BOSTON (CBS) - The goal was for the Red Sox to rebuild their self-esteem, clean themselves up a little, regain some credibility and self-respect. To pick themselves up. To dust themselves off. To simply get back on their feet.
And so here we are now, on the morning of October 31, and the Red Sox have done so much more than simply win another championship and wedge yet another piece of hardware into a trophy case already stocked with an embarrassment of riches.
They have won back our trust, inspired our faith, reminded us that most anything is possible if we strive to work together.
"When the fireworks went off at the presentation of the trophy out there, when the ballpark was filled with smoke, it was completely surreal," Red Sox manager John Farrell said at Fenway Park last night after the Sox claimed their third and most improbable championship in the last 10 seasons with a 6-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the World Series. "To be in this position, given where we've come from, reflecting back a year ago at this time, there's been a lot that's happened in 13 months."
There's been a lot that's happened in 13 months. How's that for an understatement? Two years ago at this time, the Red Sox were reeling from the calamity that was September 2011. Terry Francona was fired and smeared. Theo Epstein departed. Then came the mousy Bobby Valentine and the rat ship that housed the 2012 season, the Red Sox figuratively and shamefully sneaking up stairwells to stab their manager and each other in the back.
So long, Adrian Gonzalez. You were never a fit here, Carl Crawford. What happened to you, Josh Beckett? It was addition by subtraction, tens of millions of times over. Los Angeles got stars with big contracts and bigger egos. The Red Sox got their soul and identity back.
But this? No one ever expected this. No way and no how. Ownership and upper management rediscovered their core philosophy, and then empowered their baseball people to implement it. General manager Ben Cherington actually got to pick his own manager this time. To replace the egomaniacal Valentine, the Red Sox hired the far more familiar and stable Farrell, a manager with roughly 13 percent of Valentine's career wins, maybe 20 percent of the ego and 100 times the dignity and tact. Then they signed a cast of players who actually like to, you know, play. And compete. And win.
"We have a lot of players with heart," said David Ortiz, the only holdover from the Red Sox championships of both 2004 and 2007. "We probably don't have the talent that we [had] in '07 and '04, but we have guys that are capable to stay focused and do the little things. And when you win with a ballclub like that, that's special."
Indeed, for as much as Ortiz was officially the Most Valuable Player of this World Series, the Red Sox contributions came from all of the angular corners at Fenway Park, as they did during the regular season. Mike Napoli opened the scoring with a three-run double in the Game 1 victory. Jonny Gomes turned the series with a three-run homer in Game 4. David Ross broke a 1-1 tie with a double in Game 5. Shane Victorino cleared the bases with a three-run hit in Game 6.
Meanwhile, Jon Lester started two games, John Lackey pitched in three and Koji Uehara finished five. Disgraced members of the chicken and beer crew of 2011, Lester and Lackey anchored a Red Sox rotation that went 3-1 with a 1.73 ERA in the World Series and 7-3 with a 3.29 ERA in the playoffs, outlasting a cast that includes David Price, Matt Moore, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Adam Wainwright and wunderkind Michael Wacha.
Combined in the postseason, Lester and Lackey were a combined 7-2 with a 2.11 ERA.
"His turnaround mirrors that of this organization," Farrell said of Lackey, though he might just as easily have been speaking of Lester. "When you think of the ovation he got coming off the mound [last night], I think people have seen the turnaround in him, they've seen the turnaround in us."
Isn't that something? For decades, it often felt as if the Red Sox found ways to lose World Series they should have won. Now they are winning titles they seemingly have no right winning, and winning them with a wonderful complement of imperfect pieces.
The 2011 Red Sox were a greater collection of talent, after all, but they were never anything remotely close to the team this one was.
In sports, all too often, we link the events on the field to those off it, when in fact the two really have nothing to do with one another. Yet with this Red Sox team, as with the Bruins of the spring, it remains difficult to avoid that. These Red Sox won for themselves, for their own credibility, out of their grit and determination. We never really asked them to win a title or singularly carry the burden of Patriots Day. We asked them to give us their best, to wear a Boston uniform with pride, to represent that values that we believe in because, as Ortiz repeatedly told us, "This is our city."
In return, the Red Sox gave us so much more.
They gave us, as Barack Obama told us in the spring, a reason to "to walk our cities and cheer for our teams."
And they gave us yet another opportunity to gather for a parade on Boylston Street.
You can hear Tony Massarotti on 98.5 The Sports Hub's Felger & Mazz, weekdays from 2-6 p.m.
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