BOSTON (CBS) — When the baseball calendar flipped from 2012 to 2013, while the experts were busy making their predictions, and while the Red Sox were shaking off the embarrassment of being the laughingstock of the sport, the players and coaches gathered in Fort Myers and did one simple thing.
They went to work.
The rebuild of a 93-loss team is not an easy one, but the general solution to the problem plaguing Boston was rather simple. If you keep the guys who live and breathe baseball, and you add a few new players who are of the same mind, the end result is that you are going to have a much better baseball team.
And the 2013 Boston Red Sox were indeed a much better baseball team. In fact, they were the very best baseball team. They now have the World Series championship to prove it.
“We have a remarkable group of people in our clubhouse that truly put winning first and put each other first,” general manager Ben Cherington said amidst the celebration on the field at Fenway Park, after the Red Sox beat the Cardinals 6-1 in Game 6. “They had each other’s back, and they did it for eight, nine months, from spring training until the end of October.”
It started with the manager. To the Red Sox organization, John Farrell was a known commodity. He had served as the pitching coach from 2007 through 2010, and they liked what they knew about him. They knew he was a steadying influence, a calming type, not dissimilar to Terry Francona, who oversaw the most successful run the Red Sox had experienced in a century.
The idea with bringing Farrell back was not to revive the Francona era, but instead to go back to a system of reliability and stability that proved effective in the franchise’s championship seasons.
“He’s so calm,” Mike Napoli, a 2013 Boston newcomer, said of Farrell. “He basically came here and he wanted us to be on time and play hard.”
Of course, a manager cannot hit or pitch; players are required for that. So the Red Sox went out and found a group of players that look like they were placed on earth to do nothing else but play the sport of baseball. Napoli, Jonny Gomes, David Ross, Shane Victorino – baseball players all. They’re the types that simply show up at the ballpark every day, because that is what they do and who they are.
Though some of their contracts were criticized for being too long or too expensive, and though Napoli’s contract was initially voided only to have him re-sign later, there’s no questioning that Cherington found the right mix of players for this year’s baseball team.
“It’s fun showing up and looking at the guy next to you and knowing that he’s going to do everything he can to help us win a game,” said Dustin Pedroia, one of the few to have lived through the glory of ’07 and the misery of ’11 and ’12. “And it’s not just the guy to the left or the right – it’s everybody in our whole clubhouse.”
“I don’t know that we took that [underdog] role. I just feel like we went out there and tried to win every night,” Ross said. “We have a bunch of guys that grind it out – gritty, character guys – that care about how they perform on the field, and it shows.”
Even with the confidence that Cherington and his front office had in the team which was assembled, expecting it to work this quickly would have been a lofty expectation. And after getting off to an 18-8 start in April, many observers thought a 15-15 record in May was a much more accurate picture of what this year’s club would be. Yet the Red Sox never again finished a month with a .500 record or lower, going 64-42 the rest of the way, cruising to just their second AL East division title in 18 years and tying the Cardinals for the best record in all of Major League Baseball.
“There’s always pressure, but I think we just … we knew we let a lot of people down,” Cherington said. “I let people down, we as a group let people down. We weren’t near who we wanted to be on the field or off the field, so we were committed to get back toward what we wanted to be as quickly as we could. We didn’t know exactly what speed that would happen in, but sure enough it happened this year.”
Against the Rays in the ALDS, many wondered if the pitching would be too much for Boston to handle. It wasn’t. The same story repeated itself in the ALCS, and the Red Sox went 3-0 against Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.
Then came the Cardinals, who took a 2-1 series lead and, given the frantic nature of the ending to the game, the picture was bleak in Boston – but only for 24 hours.
Gomes hit a three-run home run in the top of the sixth inning of Game 4, and the Red Sox would never trail again on their way to winning the eighth World Series in franchise history.
“Obviously, the last couple of years have been hard, but I think when we showed up to spring training, we forgot about the last couple of years. That’s all you can do,” said Jon Lester, who went 2-0 while allowing just one earned run in 15 1/3 innings in the World Series. “You can’t worry about yesterday; you can only worry about today. That’s what’s made this team special since day one, and that’s what has just made this so much fun this year. It’s the ability of these guys, everybody on that team had the ability to turn the page the next day and do the job.”
The theme song of sorts that’s been played throughout Fenway and in the clubhouse this year has been Drake’s “Started From The Bottom.” They’re not the first team to play it regularly, and they won’t be the last, but they may be able to relate to the message better than anyone else.
While a healthy number of players on this year’s team didn’t experience the negativity of the 2012 sideshow, they all entered into the same situation. They signed contracts with a team that had its worst season in 47 years, joining teammates who had just experienced a miserable 16-42 finish to the season. The manager was fired and then spoke to the press while riding his bicycle around town. The Red Sox, from the outside, appeared to be an absolute mess.
So nobody expected much out of the 2013 Red Sox, who truly did start from the bottom. Even the most ardent of fans likely would have been happy to see a .500 team, so long as it was the first step toward a multi-year approach of regaining respectability.
But now they’re here. We may never see any franchise go from one extreme to the other so quickly. The Boston Red Sox are champions of the world.