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BOSTON (CBS) — What does it take to turn a miserable, last-place, 69-win team into one of the best squads in the majors? The Red Sox are continuing to show us all.
Late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, the Red Sox displayed the resiliency they’ve collectively had all season long, inventing yet another way to rally and win a baseball game. This one involved a rookie taking a base on balls then going from first to third on a single before scoring on a wild pitch, with the winning run then crossing the plate on a softly hit infield single to shortstop.
For anyone who’s watched the team all year, it was hardly surprising. From coming back from a 7-2 deficit in the ninth inning against the Mariners, to two handfuls of walk-off victories, to dropkicking batting helmets, to emotional late-inning rallies in the first home game after the city-wide manhunt in April, the Red Sox have been creative with the way they’ve earned their victories all season long. Tuesday night’s ALDS-clinching win fell right in line with that trend.
It’s been quite the spectacle, and if it wasn’t clear before that this team had something special, a trip to the ALCS should hammer home the point.
“It’s hard to describe. People who don’t get to see it like you get to see it don’t understand how close of a group this team is, from the number one guy to the 25th guy,” Jake Peavy, Game 4′s starter, said after the Red Sox finished off the Rays. “Everybody truly cares and loves each other, and we all have one common goal and that’s to end up on top.”
There was evidence to Peavy’s words on the field. After two double plays robbed the Red Sox of prime scoring opportunities in the early innings, it was looking for a while that it just wasn’t the Red Sox’ night, that a Game 5 would be played on Thursday night with the entire season on the line. But it all changed when a rookie with just 50 big league plate appearances and more than a week’s worth of rust was sent into the game to pinch hit for Stephen Drew in the seventh inning. Xander Bogaerts worked the work against flamethrower Jake McGee, igniting a rather unlikely rally to take the lead, the game and the series.
“To maintain some momentum and fight back the way we did when not much was happening or breaks weren’t coming our way, tonight was a big night,” manager John Farrell said.
“Showing so much character,” Peavy said, “being down late after a tough one last night, to be able to bounce back and play the way we did, to endure all the tough breaks that we seemed like we just kept catching, it’s just one more notch in this team’s belt.”
From the opposing dugout, Rays skipper Joe Maddon had — unfortunately for him — a front row seat to see what the Red Sox were made of.
“They were really good,” Maddon said. “They didn’t make any mistakes. You could see their grit. I talked about from spring training on, I think they’ve really promoted the character within that group, and they’re just gamers. They’ve got a bunch of gamers over there. That’s what really I felt from the other side.”
In Boston, you would have been considered out of your mind if you said in April — or even June, for that matter — that the Red Sox would be playing in the ALCS in mid-October. After the 2012 fiasco, with Bobby Valentine and his ever-present soap opera, the blockbuster trade/salary dump in late August, the 7-25 finish to the season, the worst record the franchise has had since the 1960s … it was a baseball disaster, and an overnight fix seemed to be impossible. Optimistically, perhaps the Red Sox could get back to being a few games above .500 and set themselves up to start contending against in 2014.
Yet with an influx of high-character guys who defy the logic of number crunchers, with good fortune in the health department and the unlikely emergence of a world-class closer, with a throwback season from David Ortiz, with a crafty deadline deal and with a relative wealth of young talent ready to contribute to a winning team, the Red Sox turned it around rapidly.
“I think at this point it really doesn’t do any good to kind of look at where we were,” reliever Craig Breslow, arguably the most important pitcher to work in Game 4, said. “I think independent of where we were, when we had guys come to spring training, everybody bought in. There’s accountability, and 25 guys who prioritize winning baseball games beyond any kind of individual achievement or accolade.
“The resiliency is a word that continues to come up,” Breslow added. “[Game 3] was a tough loss in a good, well‑played baseball game. And we came out tonight, we grinded through at‑bats, we came back from a one‑run deficit, and that’s been the trend all season. On any given night, it could be a different guy who contributes, and tonight I would say it was 25 guys who contributed.”
Peavy wasn’t a part of that historically bad 2012 Red Sox team, but he was living a horror of his own this season playing for the White Sox, who finished this season with just 63 wins. The righty said he loved his time in Chicago, but he’s hit the baseball lottery by being traded to this clubhouse at this time.
“It’s called winning. It’s a great move,” Peavy said. “To get traded over to a group of guys where I really feel like I’m a family now in such a short time, it’s humbling and I’m so thankful and so blessed.”
In Boston, it’s not often that a season can ends with anything less than a championship and still be considered a success, but no matter what happens going forward, these Red Sox have already smashed any and all expectations placed upon them early in the year. Each and every Red Sox player, in between champagne showers, stated flatly that reaching the ALCS is not the goal, that their eyes remain on winning the World Series. They very may well end up champs, but with no baseball for three full days in Boston, there’s not much else to do but marvel at this Red Sox run and how unbelievable — in the true sense of the word — it has been.