The Next Great Red Sox team isn’t an organizational catch phrase or a distant vision. It became a reality Wednesday night, when the Red Sox won the 109th World Series.
What was the Unthinkable Dream in February was as vivid and brilliant and real as the October foliage.
A year after finishing last in the American League East, the Red Sox are the last team standing. From pariahs to parade-planners, the Red Sox capped a remarkable turnaround with a 6-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 at Fenway Park to capture the franchise’s third World Series title since 2004.
It couldn’t have ended any other way. These retooled Red Sox were really, really good, with gamers and grinders, chemistry and camaraderie, run prevention and run generation. And they had destiny in their dugout. Certain seasons, certain teams just can’t lose. The 2013 Red Sox were one of those teams.
Their fourth-choice closer, Koji Uehara, turned out to be the best closer in baseball. A pitcher they would have put in the Salvation Army donation bin if they could have, John Lackey, turned out to be their most consistent pitcher and won the clinching game of the World Series. The guy everyone in baseball said they overpaid for, Shane Victorino, won a Gold Glove, stopped switch-hitting, and came up with two huge bases-loaded postseason hits batting righthanded against righties.
This redoubtable team full of bushy faces and Boston Strong shoulders was a freight train on fate’s tracks and nothing was going to derail them, certainly not the St. Louis Cardinals.
“People counted us out and we kept proving them wrong all year and now we’re here with this trophy,” said Red Sox ace Jon Lester.
It didn’t all go right for the Red Sox this postseason, but it was close.
It started in the very first game, when Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Wil Myers inexplicably pulled off a routine fly, paving the way for a five-run fourth inning and a 12-2 victory. It continued in the first game of the World Series, when the Cardinals played defense like the baseball was an invisible object.
On Wednesday, fortune smiled on the Sons of Fenway once again. Victorino, who had been 0 for 10 in the series, hit a bases-loaded double in the third that gave the Sox a 3-0 lead.
With one out and Jacoby Ellsbury on first in the third, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, perhaps by popular vote of the good folks of St. Louis, finally decided to stop pitching to David Ortiz and ordered an intentional walk.
But St. Louis starter Michael Wacha hit Johnny Gomes with two outs to load the bases. Victorino who delivered the Red Sox to the World Series with a seventh-inning grand slam in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers, drilled a three-run double high off the Green Monster.
He took third on the throw and pounded his chest with both hands while letting out a primal scream.
“Obviously, no one is 100 percent this time of year and for him to go out there and compete and get that big knock that’s just our team,” said Ellsbury. “That’s just our team all year.”
Victorino was a late scratch from Game 4 with lower back tightness.
The man who replaced him, Gomes, ending up hitting a three-run homer that broke a 1-1 tie and powered the Sox to a 4-2 win, perhaps the single biggest hit of the series.
Victorino was out for Game 5 too, as manager John Farrell went with Gomes and Daniel Nava. The Sox usual No. 2 hitter, Farrell dropped him to sixth for Game 6, and he went 2 for 3 with four runs batted in and a pair of bases-loaded hits.
If there was any doubt that the Red Sox were destined to win this World Series, it was put to rest with a three-run fourth.
Stephen Drew, who had last gotten a hit on Labor Day — OK, that’s an exaggeration, he was 4 for 51 (.078) in the postseason — belted a first pitch fastball into the Red Sox bullpen to lead off the fourth.
“He actually told me that he was going to hit a home run today,” said first baseman Napoli, who took batting practice with Drew.
Of course he did. That’s the way the 2013 Red Sox rolled.
With Ellsbury on third and two outs, Matheny intentionally walked Ortiz again. But lifted Wacha, who had fanned cleanup batter Napoli, twice. Napoli singled, of course, off Lance Lynn to drive in another run.
Victorino hit a bases-loaded single to left to score Ortiz and make it 6-0 and the barricades were going up outside of Fenway Park in anticipation of a flood of the Faithful.
Six runs was more than enough for Lackey, who could drink all the beer he wanted in the clubhouse after this one. Lackey left with two outs in the seventh with a 6-1 lead and tipped his cap to crowd.
Lackey had gone from object of enmity among the Fenway Faithful to an object of idolatry.
“It gave me chills to hear the response that he deservedly received here,” said Farrell. “It’s almost fitting that he is the guy on the mound tonight to close it out. He mirrors the remake of this team and this organization.’’
The Red Sox joined the 1991 Minnesota Twins as the only teams to go from worst in their division to World Series winners.
They also put 1918 to rest for good, becoming the first Red Sox team in 95 years to celebrate a World Series championship inside the baseball basilica in the Fens.
To paraphrase Ortiz, the World Series MVP, this was just the Red Sox bleepin’ season.Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.