Thursday, October 31, 2013
The Red Sox entered the 2013 season as a team with low expectations in the baseball world. Everyone it seemed, except for the Red Sox themselves, expected little from this club. After all, the Sox had finished 2012 with a 69-93 record, their worst since the 1965 team posted a woeful 62-100 record 48 years earlier.
Red Sox fans had gotten used to years of heartbreak and disappointment, but they weren't accustomed to such futility. For decades, the franchise had been highly competitive. But the 2012 Red Sox were just pathetic.
So, when the team arrived in Fort Meyers for spring training this year, most pundits and prognosticators expected little from them.
In fact, more than three dozen writers and broadcasters made preseason picks for ESPN.com’s Major League Baseball preview section last spring, and not one of them picked the Red Sox to win the American League East.
Not one writer on SI’s seven-person panel picked Boston to make the playoffs. Nobody at Hardball Talk had them in the postseason either. And three out of four on Yahoo! had the Sox in last place.
Yet, from the very beginning, the Red Sox players all seemed to believe in themselves and in each other. Somehow, none of them seemed to believe that the World Series was out of reach.
In my 2013 Red Sox preview, I wrote that in order for the Red Sox to succeed, nearly every player needed to more or less have a career year. And in the end, that's more or less what happened.
The 2013 Red Sox became one of the most amazing worst-to-first stories in Major League Baseball history. But that outcome was hard to predict back on Opening Day.
The Red Sox front office had a busy offseason, signing David Ross, Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, Ryan Dempster, Koji Uehara and Mike Napoli to free agent deals. The Sox also traded for Joel Hanrahan and Mike Carp. But none of them was a bona fide star. None seemed to be capable of carrying a team, or at least helping to turn around such as woeful club.
Yet, the Sox started winning right out of the gate. They went 18-8 in April and 18-10 in May. Suddenly, everyone was paying attention. This team was for real. They followed that by going 17-9 in June, 21-5 in July, 16-12 in August, and concluded the regular season by going 16-9 in September.
The Red Sox were the model of consistency this season.
From Memorial Day onward, the Red Sox were out of first place in the AL East for just seven days, and they were never more than a half-game out. The team was remarkably consistent all season long. The Sox were the only team in the American League not to have a losing streak of longer than three games.
Boston had the best record in the American League this season and also led baseball in runs scored. But that was only part of the story.
The Sox were also quite resilient this year, posting a 44-22 record after a loss. They made a habit of bouncing back after coming up short. That's how they got here; they never gave up, and they never lost heart.
The Sox were a team of great character, and of great characters. Guys like Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino and Ryan Dempster brought great determination, energy, enthusiasm and humor to the ball club. From the beginning, they were a fun bunch and a funny bunch.
Critically, GM Ben Cherington and his staff deserve all the credit for assembling this playful and talented bunch. Cherington added an unselfish mix of players who were committed to the team concept and committed to winning.
But heart, hustle and character can only carry a team so far. Ultimately, a successful team has to get it done on the field. To that end, the Sox were first in the majors in runs (853), on-base percentage (.349) and slugging percentage (.446), while posting the second highest batting average (.277).
The Red Sox got enormous contributions from almost every guy in the lineup, and on any given night any one of them could be the difference-maker, providing a game-winning hit, pitch or play.
David Ortiz posted his seventh 30-homer, 100-RBI season and finished in the top 10 in the American League in virtually every offensive category. Ortiz led the Major Leagues with 27 intentional walks, eight more than any other player.
He also led the Red Sox in the Triple Crown categories — home runs (30), RBIs (103) and batting average (.309) — becoming the first to do so since Manny Ramirez in 2001.
Dustin Pedroia batted .301 with a .372 OBP. The second baseman had 42 doubles, scored 91 runs, drove in 84 runs and stole 17 bases. In the end, he also won his third Gold Glove.
Jacoby Ellsbury batted .298 with a .355 OBP, while scoring 92 runs and stealing 52 bases. Ellsbury, who also played excellent defense in center field, set himself up for a fantastic free agent contract in the process.
Shane Victorino batted .294 with a .351 OBP, cracked 15 homers, stole 21 bases, scored 82 runs and drove in 61 runs from the two-hole. On top of all that, his strong arm and stellar defense in right field earned him his fourth Gold Glove.
Yet, there were huge and invaluable contributions up and down the lineup, even from players of whom little was expected.
