If you missed the first two parts of the commentary, you can find them, along with a more elaborate explanation of these rankings, online at keene-equinox.com. Basically, I am attempting to rank Boston’s championship teams of the twenty-first century by measuring three criteria: each team’s playoff run, team likability and the historical implications of each title. Last week covered number four, the 2011 Boston Bruins. We keep rolling this week with the third team on the list: the 2013 Boston Red Sox.
With “Dirty Water” still stuck in our heads and those beautiful beards still burned in our minds, looking at the most recent championship objectively can be a challenge. Perhaps time will give a clearer perspective, but for now this is what we know: with last year’s .426 winning percentage, the 2013 Red Sox had the biggest turnaround of any World Series champion in league history.
The story of the team’s rejuvenation could start in a lot of places: 2011’s fried chicken-filled locker rooms, 2012’s busy trainer’s rooms or 2013’s Boston Marathon finish line.
As the Boston community tried to recover from the horrific events of April 15, it rallied around the victims and heroes that were created that day. The terrorist attack had brought grief, confusion and anger to the city, but it also brought unity.
Symbols of the city took on new meanings and the Boston Red Sox, as much a symbol of the city as anything, were an easy target to rally around.
The Red Sox flew out of the gate to start the season, winning 18 of their 26 games in April and never looked back. On their way to a league best 97-win season it became clear this was a different team than the one that had suited up for Bobby Valentine the season before. Boston got strong seasons from franchise guys, resurgent veterans and newcomers. In other words, coming off a year of relentless injuries, everything went right.
Despite the success of the Sox, the postseason offered no easy rounds.
First they faced the division-rival Tampa Bay Rays, a powerhouse in it’s own right. Handing losses to the stars of the Ray’s rotation, Matt Moore and David Price, would prove to be too much for Tampa Bay to overcome. Boston took the five-game series in four. The American League Championship Series (ALCS) against the Detroit Tigers would bring more drama.
The Red Sox’ dangerous offense was completely silenced in game one as they were a Daniel Nava single away from being no-hit. David Ortiz’s game two grand slam set up catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s walk-off that would even the series.
Boston would win games three and five by one run, setting up Shane Victorino’s game six grand slam that sent the Sox to the World Series. Closer Koji Uehara, who had been untouchable all year, would rightly be named ALCS MVP.
The World Series proved that even in a league 144 years old, there is a first for everything.
The St. Louis Cardinals would take one of the first two games in Boston (despite homers by the increasingly deadly Ortiz in both contests.)
Game three was tied going into the bottom of the ninth when history was made. After an impressive play by Dustin Pedroia to get Cardinal’s catcher Yadier Molina out at home, Jarrod Saltalamacchia attempted to throw out St. Louis pinch hitter Allen Craig sliding at third.
The ball passed Boston third baseman, Will Middlebrooks, and as Craig stepped over the third basemen to run home, Middlebrooks was called for obstruction, automatically advancing Craig and ending the game. It was the first time a World Series game was won on such a call.
Outstanding pitching performances by Felix Doubront and Jon Lester (again) in games four and five would set up the Red Sox with a 3-2 series advantage and a chance to clinch the title in Fenway for the first time since 1918.
John Lackey would pitch 6.2 passionate innings before manager John Farrell all but dragged him off the field.
Lackey walked off the mound to a standing ovation, and for the first time in a long and strenuous relationship with the city, he would tip his cap to the crowd of 38,447.
It was a party in Fenway from there. Victorino had once again delivered a timely hit to put the Red Sox up 6-1, and the home crowd knew how close they were to witnessing Boston win its third World Series in ten years. Ortiz, who had been so great he prompted journeyman teammate David Ross to wonder of him, “What planet is that guy from?” would win the World Series MVP— it was his first.
Anytime you prompt the mass production of bumper stickers that read “Pull My Beard” you’re going to be high on the team likability rankings.
The Red Sox ran with the “Boston Strong” movement and showed resiliency and toughness at a time when Boston needed to be both.
The playoff run, though there were no game sevens, featured memorable game sixes and cemented Ortiz’s legacy as the most clutch player to come through Boston sports since Larry Joe Bird (sorry, Tom Brady). It also made heroes out of Uehara and Lackey. Historically speaking, the win added to the Red Sox’ growing twenty-first century resume. After being the lovable losers for the better half of a decade, three titles in ten years isn’t too shabby.
The Lasting Image
It might be too soon for this one, but I’ll go with the Boston cop with his hand in the air as Torii Hunter’s feet flip over the wall in game two of the ALCS.
Stay tuned for the top two teams in coming weeks!
Zach Winn can be contacted email@example.com