The Improbable Dream continues.
There's no waking up, at least not yet.
Shane Victorino's seventh-inning grand slam sent the shame-on-you-for-doubting-us Red Sox into the World Series Saturday, ending the season for the Detroit Tigers in the process.
Actually, plain old "Victor" is sufficient.
This is the baseball season that keeps on giving, a string of Christmas Mornings that began with a new look and attitude in spring training and continued Saturday with a 5-2 victory over the Tigers in Game 6 of the ALCS.
The Red Sox have provided each other and their fans with seven months of baseball-induced joy and emotional salve to a city whose people, those who claim it as home and those who love it so were shattered [allegedly] by the Brothers Grim on Patriots' Day.
"Boston. Boston strong," Victorino told the Fenway crowd when it was over.
Ground Zero for one of the many ways that "#BostonStrong" has been ameliorated now includes Fenway Park, where a rematch of the 2004 World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals begins Wednesday.
To get here, the Red Sox fully evolved from a single-cell creature buried in the fallout of the Nuclear Winter of 2011-12 to a multi-headed bearded beast that won 104 games, rolled to the American League East title and beat the best-team standing in six games in the ALCS.
Destiny and Karma once appeared nightly at the old Yankee Stadium. This season, they've been splitting time on the main stage at Fenway Park with their sisters, Hope and Faith.
Saturday, they were escorted by Victorino and 21-year-old rookie sensation and Cooperstown 100th Anniversary Class in 2039 inductee Xander Bogaerts. The cold-blooded Bogaerts drew a key walk on a 3-2 count in the seventh, which led to the exit of Max Scherzer. Once again, Scherzer dominated the Red Sox. Once again, his effort was destroyed by a grand-slam hit by a member of the Red Sox off the Tigers' bullpen.
"I felt like I was going to throw up," Uehara said through a translator when it was over. Welcome to New England in October when the Red Sox are in the playoffs.
The youngest among us must believe these visits to the World Series are the norm for baseball fans in New England, or at least those who live north and east of the I-84, Route 8 interchange in Waterbury, Conn., as well as those who root for this team from afar. After all, this is Boston's third World Series appearance in the past nine years, and it won the previous two. But taking the long view, this is a relatively rare event. Boston had won "just" eight American League titles in the past 95 years. That's one every decade, more or less. More like less.
The Red Sox historically have been a team trapped and framed by history. Whether they were "Cursed" or implored fans to "Keep the Faith," carried them to a "Fever Pitch" or created a "Nation," the Red Sox were always about the past somehow catching up with the present. Even when the present finally won in 2004, the first impulse for so many of us was to cry while recalling family or friends who never lived long enough to see that elusive championship. The trip to the Duck Boat parade was preceded by a stop at the cemetery. The 2007 title was "for us," but it came quickly and methodically during the zenith amid the Decade of Dominance. It, dare we say, had an almost routine and expected feel to it.
Of Boston's pennant winners in the post-Impossible Dream era, this team was as much a surprise as it was an unique and organic creation. The other pennant winners were mainly extensions of the teams that preceded them, with a few key additions to fill key holes.
The 1975 Red Sox added rookie phenoms [yes, we know they played in 1974] Fred Lynn and Jim Rice into the outfield full-time. The 1986 Red Sox were a slightly-altered version of their 1985 counterparts. Before the 2004 season, the Red Sox set the stage for history by hiring Terry Francona, acquiring Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke, but the starting nine were basically unchanged from the year before until Nomar Garciaparra was traded. Meanwhile, the only notable difference between the 2007 Red Sox and the 2006 Red Sox was the arrival of Dice-K.
This team stood on its own, thanks to baseball acumen of Ben Cherington and his team of Boy Geniuses. All season, folks have been saying Cherington hasn't gotten enough credit for his role in building this team. So the next time you see him, make sure he gets a gold star on his forehead and free chocolate-chip cookies at lunch.
[Here's just one taste of how far the Red Sox have progressed in the past 15 months.]
Turnover is a natural occurrence after 69-win seasons. From the manager to the back-up catcher, the Red Sox underwent the mother of all "Extreme Makeovers" heading into 2013, under the guidance of Cherington. Larry Lucchino, who "runs the Red Sox," wisely stayed out of the spotlight. As Red Sox fans sat in their baseball fallout shelters, his name was as toxic as Valentine's, Josh Beckett's or A-Rod's.
Sixty percent of the Opening Day 2012 lineup [including the DH] has departed. Of the 13 pitchers the Red Sox had on that roster, only Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales remain.
The 2013 Red Sox were conceived in the 2012 deal that dumped $260 million of payroll on the now extinct in the playoff Dodgers. Reveling in the demise of Josh Beckett, whose been missing due to injury [surprise, surprise] since June, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford isn't worth the effort of typing their names here.
The Nuclear Winter began to thaw when Bobby Valentine was put out of our misery and the Red Sox hired a manager who was actually into managing. From his first press conference with the Red Sox, when John Farrell spoke of glitches in Lester's delivery that he had noticed when he was managing the Blue Jays, it was evident that the adults were back in charge in the clubhouse on Yawkey Way. Valentine probably didn't even realize Lester was on the Red Sox.
Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes and Victorino, all acquisitions by Cherington that raised questions and doubt, fueled the formation of Team Chemistry this offseason. John Lackey was raised from the dead and worked off about half his $82.5 million deal in Boston's 1-0 win over Detroit in Game 4.
The Iglesias-White Sox-Jake Peavy deal was hardly the steal of the century, but the Red Sox did pick up 8 1/2 games in the standings on Tampa Bay from the day they made that deal until the day they clinched the division. Bogaerts proved that 21 is the new 30. Jacoby Ellsbury embraced his salary drive. The fourth time was the charm for Cherington in finding a closer. Marginal acquisitions like Craig Breslow [acquired in mid-2012] and David Ross paid monstrous dividends. Even as all-glove, not-hit Stephen Drew morphed into J.D. Drew at the plate [without the pennant-inducing grand-slam], he was nearly flawless at short.
The Red Sox have gone from the doghouse's outhouse to the penthouse at Boston's Mandarin-Oriental.
It's been a spring, summer and autumn full of beards, f-bombs, comebacks, walkoffs, deals, steals, heels [remember the "Curse of the Dempstino?"], the 617 Boston Strong jersey, dugout phone assaults, a lucky cigar
Indian Native American, a lights out bullpen, some hellacious Fenway celebrations, and most importantly, terrific baseball that restored this team's presence in the soul of New England.
The 2013 American League champions sneaked up on the rest of baseball. At the same time, many had a sense of what was coming back on April 20 when Ortiz delivered the greatest single declaration in the history of Boston since Gen. Israel Putnam said [or didn't say] "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes" during the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Ortiz gave a G-rated rendition of the speech Saturday to the crowd and Fox audience. "This this is our bleeeeeep city."
And to make that day last April even more memorable, Daniel Nava hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth that put the Red Sox ahead for good.
Don Orsillo's call said it all.
"Boston, this is for you." the NESN announcer said as Uehara caught Nava's home run in the Red Sox bullpen.
Boston, this is for you, indeed.
And there's no reason to wake up any time soon.
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