Daniel Nava came out of nowhere and finished in the top 10 in the American League in batting. Who projected that?
Jarrod Saltalamacchia set a new single-season club record for doubles by a catcher, with 40. Salty also batted .273 with 14 homers and 65 RBI.
Jonny Gomes led the majors with four pinch-hit homers this year. Gomes had a flair for the dramatic and for coming through in the clutch. Moreover, he proved to be a far better fielder than anyone gave him credit.
Mike Carp was similarly clutch. In just 216 at-bats, the first baseman/outfielder posted a .296/.362/.523 line, with 9 homers and 43 RBI. Carp's versatility was of great benefit to manager John Farrell. Carp could be a starting first baseman, and he just might be next season.
Speaking of Farrell, there is no overstating the manager's influence and steady hand. Farrell laid out clear expectations from the start in spring training. Every player was expected to be on time and play hard — or "play the game the right way," as is often said in baseball parlance.
Farrell was able to manage a bunch of disparate personalities and players from different cultures, many of whom spoke different languages. The skipper got them to check their egos and work together with a common purpose and goal: team first. Be the best you can be, set high expectations and play to win.
David Ross earned the confidence and respect of the pitching staff, and what a pitching staff it was.
Jon Lester bounced back, winning 15 games, posting a 3.75 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. Lester led all Red Sox starters in starts (33), innings (213.1) and strikeouts (177). The veteran lefty showed leadership and grit, setting an example for everyone else on the staff.
Clay Buchholz, despite the fact that he again proved to be so delicate, had quite a first half and seemed destined for a Cy Young Award. On June 8, Buchholz was 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA. Then he hurt his neck/shoulder and missed the next three months, or exactly half the season. The righty finished the season with a fantastic 12-1 record and 1.74 ERA. However, he made just 16 starts and threw only 108.1 innings.
John Lackey redeemed himself by winning 10 games, despite league-low run support. The righty posted a 3.52 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, while striking out 161 batters. We also found out that Lackey had been pitching with an elbow held together by by threads in 2010 and 2011. The Angels knew this at the end of the 2009 season and chose not to re-sign him. The Red Sox were also aware of this and still gave Lackey a five-year deal. That wasn't his fault.
The big Texan showed heart and grit by pitching two seasons with a bum elbow, and he never used it as an excuse. Yet, he earned his bones in Boston this season, and especially in the post-season. Lackey finally stepped up and earned that big contract. How can you not feel good for that guy?
The Sox lost closer Joel Hanrahan to a season-ending injury early in the year, and then lost his replacement, Andrew Bailey, to yet another season-ending injury. Those losses could have been devastating.
However, Koji Uehara — an unheralded, under-the-radar free agent signing — jumped right into the role and dominated. Uehara proved that he had ice water in his veins. At one point, the Japanese righty retired 37 consecutive batters (four short of Bobby Jenks record for relievers, set in 2007) and posted a 30 2/3 innings scoreless streak, a remarkable stretch that lasted from July 9 to Sept. 18.
From the beginning, this Red Sox team was unpredictable, they were entertaining, and they were likable. They bonded quickly, and the fans quickly bonded to them as well. They were a bearded, motley-looking bunch, and Boston loved them for it.
In the end, the Red Sox had far more talent than most people gave them credit. They also had a ton of heart, desire and will, plus an unyielding belief in one another. The players showed great confidence not only in themselves, but also in each other. On any given night, the team had a new hero that would step up and win them a ball game.
The Sox had 36 come-from-behind wins and 22 final at-bat victories this season. Early on, it was clear this team had one key element that eventually made them World Series champions: Magic.
Hardly anyone alive had witnessed what unfolded at Fenway Park on October 30th. It had been 95 years since the last Red Sox team clinched a World Series championship at Fenway. That was in 1918 against the Cubs.
The Red Sox ultimately won their eighth World Series in 13 tries on Wednesday night. In the process, a legendary and historic franchise made even more history.
Only the Yankees (27), the Cardinals (11) and A's (9) have more World Series Championships than the eight won by the Red Sox.
The Sox are just the second team (1991 Twins) to win the World Series the year after a last place finish. Faith has been restored in, and by, the Red Sox.
What a season to remember. What a team.
And this was supposed to be a "bridge year." Remember that?
The future looks bright for the Boston Red Sox and their legion of fans.