All of the restraint they showed in not celebrating a playoff berth Thursday flowed out of them like the champagne in the green-colored glass bottles of Korbel that was everywhere in the Red Sox clubhouse.
The Sox clinched the American League East fittingly over the team that most prognosticators picked to win the division before the season — the Toronto Blue Jays — and the team John Farrell managed to 73 wins last season.
Following their 94th win the Sox let out all of their inhibitions, savoring the moment created with Friday’s 6-3 win before a sellout crowd of 37,215, some of whom stayed for the spill-over celebration on the field after the clubhouse spray-a-thon on a comfortable September night.
There would be no backing in or limping to the finish line. The Sox allowed Baltimore to take the previous series, but then set their sights on taking care of business against the Blue Jays. They did as Jon Lester won his 15th game of the season. Over seven innings he allowed just one run on five hits, with eight strikeouts on 123 pitches.
Lester, likely the Game 1 starter in the Division Series, called it “an awesome night for our team. We believed we could do this from the start and it took a lot of work to get to this point. We’re just celebrating one part of what we’re trying to accomplish here.”
There were so many aspects of this team that worked out so well.
Members of the baseball operations and scouting departments and the leader of it all, Ben Cherington, should probably take the biggest bow. They had come under pressure over some botched free agents and deals, but that all turned around.
How do you hit on every free agent? How do you introduce productive people from the farm system and get them to produce? How do you turn a pitching staff completely around in one season, going from one of the worst to one of the best? How do you put together a new coaching staff and have it work out so well in lockstep with Farrell? And how do you pick the ideal manager on top of it all?
That’s what the Red Sox have done to this point.
Mike Hazen, the intelligent assistant general manager, told the story of how David Ortiz, when struggling a couple of weeks back, came out on the field and worked with assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez on getting his stroke back.
The Red Sox instituted a two-headed hitting coach system this year, with Greg Colbrunn being the main guy, and they worked together seamlessly. Rodriguez and Colbrunn didn’t really know each other. Colbrunn had been a hitting coach in the Yankees system, while Rodriguez had been the Red Sox’ minor league hitting coordinator.
“It’s so impressive how well the two have worked together,” Hazen said. “When the star of the team is struggling like that, it would have been easy for Greg to say, ‘I’m the hitting coach so I’m going to work with David.’ But he felt Victor would have a better approach with David and it worked out great. David got out of his slump.
“It was just one example of how well our coaches and staff have worked together for a common goal. There’s no ego. Nothing like that. I’m proud of that.”
With Farrell aboard, they went through a thorough process to hire a pitching coach. They settled on Juan Nieves, the White Sox bullpen coach, and the move has paid huge dividends.
The starting rotation has carried the Sox throughout the year. Lester enjoyed a turnaround season. Clay Buchholz, while injured for three months, became an elite starting pitcher, and John Lackey showed a different persona and looked better than ever a year after Tommy John surgery.
Farrell, who should win manager of the year in the American League, left a bad situation in Toronto when he was traded to Boston, and he proved that when the manager and general manager are on the same page, good things can happen.
Cherington stayed in the background as his players, manager, and baseball ops staff celebrated. There was a lot of pressure on Cherington, who needed to hit a home run after a 69-win season and use the money saved from the Dodgers deal wisely.
He came up with Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Koji Uehara, David Ross, Shane Victorino, and Ryan Dempster.
While the reaction to those names was rather underwhelming at the time, the plan was to add guys who had been successful in other settings and players with high character.
The Victorino signing was position-specific in that the Red Sox wanted a guy who could play right field at Fenway like a center fielder. Victorino has provided Gold Glove defense and has been the Sox’ best right fielder since Dwight Evans.
As Hazen pointed out, they created a useful bench of Ross, Gomes, and Mike Carp (who was obtained in a trade with Seattle).
They traded shortstop Jose Iglesias in a three-team deal and acquired veteran starter Jake Peavy. They withstood injuries to closers Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey and discovered Uehara in the process. They got, once again, solid work out of veteran reliever Craig Breslow, even after losing a very effective Andrew Miller to a season-ending injury.
The Red Sox won the division with ease, really, never losing more than three straight games, which is why for the first time in franchise history they have gone from worst to first.
There were a lot of interesting sights as the celebration left the clubhouse and went onto the field. The young guys were smoking victory cigars like Red Auerbach. Dempster playfully lifted chairman Tom Werner’s ’ cap and poured champagne over his head and then put his cap over it.
Bench coach Torey Lovullo sprayed champagne and when he saw Pawtucket manager Gary DiSarcina was dry, took a bottle and poured it over his head to make him feel a part of it.
Most of them wore goggles. Gomes had a crash helmet on.
They partied to Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” and they enjoyed the accomplishment.
“It’s one piece of what we want of the whole pie,” Gomes said. “But we’re going to enjoy it and then move to the next one.”