It was just before 11:30 on a splendid Saturday night at our 101 year-old ballpark when a guy from Hawaii stepped to the plate as we heard the recording of a man from Jamaica singing, “don’t worry about a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna be all right.’’
More than 38,000 voices sang along with Bob Marley, then Shane Victorino effectively ended eight days and six games of unforgettable baseball with a grand slam into the Monster Seats on an 0-2 pitch from Tigers reliever Jose Veras.
The Flyin’ Hawaiian’s shot bookended the bases-loaded blast by Dave Ortiz which kickstarted everything one week ago, and launched the Red Sox into the 2013 World Series, starting Wednesday night at Fenway against the venerable St. Louis Cardinals.
Boston’s American League Championship Series clincher, a 5-2 Sox victory, officially ended at 12:01 Sunday morning when Koji Uehara fanned Jose Iglesias, triggering a wild celebration on the Fenway infield and pandemonium in the stands and streets outside the park. One year after enduring last-place humiliation and the worst season in 47 years, the Red Sox are AL Champions for the 13th time since 1901.
New England sports’ High Renaissance is not over. After seven Duck Boat parades between 2002 and 2011 (three Patriots, two Red Sox, one Celtics, one Bruins), the John Henry/John Farrell Red Sox have an opportunity to send outgoing mayor Tom Menino into retirement with one last triumphant ride down Boylston Street.
It all started one year ago Monday when general manager Ben Cherington hired Blue Jays manager John Farrell. He was the perfect candidate to replace clown prince Bobby Valentine. He was a pitching coach with the 2007 World Champion Red Sox and already had the respect of veterans Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and John Lackey.
Cherington did the rest. In the winter of 2012-13, he went after quality clubhouse veterans, players who had played in big markets and big games. He acquired Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, David Ross, Ryan Dempster, Uehara, and Victorino.
And they all contributed mightily. They changed the clubhouse culture.
“I felt it the first day of spring training,’’ Pedroia said in midseason when the Sox were fending off injuries and challenges. “We were all about winning, right from the start.’’
And they won. They won 97 games. They demolished the Rays in a four-game Division Series.
Then came the mighty Tigers, champions of the Central Division, a team with a 68-year-old universally respected manager, a stable of big, slow sluggers, and the best starting rotation in baseball.
The Sox beat the Tigers in six pulsating games. It was a series with dozens of freeze-frame moments, none more memorable than Ortiz’s iconic blast into the Red Sox bullpen that brought the Sox back from a 5-0 deficit in the critical second game. The photo of inverted Torii Hunter and the celebrating Boston cop will be the signature moment of this series, maybe of the entire season. Uehara was named series MVP, but it just as well could have been Big Papi, even though he only managed two hits in the six games.
The finale was a Back Bay Bacchanal.
Sox choreographer Dr. Charles Steinberg gave us the Dropkick Murphys and Irish step dancers before the start. This act totally spooked the Indians before Game 7 in 2007 and the Sox routed the Tribe, 11-2. When the World Series comes to Fenway, I’m looking for ZZ Top and some homage to the Boston naughty boys who let their faces grow long.
Buchholz needed 17 minutes to pitch to four batters to get through the top of the first. As great as these games were, the pace (3:52 Saturday night) was not baseball’s friend. Grinding out at-bats is one thing; hideous delay is quite another. The pace of these games is a serious threat to the erstwhile National Pastime.
We almost had a re-enactment of Carlton Fisk’s 1975 midnight moonshot off the foul pole in the third when Pedroia annihilated a first-pitch from Max Scherzer, driving it deep into the night, mere inches left of the pole. Pedroia didn’t have quite enough body English as he moved down the first-base line and the ball sailed foul. Instead of a three-run homer, Pedroia wound up grounding into a double play to keep things scoreless.
Thanks to wonderboy Xander Bogaerts, the Sox broke through with a run in the fifth. The X-Man, Boston’s youngest postseason starter since Babe Ruth, set things up with a two-out double off the Wall in left center (near the ‘B Strong’ emblem). He came around to score when Jacoby Ellsbury cracked the next pitch into right field. The pitch Bogaerts hit was a 100-mile-per-hour fastball.
The Tigers answered with two in the sixth, but should have had more. Farrell lifted Buchholz (85 pitches) after a walk and Miguel Cabrera’s single started the inning. Franklin Morales was Farrell’s reliever of choice and it was a disaster. The lefty walked useless Prince Fielder on four pitches, then surrendered a two-run Wall ball single to Victor Martinez. Morales was removed and showered with boos. Brandon Workman came on and got out of the jam on a double-play grounder (featuring a hideous bellyflop by the blundering Fielder) and a strikeout.
After he was burned by his bullpen in Game 2, Scherzer was in no mood to come out of this one. He put two men on to start the sixth, but retired three straight as the Sox stranded runners on second and third.
Tiger manager Jim Leyland hooked his starter after Scherzer yielded a near-home run (less than a foot from the top of the Wall) to Gomes and walked the redoubtable Bogaerts with one out in the seventh. Then Ellsbury hit a grounder up the middle that was gloved, and dropped by stylemaster Iglesias.
Don’t worry about a thing. ‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.