BOSTON (CBS) — By now, the 2013 Boston Red Sox have had plenty of opportunities to bow out. From facing the most dominant starting pitching staff in the game, to facing a 2-1 deficit in the late innings of Game 6, to facing the unpleasant prospect of having to try to solve Justin Verlander in Game 7, the Red Sox did not have an easy assignment at all in Saturday night’s Game 6 or the entire series for that matter.
But rather than worry about what may be, the Red Sox did what they spent all year doing.
They got to work.
Jonny Gomes, in the lineup despite statistics and logic saying Daniel Nava should have started, led off the bottom of the seventh with a line drive double off the Green Monster that would have been a home run in any other ballpark. It was the second such hit of the night for the Red Sox, but rather than feel robbed, the Red Sox simply used it as a springboard.
Two batters later, rookie Xander Bogaerts took two strikes to fall behind in the count 1-2 before laying off three pitches and chasing this year’s surefire AL Cy Young winner, Max Scherzer, by drawing his second walk of the night. The Red Sox caught a break in the next at-bat, when Jose Iglesias bobbled a Jacoby Ellsbury ground ball and could not get an out at any base.
Mistakes happen in every game, but it’s the best teams that capitalize on the gifted opportunities. And boy, did the Red Sox do that.
Shane Victorino, batting .087 in the series and coming off a failed bunt attempt early in the game that cost the Red Sox a scoring opportunity, stepped to the plate and quickly fell behind 0-2 to Jose Veras. Fenway Park, which had its moments of delirious enthusiasm throughout the night, was not particularly raucous at this point in time. Anyone expecting Victorino to come through certainly wasn’t showing it at the ballpark. Even manager John Farrell said after the game that a grand slam from Victorino was “probably the last thing we’re thinking.”
Yet in what has become the central theme to this year’s Red Sox, Victorino came through when seemingly nobody thought he would.
The Red Sox’ right fielder launched a fly ball high and deep to left field. It was instantly deep enough to be a sacrifice fly. The crowd rose to its feet. It carried still deeper, now looking like a two-RBI double that would turn the Red Sox’ 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead. The crowd grew louder. And then, it came down on top of the Green Monster. A grand slam. The crowd erupted. It was 5-2 Red Sox.
With the back end of the Boston bullpen being as sure a thing as there is, that four-run swing of the bat was all Boston would need on this night to secure a series victory and a World Series berth.
It was most exciting, but by now, it should not have been surprising. The Red Sox were not supposed to be here. They weren’t supposed to make the playoffs, and they certainly weren’t supposed to be competing for a championship. Even the most ardent, optimistic supporter wouldn’t have been crazy enough back in April to consider the events of Saturday night to be a realistic possibility.
Yet that was forgotten long ago, as the Red Sox spent the entirety of the 2013 season being one of the best teams in all of baseball. It may defy proper explanation, but these Red Sox simply are a special group.
“It’s cliche to talk about character, but sometimes it’s just true,” Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino said on the field amid the celebration. “These guys play for each other, they play for a city and a region they care about, and they deserve an enormous amount of credit for the chemistry that they created and for the performances they brought out in each other.”
Even Clay Buchholz, the starting pitcher of Game 6, admitted that last year at this time, in the aftermath of a thoroughly embarrassing 69-93 season, the thought of going to the World Series was far from his mind.
“Not a year ago, no,” Buchholz said when asked if it would have been realistic to think such thoughts last October. “Last year was tough to swallow. But the guys they brought in, what Ben [Cherington] did with the team, and with John Farrell coming back, it’s all been a big part of the success that we’ve had this year.”
Sure enough, it was two new guys — Gomes and Victorino — whose contracts were deemed questionable by many during the offseason. Few vocally opposed the signings at the conclusion of Saturday night’s affair.
The ability to fight despite circumstances seeming to work against them has been the team’s trademark all year. Whereas Rays manager Joe Maddon used the ballpark as an excuse in the ALDS, the Red Sox never let anything get to them. Instead of lamenting the fact that Bogaerts’ double in the fifth should have been a home run, or that Dustin Pedroia’s would-be homer curved inches in front of the left-field foul pole, or that Gomes’ double missed being a home run by about two inches, the Red Sox just kept going.
“When those opportunities come and go … against great pitchers such as [Scherzer], those opportunities that are fleeting, you’re wondering if you’re going to get them back,” Farrell said. “But it’s been the characteristic of this team that we’re able to build that into the end.
And so, the story goes on for the Red Sox. They’ve already surpassed any and all reasonable expectations placed upon them, and in that sense, it would be hard for the city of Boston to be disappointed if this unbelievable run falls short of a World Series victory.
At the same time, they’ve come this far, and they’ve defied so many odds. Why not make it last for one more week?
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