EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 31, 2013

BOSTON STRONG

2013 World Series champs a truly special team

Bill Burt
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — BOSTON — Three very good baseball teams thought, for a good chunk of their time going against the Boston Red Sox over the last four weeks, they were the better team.

And nobody could blame them with incredibly talented pitchers like Matt Moore, David Price, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anabal Sanchez, Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha pitching near no-hitters and/or striking out Red Sox batter after batter.

But they all left saying what a disgusted Cardinals shortstop Daniel Descalso said, “They pitched really well and got the timely hitting.”

While it sounds so basic, and probably rings true, it wouldn’t be fair to the Red Sox, the 2013 World Series champs after last night’s convincing 6-1 in Game 6.

It doesn’t explain the journey. It doesn’t explain the meaning of those bushy beards, the camaraderie, the desire, the leadership and the sheer enjoyment this group of men had and shared from March through Halloween.

If you didn’t love that strange act of pulling each other’s beards or the all-out chasing of some of the latest Red Sox player who got the walk-off hit, you need to drink a case of Red Bull.

“I love baseball,” said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. “But I’ve never had such a blast playing as I have this year. Never ... It’s special.”

There were so many reasons to doubt this 2013 team, which couldn’t be worse than its 2012 brethren, which won a paltry 69 games.

Find a baseball prognosticator and I’ll show you the Red Sox picked to finish fourth or fifth ... in their division.

And to be honest, could you blame them?

David Ortiz was coming off an Achilles injury.

Three of the “nice guy” acquisitions, all making $13 million per year — Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster and Mike Napoli — were coming off career-worst seasons.

The pitching staff was relying on the unreliable Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz at the front end.

And a new manager, John Farrell, albeit a familiar face, was going to have to not only win games, but win back one of the most loyal followings in professional sports.

But guess what happened. “Big Papi” returned to the middle of the Sox lineup. Victorino and Napoli were impact players. Lester became a $100 million pitcher. And Farrell brought back some long, lost certitude to the Red Sox dugout. There were too many appealing side stories to mention. What about transformation of John Lackey, who went from excuse-laden, multi-millionaire to a lovable lug?

“John’s turnaround mirrors this organization,” said Farrell. “He reshaped his body. He’s more athletic. It’s almost fitting he’s on the mound to finish. The ovation he got was amazing. They’ve seen the turnaround in him and seen the turnaround in us. It was very fitting.”

Of course, despite all of the new additions, the two stalwarts, Ortiz and Pedroia, were the focal point of this renaissance. Ortiz hit .688 (he walked four times last night) and won the MVP and Pedroia’s defense alone put him in the MVP discussion.

But it’s not the statistics that apparently make them special.

“They carry the torch,” said Farrell. “Everyone looks up to them and how they respond to distractions, their confidence and the way they carried themselves from (spring training through the World Series) .... These are special, special players.”

The Red Sox have now won three World Series titles in 10 seasons, which is remarkable. But even more remarkable is what happened here the last year.

“A lot has happened in 13 months,” said Farrell, in the understatement of the night, about an hour after the clincher. “(General manager) Ben Cherington deserves all the credit in the world. He got the players ... But the key was back in spring training, buying into the team concept. And then, in the end, the overall will to win.”

You can email Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.