I could give you 115 reasons these Red Sox are a likable lot, each reason captured in a photograph on manager Alex Cora’s office wall.
That, of course, is the number of victories the Red Sox have procured this season so far – a franchise-record 108 in the regular season, three in the American League Division Series pummeling of the Yankees, and four more while dethroning the defending champion Astros in the League Championship Series.
With four more victories over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, which begins at Fenway Park (yo, don’t call it a stadium, Clayton Kershaw) on Tuesday, the Red Sox will have 119 victories this season, as well as a very real claim that their 2018 edition is one of the greatest teams in baseball history.
Logically, winning all of those games — the Red Sox also had the best record in baseball in spring training, then began the regular season 17-2 – should have been a way to effortlessly win over fans. But you know how we can be around here.
There’s a natural cynicism that was born generations ago and still survives even after the World Series wins of 2004, ’07, and ’13, not to mention the modern assortment of championships among the Patriots, Celtics and Bruins. That cynicism can be turbocharged by the chronic, calculated negativity of sports radio and the modern, misguided mind-set that a season can be nothing but a disappointment if it doesn’t end with a duck boat parade.
Too often we have a prove-it-to-me attitude about teams that are in the process of proving it to us, night after night, over and over again.
This Red Sox team’s likability never should have been in question. It should have been appreciated in real time, as it was playing out. Sure, it may have been obscured sometimes by the complaints about the state of the bullpen, or the occasional David Price dramas, or the fret that their knack for slaying mediocre and lousy teams wouldn’t matter when they were confronted with worthy opponents in the postseason. But the journey from Fort Myers in February to the doorstep of the World Series in October should be appreciated in full.
Reasons this team is likable? Well, there are those 115 wins, and then one more terrific reason tied to them: Cora said the Red Sox will auction off each of the photos — one from each victory along the way — to benefit the Jimmy Fund. That kind of thoughtful generosity is impossible not to like, and so fitting with what the Red Sox should strive to be.
But if somehow you need more, here are a few significant reasons this team is worthy of appreciation, even before the mission is complete.
■ The presence of Markus Lynn Betts — You know him as Mookie, though it makes me chuckle every time when Jackie Bradley Jr. refers to him by his given name. By any name, he had an all-timer of a season (.346/.438/.640, with 32 homers and 30 stolen bases, plus habitually spectacular right field defense). Betts has struggled at the plate in the playoffs, hitting .205 without a home run in 44 plate appearances. The World Series is the perfect stage for him to snap out of it and demonstrate his cool charisma and extraordinary all-around ability to the rest of the baseball world.
■ They’re masters of redemption — Price, justifiably maligned for his postseason pitching record (he was 0-9 in 11 career starts entering his Game 5 start against the Astros), pitched superbly over six shutout innings, striking out nine in the clinching victory. The Red Sox bullpen, perceived as the team’s weakness, has stranded all 14 inherited runners since Game 2 of the ALDS, while Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Heath Hembree, and Joe Kelly have allowed just two earned runs in 22⅓ combined innings. The series victory over Houston itself was redemptive given that the Astros ended the Red Sox’ 2017 season in a four-game ALDS victory.
■ The right man is in charge — Man, did Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox brain trust ever get it right with the hiring of Cora in the offseason. He’s poised, candid, prepared, communicative, informed from every angle, and accountable. He’s a savvy in-game tactician, something that isn’t always the case with managers in their first year on the job. On the rare occasions he makes a puzzling move, he explains it in a way that inevitably makes it less puzzling even if you don’t totally agree with the thinking. The Red Sox’ core young players, some of whom stagnated under rigid John Farrell, have blossomed under his stewardship, especially Xander Bogaerts. If you don’t appreciate this guy as manager, you must not appreciate any manager.
■ Players contribute in unexpected ways — A gem from Chris Sale or a well-timed home run by J.D. Martinez are staples of this team. But who could have figured Brock Holt to hit for the cycle in Game 2 against the Yankees? Or Eduardo Nunez and Steve Pearce to combine for a series-clinching (and perhaps saving) defensive play to finish off the rallying Yankees in Game 4? Or Bradley to wallop a grand slam to break open Game 3 against the Astros? Or Rafael Devers to hit the game-breaking home run in the ALCS clincher off the great Justin Verlander? Or Nathan Eovaldi to pitch like an ace, or Rick Porcello, Eovaldi, and Sale to all get huge outs in relief along the way, or Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon to block pitch after pitch in the dirt in important situations, or . . .
Well, let’s just say it’s been a complete team effort. And there’s not much that’s more likable than that.