The 2013 Red Sox — wait, wait, let’s go with the formal title and make that the 2013 World Champion Red Sox — had an answer to just about everything this season.
Is John Farrell the right choice as manager? Yes. Can David Ortiz stay healthy and put up big numbers? Double yes. Is Jon Lester capable of being an ace? Affirmative. Did Ben Cherington make the right moves in the offseason? Hell yes, multiplied by six, maybe seven.
They had the answers to the Rays, Tigers and Cardinals, never needed a winner-take-all game to secure a series. They had the answers to Carlos Beltran, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera. They had the answers to Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, David Price, Matt Moore, Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha.
They took on every challenge that came their way and survived, even thrived, until they were celebrating as one in the end. The trophy and the champagne and all of the joy in the ballpark and streets and living rooms tell us they were the champions. Every piece of evidence accumulated along the way — concluding with the Red Sox’ nearly suspense-free 6-1 victory in Game 6 Wednesday night — confirms it.
But there’s one question on this morning after the Red Sox clinched their third championship in a decade that remains unanswered:
When did they know?
When did they know they were capable of this?
“Well, we know now,” said Jarrod Saltalamacchia, surveying the scene on the field roughly a half-hour after Koji Uehara struck out Matt Carpenter for the final out of the baseball season. “But you know, man, honestly, we believed in ourselves all along, from the first day. You’d never predict you’re going to win the World Series because the season is such a grind. It’s a long haul. So much happens. But we knew we had a really good team pretty early on.”
Dustin Pedroia was an early believer. Or told us he was. He talked about the World Series as a possibility rather than a daydream as far back as Ft. Myers. Did it with a straight face, too. But that’s Pedroia. He’d probably pick his own team to finish first even if Bobby Valentine were the manager and the self-appointed starting shortstop.
“Every single one of us [contributed to this],” said Pedroia in the clincher’s aftermath, saluting his teammates but resisting an I-told-you-so. “We all love each other.”
John Farrell, the pitching coach on the 2007 champs, proved the perfect choice for this team, the grown-up, sensible salve for the Valentine disaster. As the first-year manager of this crew (imported from Toronto), he set a tone of accountability from the beginning that he adhered to himself.
When his strategy backfired (think: Brandon Workman, batter) he always provided a well-considered reason. And sometimes, he’d even admit he messed up. He’s honest, and so you believe him when he tells you he knew this team was better than the relentless bottom-of-the-division projections suggested back in April.
“We felt there was a very good core of players here, that finished last year with injuries,” he said. “And a number of returning players that were driven and motivated to rewrite their own story. There was a tremendous feeling of embarrassment here a year ago. Guys came into spring training determined, and the players that came in to augment them came in as a very strong team.”
A strong team, and one hell-bent on redemption. It was only appropriate that John Lackey, an accomplice in the 2011 chicken-and-beer fiasco and submitter that same season of the worst performance by a starting pitcher in Red Sox history, would be the pitcher to deliver the victory. Lackey was pitching injured that lost season, missed ’12 after surgery, and came back this year a new and trimmer man.
He became the first starting pitcher ever to clinch a World Series for two different teams. He was every bit the borderline ace he was during his Angels heyday, and who has a beef with that $82.5 million contract now?
He truly is Beloved Fan-Favorite John Lackey now, and as he ambled off the mound in the seventh inning, having allowed nine hits but just a single run, he tipped his hat to the roaring crowd, something he had refused to do all season long.
“It was nice,” he said. “It was my appreciation back to them, thanks for understanding what I’ve gone through, I guess.”
Lackey departed with a five-run lead, courtesy of two other players who required redemption of their own at points this season.
Shane Victorino, whose three-year, $39 million deal in December was panned as the worst of the offseason in some respected corners, has had himself a memorable few weeks. His grand slam in Game 6 against the Tigers sent the Red Sox to the World Series. A sore back kept the Gold Glove right fielder out of Games 4 and 5 in St. Louis, and he was 0 for 10 in the series when he came to plate with the bases loaded in the third inning of a scoreless game.
Another grand slam didn’t seem probable, nor did it happen. But did he ever come close. His rocket to left came up four feet or so shy of the Monster seats. Three runs scored, and you couldn’t help but think: That Victorino at-bat music, “Three Little Birds,” the pleasant new Fenway sing-a-long? Might want to change it to another Bob Marley classic. “Redemption Song” is the right tune and the perfect tone.
“Well, Shane Victorino has a little bit of a flair for the dramatic,” said Farrell, mastering the art of understatement. “The hits that he did record in the postseason couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.”
To a lesser degree, the same goes for Stephen Drew, the maligned shortstop who entered Game 6 with four hits in 50 at-bats this postseason. He gave the Red Sox a 4-0 lead with a solo homer into the Red Sox’ bullpen in the fourth inning.
We can stop the who-needs-’em? narrative about that family now, correct? He and his brother J.D. have both contributed significantly to Red Sox champions. And you do have to respect a guy who calls his shot while batting .080.
“He actually told me he was going to hit a home run tonight,” said Napoli, who drove in the sixth run with an RBI single in the fourth. “The way he was hitting in batting practice, it was like, he’s got a chance.”
The only tense moments for the Red Sox arrived in the seventh. With two outs, Lackey gave up a single to Daniel Descalso and a double to Matt Carpenter. Beltran, a storied postseason performer who was mostly held in check in his first World Series, singled in the Cardinals’ first run, then moved to second on a wild pitch.
Farrell visited the mound, and Lackey pleaded for one more batter, the ever-dangerous Matt Holliday. Farrell relented, and New England fans who still traffic in cynicism surely had Grady Little flashbacks. But when Lackey walked Holliday, and Farrell did not hesitate to remove his starter, bringing in Junichi Tazawa, who got Allen Craig to ground to first base.
We exhaled then. Six outs later, exhilaration. Uehara’s final act in arguably the greatest season a relief pitcher has ever had was to retire Carpenter on an unsolvable 81-mph splitter.
As the Fenway crowd roared and reveled at the first World Series clinching on home soil since 1918, Uehara raised his right arm triumphantly, then both arms, then leaped into catcher David Ross’s grasp. The improbable was now official, the worst-to-first tale a reality, and the only guy who has been here for all three recent titles was ready to rank it at the top of his personal championship charts.
“I think it might be the most special out of all the World Series to be honest with you,” said Ortiz, who was named the World Series Most Valuable Player after hitting .688 with a 1.948 OPS.
He was asked to elaborate. That 2004 team is a beloved, ridiculously charismatic legend, after all, and the 2007 club was a ruthless force from beginning to end …
“We have a lot of players with heart,” Ortiz said. “We probably don’t have the talent we had in ’07 and ’04, but we have guys that are capable, stay focused, and do the little things. And when you win with that, it’s special.”
Is this the greatest team and the triumph of the Red Sox’ three champions? It’s too new for an unbiased verdict right now.
But this much is certain: We’ve got another fun question to ask. With no wrong answer to be found.
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