The champions of the American League are given the William Harridge Award, a small trophy named for a former league president.
As tributes go, the late Mr. Harridge could have done better. The award consists of an octagonal wooden base with a silver baseball on top and a gold eagle sitting on the ball. A plaque on the side has the year.
But when the Red Sox beat the Detroit Tigers, 5-2, Saturday night to clinch the American League pennant, the Harridge Award was never more popular.
Jonny Gomes grabbed the trophy, held it to his chest, and posed for a photograph with his wife, Kristi. Stephen Drew did the same, surrounded by friends and family.
Ryan Dempster took his turn, as did Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Craig Breslow. Koji Uehara raised the trophy over his head and smiled.
The Red Sox have eight players who have been to the World Series before. But for veterans such as Gomes, Dempster, Drew, and Uehara, Saturday night was the realization of a dream that was years in the making.
“All of us have an individual story and an individual path,” Gomes said. “But at the end of the day, we’re all a bunch of grinders who were trying to get somewhere. There’s something inside you — not so much an anger or trying to prove anybody wrong — but a mission to get to the highest level of the game. A lot of us are sharing that feeling now.”
Shane Victorino, who went to the World Series twice as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, put the Red Sox in the Series with his grand slam off Jose Veras in the seventh inning.
Many of the “grinders” had a role in the game, though. Drew saved a run in the top of the inning with a diving stop of a ball up the middle by Miguel Cabrera. Gomes then led off the bottom of the inning with a double.
Once the Sox had the lead, it was Breslow and Uehara who wrapped up the game.
“You wonder sometimes if you’ll ever get this opportunity,” said Saltalamacchia, the catcher Saturday night. “You see so many things happen in this game. [Detroit right fielder] Torii Hunter, a great player for so many years, has never been to the World Series. You never take this for granted because you know what it means.”
When general manager Ben Cherington rebuilt the Red Sox last winter, part of the equation was landing veteran players with something left to accomplish. A Red Sox team that had grown complacent was given new life by players such as David Ross, a 12-year veteran who had been to the playoffs before but never the Series.
Dempster, in the majors for 16 years, had that hunger. So did the July trade acquisition of Jake Peavy.
“We had all those guys come in and we knew it was going to be a fun team. Once we got to spring training, we knew we could compete with anybody,” Saltalamacchia said. “A lot of us were able to get somewhere we haven’t been before.”
Breslow had played seven seasons in the majors with six teams without reaching the postseason before this year. The lefthanded reliever wondered if he ever would get a chance to pitch in games with so much on the line.
Once that opportunity came, Breslow became a star. He has thrown seven innings in seven postseason appearances without allowing a run.
“It’s a great feeling, obviously,” he said. “This is the reason you put on the jersey when you’re a 12-year-old playing Little League. You dream about going to the World Series. We have 25 guys who prioritize winning above all else. I’ve said that from the first day of spring training and it really rings true. We can all feel good about getting here because everybody contributed something.”
Uehara was with the Texas Rangers in 2011 when they won the American League pennant. But he was dropped from the roster after pitching poorly in the ALCS and watched the World Series from the dugout.
Now Uehara is one of the Red Sox’ stars, named the most valuable player of the ALCS after winning one game and saving three others.
‘”I feel honored to play for this team,” he said.
Sox manager John Farrell pitched for eight years in the majors, but never in a postseason game. He enjoyed watching players like Uehara celebrate Saturday.
“I was talking to Gomes before the game, during batting practice. He talked about being in this position now,” Farrell said. “He’s been an everyday player on some good teams, but was out of the lineup in the postseason. To see guys like that who have done so much in their careers to finally get this chance, it’s what we play for. It’s what we work for.
“I’m glad guys like that are part of our team. They’re part of our character. You can’t single any one guy out. They’re all contributed something.”
Game 1 of the World Series will be Wednesday night at Fenway Park against the St. Louis Cardinals. Whatever sense of accomplishment came from reaching the Series soon will be replaced by a desire to win it.
“We have a chance to do something special now,” Farrell said. “That’s not going to get lost by anybody. They felt along that they had this chance. We’re in the process of it now. By no means are we satisfied with where we are.”