes, the Anaheim Angels were going to Disney Land.

The Cardinals are a great team, just as good as the one they’ll be visiting over the next night or two at Fenway. They believe they can win, they’re good on the road, they trust in their rookie phenom, Michael Wacha, and they’re not unfamiliar with what it takes to win an elimination game. After all, they’ve claimed three in four chances this postseason alone.

But the Red Sox have taken everyone’s best shot in 2013. They've been bruised, battered, and beaten by opponents, media, and fans, and they’re still standing. They refuse to go away.

Why should tonight be any different?

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman

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About this blog

Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.

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