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Don't worry about a thing: Behind Victorino slam, Red Sox punch ticket to World Series

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  October 20, 2013 03:40 AM

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The Red Sox, storied and celebrated as they are, are associated with their share of songs. There have been so many nights during this championship renaissance of the past decade, when you loved that dirty water and sing another victory song and good times never seemed so good.

After the latest can-you-believe-it twist in this season of rapid redemption, after Shane Victorino's seventh-inning grand slam propelled the Red Sox to the World Series with a 5-2 victory over the Tigers in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, I'm here to report there's another song that must be added to Fenway's permanent playlist.

Lyrical thought it may be, I am not referring to David Ortiz's PG-rated encore Saturday to his crude, heartfelt and pitch-perfect proclamation that April day when the Marathon bombing victims were mourned at Fenway.

"This is our -- and here, beaming on the podium with AL championship trophy in his hands, he editedhis own presumed, FCC-approved for one-time-only expletive -- "bleeeeep city.''

No, this song is comfortable to every college kid who ever got lost and found on a mellow Saturday night, to every toddler daughter whose dad wanted her to know that real music can carry your heart where Elmo cannot.

Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds'' has become familiar at Fenway this season as Victorino's at-bat music, sparking impromptu sing-a-longs. And you guys who control such things from deep in the bleachers might want to make damn sure it becomes an enduring tradition since its chorus is a perfect 13-word encapsulation of this team.

Don't worry about a thing/'Cause every little thing gonna be all right.

This team really does make it seem that simple. And though it's the antithesis of everything many of us believed about this franchise in the Octobers before 2004, this team doesn't just make you believe. This team is beyond belief.

It was hard to fathom entering Game 6 that any single moment could possibly surpass David Ortiz's game-tying grand slam in Game 2. I'll let you decide whether Victorino actually did it. But hitting a go-ahead grand slam in the seventh inning of a game that felt like a must-win with Justin Verlander lurking in Game 7?

And doing it on a third straight knee-buckling curveball from Tigers reliever Jose Veras, the first two of which went for strikes?

And doing it while in a 2 for 23 slump with nine strikeouts in the series?

And doing it righthanded against a righthanded pitcher?

I don't know -- it's hard to assume that kind of faith will be rewarded. As he approached the plate for that at-bat, the words felt more like wishful thinking than any kind of foreshadowing. Victorino, whose conversations sometimes feel like a street fight between humility and cockiness, at first downplayed the moment.

But the evidence was already in highlight form: There he was, as he turned the corner at first base while the ball ricocheted around the Monster seats, pumping his arms once, then twice, then punching himself in the chest for good measure. He showed us what it meant to him before he told us.

"I won't talk about the approach or what I thought -- no, honestly, I told myself to get a pitch I can handle,'' said Victorino. "Try to tie the game at the minimum. Get us back in the game and give us another chance. It was a special moment. It's been a special year, we battled, and good moments like this, you cherish it."

For a time, creeping thoughts that everything would not be all right might have been understandible. The Sox took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth when Xander Bogaerts, who went 1 for 1 with two walks and should remain in the Red Sox lineup from today until October 2033, doubled off the center field wall and scored on Jacoby Ellsbury's single.

But the story of the game from the Red Sox side until Victorino's blast was a what-if and a what-are-you thinking?

The what-if was a laser by Dustin Pedroia with two runners on in the third inning that appeared destined for the Monster seats. But the drive, eerily reminiscent of Carlton Fisk's iconic home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, veered ever-so-slightly left, missing the foul pole by a matter of inches.

Pedroia turned toward the Sox dugout as he reached first base, as if pleading for confirmation from anyone willing to tell a white lie that the ball clipped the pole. But replay confirmed the cold reality: foul ball. Deflated, he promptly hit into a double play.

"When those opportunities come and go against great pitchers such as [Tigers starter Max Scherzer], those opportunities are fleeting and you're wondering if you're going to get them back,'' said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "But it's been a characteristic of this team that we're able to build that into the end.''

As for that what-are-you-thinking?, well, no need to spend much time dwelling on that given the outcome. Let's just say that Farrell's decision to turn to Franklin Morales in relief of Clay Buchholz in the sixth inning was a dubious call from the get-go, and the events that followed confirmed it. Morales walked hapless Prince Fielder (.182 in this series, $168 million remaining on his contract) on four pitches, then gave up a go-ahead two-run single to Victor Martinez.

Had Victorino -- not to mention the four relievers to follow Morales -- not rescued him, let's just say he'd be made very aware of the postseason works of Jim Burton and Calvin Schiraldi.

Instead, Victorino delivered, leaning into one with his bat rather than his shoulder, and a pitcher who has been as unhittable as any -- any -- we have ever witnessed came on to finish the job with his usual electric efficiency and joy.

It took Koji Uehara all of 11 pitches -- 11 strikes, naturally -- to end the Tigers' season in the ninth. Uehara, the fourth closer tried by the Red Sox this season but Ben Cherington's first signing last winter, was named the ALCS MVP.

"It was more of how the team wanted me, their passion to acquire me and their sincerity. I felt honored to play for this team,'' said Uehara, explaining how he ended up with the Red Sox.

Explaining how he became this to the Red Sox? That's beyond comprehension at this hour. It should be noted that the final out was Jose Iglesias, the brilliant-fielding shortstop whose error preceded Victorino's grand slam.

That came a half-inning after the maligned Stephen Drew made a crucial diving stop that looked like it was heisted from Iglesias's highlight reel.

Who's writing this stuff, anyway?

"I don't know,'' said Drew in the midst of the Red Sox' third champagne-drenched celebration in a month. "But it's fun finding out what happens next."

As I peck away at this, the party still rages outside Fenway in Sunday's first hours. The chants of "Let's go Red Sox,'' another song so familiar in this neighborhood, fill the air.

There's still so much to think about, from this impossibly worst-to-first ride, to Bogaerts's ridiculous patience, to Brandon Workman's perfect postgame summation of how this team sees each other: "I didn't know who was going to step up. But I knew someone would."

How can anyone sleep after this? Maybe you can. Maybe you can't. I'm with the latter. But no matter how blurry your eyes, Sunday will confirm what Saturday delivered.

Rise up this morning. Smile at the rising sun ...

The Red Sox are going to the World Series. I cannot wait to find out what happens next.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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