In a quiet corner of the clubhouse, through the clouds of cigar smoke and the celebratory drizzle, the oldest member of these Red Sox stood alongside one of the newest. Tim Wakefield is going to his eighth postseason in Boston, Mark Kotsay his first. Between them are dozens of players who now serve as links on a perpetually growing chain.
(Jim Davis / Globe Staff)
The train keeps a-rollin'.
"They do a nice job here," Kotsay said recently while standing near the batting cage before a game. "They have a couple of superstars and they go out and surround them with baseball players."
And so the Red Sox are back in the playoffs again, Tuesday's victory over the Cleveland Indians guaranteeing the Sox of a fifth October trip in the last six years. No other team in baseball can claim a more successful run. And as much as this has been about the organization Sox officials have built, as much as it has been about their ownership, president, general manager, and manager, it also has been about the players connected by a uniform they put above all else.
Five years ago at this time, after the Sox clinched a playoff spot, second baseman Todd Walker was among those players who left the ballpark, in uniform, to celebrate in a nearby bar. Last night, Dustin Pedroia was the one vowing to run the city streets. ("We're going streaking," he said.)
Right down to the strikeouts, Jed Lowrie looks more and more like Mark Bellhorn. Bay came here the way that both Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz did, by virtue of a potentially cataclysmic trade that might have shaken a lesser team to the core.
But not the Red Sox. Not anymore. The pursuit of excellence supersedes all else. About a year ago, during one of the many celebrations the Sox had in the final weeks of a championship season, Curt Schilling spoke of how the Sox once were seen as "fractured," a team defined by the most damning slogan of all-time: 25 players, 25 cabs. But now the older players embrace the young. The new acquisitions are seen as reinforcements rather than threats. Paul Byrd joins the team in August and virtually no time passes at all before Jason Varitek goes out to play catch with him in a public park during an off day in Canada.
Because that is Byrd's routine and because Varitek respects it.
And because they both want to win.
Before anyone interprets this all as some sort of commentary on the importance of team chemistry, stop. That would be badly missing the point. The bottom line is that the Red Sox are winners now, and winning breeds harmony. In a successful enterprise, even the smallest contributions are celebrated; a successfully executed bunt means as much as a three-run homer. The Red Sox have older players and younger ones, but there is absolutely no class system within the brick walls at fabled Fenway Park.
They all strive to do their parts.
"You look out on that field at the end, there are a lot of young guys," manager Terry Francona said last night when asked about the importance of experience as the Sox enter the postseason. "[Jacoby] Ellsbury, Lowrie -- a pretty young group of guys out there. It's a good mix. I think we all feel good about that."
For what it's worth, the 92d and heretofore decisive victory of this Red Sox season required some assembly. Francona used six pitchers, including three righthanders, two lefties, and a knuckleballer. Eight of the nine Sox starters had hits. Five scored runs. Three had at least one RBI. Dueling MVP candidates Kevin Youkilis (a two-run homer) and Pedroia (a two-run double) had positively huge hits, and newcomer Bay broke a 4-4 tie with an RBI single that landed him both at first base and, ultimately, in his very first October.
Following the clinching victory, Bay was among those players standing in the middle of a clubhouse scene that has become, at once, both unique and familiar. Byrd stood no more than 15 feet away. While Jonathan (Ox? ) Papelbon doused clubhouse attendant Edward (Pookie) Jackson with a 5-gallon jug of spring water, players took turns spraying one another with cans of beer pulled from a seemingly endless succession of cardboard suitcases (better known as 30-packs) of Budweiser and Bud Light.
Last winter, after winning a second world title in four seasons, the Red Sox made astonishingly few roster changes to a team that annually undergoes as much winter reconstruction as its home. As it turned out, the renovations didn't come until summer this year. And yet, for all of the changes the Sox have made over recent seasons, including this one, Fenway Park remains a necessary stop on the road to the World Series.
Polish the fixtures.
Steam the carpets.
Next month, there are visitors coming.
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