The Red Sox just won the World Series. Again. Isn’t that sufficient cause for celebration and salutation? It should be.
Why can’t we look at this remarkable season for what it really was, instead of what many would like it to be — a convenient narrative of redemption for a team and a city? It really was nothing more than a singularly spectacular achievement by a group of baseball players. It happens every year in a lot of different places.
Here’s what I find compelling about the 2013 Red Sox — and it has nothing to do with Boston Strong (can we please put that phrase away for good?) or worst-to-first: they won it all in what has to be one of the most bizarre post-seasons in recent memory. In some ways, they won in spite of themselves. In other ways, they won because the other team turned to mush.
Why can’t we look at this remarkable season for what it really was, instead of what many would like it to be — a convenient narrative of redemption for a team and a city?
In the end, however, they found a way, which is what winners do.
This team set a record for strikeouts in the post-season. Red Sox players whiffed a staggering 165 times in 16 games. In six games against the Cardinals, Red Sox batters struck out 59 times. In six games against the Tigers, Red Sox batters struck out a stunning 73 times.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, mercifully removed from the regular lineup midway through the World Series, had 32 official at-bats in the post-season. He struck out 19 times. Alas, the man they call Salty drove in the game-winning run past a drawn-in infield in the Game That Changed Everything, Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. Mike Napoli struck out 21 times in 46 official post-season at-bats, including 11 times in 20 against the Tigers. But he hit the game-winning home run in Game 3 of the ALCS, had another homer in Game 5, then hit a three-run double in the first inning of Game 1 of the World Series.
Shane Victorino hit .125 against the Tigers and .154 against the Cardinals. He struck out 14 times in the post-season. But the memories he leaves are indelible — the grand slam home run in Game 6 of the ALCS and the three-run double in Game 6 of the World Series.
The Red Sox’ offensive futility against Detroit was mind-boggling; in the first three games, the offense did not get a single hit until the fifth inning. They won two of those games anyway. Members of the Red Sox not named “David Ortiz” batted .169 in the World Series. They still won comfortably.
Neither Napoli nor Victorino was on the Red Sox last season, so any kind of redemption for them was an abstract concept at best. Twelve of the 25 players on the team’s World Series roster were elsewhere last season, including nine of the 13 players listed in the final box score from Game 6 of the World Series. Manager John Farrell was not around, either. They had no part in the train wreck of 2012.
One of those who was around, Ortiz, delivered the blow that pretty much turned around everything. But before he could even get to the plate for his game-tying grand slam homer, a critical decision that has widely gone overlooked had to happen. Third base coach Brian Butterfield held up Will Middlebrooks coming around from second base on Dustin Pedroia’s two-out single to right field, even with the Red Sox down 5-1 with two outs in the eighth inning. That decision enabled the bases to stay loaded, giving Ortiz a chance to tie the game with one swing. The rest is history. Instead of going to Detroit 0-2 and facing Justin Verlander in Game 3, the series was tied. The Tigers never really recovered.
The Red Sox were also beneficiaries of some truly stunning stupidity from each of their three opponents. Who can forget Tampa outfielder Wil Meyers failing to catch Ortiz’s long fly to right, a play that turned around Game 1 and from which the Rays never recovered. Tigers manager Jim Leyland panicked at the end of Game 2 and his third-base coach, Tom Brookens, did what Butterfield did not do when he waived home a lumbering Miguel Cabrera in the first inning of Game 5. Cabrera was out by a mile. The Tigers lost the game by a run.
In some ways, they won in spite of themselves. In other ways, they won because the other team turned to mush. In the end, however, they found a way, which is what winners do.
The Cardinals collectively wet their pants in Game 1 of the World Series. In pivotal Game 5, the St. Louis “ace,” Adam Wainwright, walked non-hitting Stephen Drew at a crucial point, leading to the game-deciding hit by David Ross. In Game 6, Michael Wacha inexplicably plunked Jonny Gomes to load the bases, setting the stage for Victorino’s three-run double. Prior to that, Wacha had not hit a batter in his major OR minor-league career. Not one. You can look it up.
So strange things — good things from a Boston perspective — happened to this team. It didn’t have to deal with the historical weight of adversity that the 2004 team faced. It really didn’t have the burning desire to redeem, either, because so many of the principals were elsewhere last season. (If that team — the 2012 group — had returned and won the World Series, with Bobby Valentine managing instead Farrell, then you’d really be onto something.) It didn’t win because of the tragedy of the Boston Marathon or because it plays in a city that thinks it is “stronger” than other cities.
It won because it came together as a team, was well managed and took advantage of the breaks in a most opportune fashion. That should be the takeaway from this surprising championship season.
This program aired on October 31, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.