A week ago today, the Red Sox clinched their third and most improbable championship of the past decade with a 6-1 victory in Game 6 over the Cardinals. I know, the duck boat engines have cooled and the confetti has been swept up we’re supposed to move on now, if we haven’t already, to thoughts of the hot stove and qualifying offers and blockbuster trades and, well, next year. But I’m not quite ready to part with this year yet. So before looking ahead, here’s one last look back with a couple of scenes and situations that deserve acknowledgement …
Jon Lester was in the clear.
The team bus was idling, waiting for the last stragglers before heading to the airport for a flight back to Boston. His son Hudson was babbling adorably in his ear while Lester, who had further enhanced his burgeoning Big Game Pitcher reputation with 7.2 innings of one-run pitching in the Red Sox’ pivotal 3-1 victory in Game 5 in St. Louis, answered all of the media inquiries with a thoughtfulness and candor that hadn’t always been there in the past.
His pitching had done the talking. He had done his talking. And Phyllis Merhige, the MLB senior vice president who oversees the postseason press conferences, had given him the OK to leave the podium.
In the past, Lester would have turned into a ghost at that moment, gone in a blink. But there was one last question that lingered in the air, a question about a teammate who was having a marvelous individual postseason himself, and as he heard it, he asked Merhige a question of his own:
“You want me to answer that?”
And then, before she could answer: “I’ll answer that.”
Even given a chance to relax privately and savor his accomplishment, away from the spotlight, Lester couldn’t resist the opportunity to offer an impassioned appreciation for the teammate sitting to his right on the podium, one David Americo Ortiz.
“I’ve said it before, this guy right here, I haven’t played with many superstars. But this guy right here is the epitome of a superstar and a good teammate,” said Lester. “And I don’t think you could ever ask for more out of an individual than what he does on and off the field. The guy’s got a heart of gold.
“And he goes out there every single night and competes. And it’s been the past eight years or however long I’ve gotten to share a locker room with him, has been unbelievable to see him do the things he does on the field. It’s pretty special. You don’t get to play with many Hall of Famers, but I’d like to call him a Hall of Famer and the pleasure of playing with him for the last eight years, and hopefully a couple more.”
Ortiz acknowledged the gesture: “Thanks, bro.”
And then Lester was gone, to his family, the bus, the plane, then Boston, with one more reminder of the mutual respect these players had for each left in his wake.
From what I could tell from my bandwagon-hopping vantage point as someone who was around the team during the playoffs, this group really was as close-knit and selfless as the public perception.
Sure, some had their quirks – Shane Victorino had a habit of disappearing behind the plastic tarps during the various series-clinching celebrations along the way, scrolling through his phone while the champagne sprayed around him – but it was a group that to a man seemed to click, without exclusionary cliques.
One small but telling moment stood out during Game 1 of the World Series, when Lester was removed in the eighth inning of an eventual 8-1 win.
As he walked off the mound and doffed his cap to acknowledge the standing ovation, the first person to greet him at the top step of the dugout was Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Now, Saltalamacchia could be excused if he found some personal frustration in the postseason – he essentially lost his starting job in the World Series, and as a free agent, his performance on the biggest stage might have some financial ramifications.
But he obviously took great pride in the success of the Red Sox pitchers even if he wasn’t the one catching them and working in unison to call the game. It’s one of the reasons the pitching staff developed an appreciation for him over the past couple of seasons as he rebuilt his career after the throwing yips threatened to abbreviate it.
And his selflessness in a time of personal frustration was one more reminder of his character, and the collective character of this team.
Given that he pretty much went straight from the duck boat to the tarmac, I don’t think it’s premature to offer a brief postscript on Jacoby Ellsbury‘s career. He was a very good player in his six-plus seasons here, playing a significant role in a pair of World Series championships (career postseason slash-line: .301/.361/.414, including .325/.386/.450 in the World Series). He was also one of the few Red Sox who showed up in September 2011, hitting .358 with a 1.067 OPS and eight homers that fateful month. Sure, he had his injury issues, but he deserved the benefit of the doubt there – they were blunt-force injuries, and the medical staff did not serve him well. Jackie Bradley Jr. is going to be a fine player, though he may not hit right away and he’s not a base-thief. But Ellsbury is not easily replaced … Brayan Villarreal pitched one game for the Red Sox this year, faced one batter, and walked in the winning run. He probably gets a World Series ring for that, right? … Koji Uehara‘s performance this season is only going to look more extraordinary as time passes. Have you ever had such faith – rewarded faith – in a closer before? It wasn’t a matter of if he’d close out the game, but when, and when usually came in the form of 11 rapid-fire pitches, nine for strikes, with a conga-line of high-fives as the happy postscript. And to think, some out there wanted to reunite with Jonathan Papelbon after Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey were lost for the season …
Mike Aviles might have fit in on this team personally, what with him being friendly and all, but in retrospect, he was a rather low ransom for John Farrell … Xander Bogaerts already has mastered the patience and pitch-recognition skills that continue to elude Will Middlebrooks – four years his senior – for prolonged stretches. I cannot wait to see what this kid accomplishes next season, and for the next 15 or so seasons beyond. You know he’s truly legitimate when veterans such as David Ross tell you he’s one of the most talented young players they’ve ever seen, then really start to marvel when they get talking about his poise … Proof that it really is a marathon: Pedro Ciriaco had more plate appearances for the Red Sox during the regular-season (58) than did Bogaerts (50) … What a year, huh? Other than 2004, I can’t think of one that was more rewarding, and this was more pure fun than cathartic. My one disappointment with the end of the season: Stephen Drew was just starting to get hot!