Top Boston Sports Stories Of 2013

December 19, 2013 6:20 AM

(Photos by Rob Carr and Jared Wickerham, /Getty Images)

(Photos by Rob Carr and Jared Wickerham, /Getty Images)

(Photos by Rob Carr and Jared Wickerham, /Getty Images)

By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston

That calendar you have sitting on your desk or pinned to your wall is about to become obsolete, but there are plenty of memorable dates that can never be erased from 2013.

It was a unique year for the Boston sports scene. It had everything from warm welcomes to testy good-byes, euphoric wins and heartbreaking losses, and, of course, Tim Tebow.

It was a year that may not be topped in some time, so here is a look at the sports stories of 2013.

Red Sox Go From Worst To First, Win World Series

One year ago, the Red Sox were still recovering from a debacle of a season under manager Bobby Valentine.

2012 was one to forget for Sox fans, as the team won just 69 games. Hopes weren’t too high heading into 2013, as many predicted the Red Sox would have a decent rebuilding year in John Farrell’s first season as manager but few predicted that would end in a playoff appearance.

Some thought they could compete for one of the two AL Wild Card spots,  but not many predicted the team would run the table throughout the season and clinch their first AL East title since 2008. Even fewer predicted they would steamroll their way through some of the best pitching in baseball to the franchise’s eighth World Series crown.

If you did, buy me a lottery ticket and send it to the station, please.

While fans and media alike had low expectations for the 2013 Red Sox, the team never saw this as a rebuilding year. Instead, it was about redemption. From the start of spring training, the group of bearded ballplayers believed they would be on top of the baseball world in the end, and they never faltered along the way.

Their not-so-regular season saw them win 97 games — the most since the 2004 World Champs won 98 games. Their late-game mojo returned as they walked off 11 times, something the 2012 club only did three times.

Boston’s run of regular-season dominance carried over to the postseason. When the Sox lineup struggled, their starting pitching came through. When the pitching needed a boost, they got timely hits (mostly home runs or grand slams) off the bats of David Ortiz, Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli. And it never hurts to have a closer who only throws strike after strike, leaving batters with very little chance of actually making contact.

The power arms Boston faced along the way included David Price, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha, and Boston got to each of them. Ortiz was nearly impossible to get out during the World Series, and his third ring further cements his legacy in Boston sports greatness.

It all culminated in the Red Sox clinching their first World Series at Fenway Park in 95 years. Not bad for a team many didn’t give a chance in March.

Bruins’ Epic Playoff Run

The NHL lockout left Boston fans thirsty for hockey, and that thirst was quenched with an amazing playoff run from the Bruins.

After finishing the shortened regular season 28-14-6, the Bruins were heavy favorites in their first-round matchup with Phil Kessel and the Toronto Maple Leafs. But after taking a 3-1 series lead, Boston nearly blew it by letting the Leafs win the next two games, and looked all but done when they trailed 4-1 in the third period of Game 7.

But the Bruins pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in playoff history, scoring three goals in the final 11 minutes of regulation — two in the final two minutes — to force overtime. Six minutes into extra hockey, Patrice Bergeron ended it all, sending the Bruins into the second round and radio play-by-play man Dave Goucher into pandemonium.

After easily dispatching the New York Rangers in five games, the Bruins pulled off an improbable sweep of the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins. The Bruins dominated Pittsburgh as Tuukka Rask allowed just two goals the entire series, shutting down stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, as well as Jarome Iginla – the man who became enemy No. 1 for spurning Boston a few months prior at the trade deadline.

Boston fell short in the Stanley Cup, falling to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. The B’s owned a 2-1 series lead, but the season ended with Boston losing three straight – including a devastating loss in Game 6. Boston had a 2-1 lead in the final minutes of the game, but the Blackhawks scored on Rask twice in a 16-second span to clinch the cup.

Though it didn’t end with the Bruins raising the Cup, the playoff run was a remarkable one. From the comeback against the Leafs to the sweep of the Penguins, there are many storylines that will never be forgotten. Gregory Campbell played nearly two minutes on a broken leg against the Penguins, forever immortalizing himself as a Bruins folk hero. Patrice Bergeron could have died in that disappointing Game 6 against the Blackhawks, taking the ice with broken rips and suffering a hole in his lung during play.

And for a few stories on the lighter side, it’s hard to forget about the U.S. Army Rangers jacket that became the team’s playoff symbol, or the JetBlue pilot who asked if a crying baby was Sidney Crosby on a flight back to Boston.

The disappointing (and rather sudden) end of the run is something fans will want to strike from their memories, but it sure was one heck of a ride.

Hernandez Arrested, Charged With Murder

This was truly one of the more crazy stories in the history of sports, let alone 2013.

When word first came down that Aaron Hernandez was being investigated for the murder of Odin Lloyd, whose body was found less than a mile away from Hernandez’s North Attleboro home, no one really knew what to think. But no one could get enough.

News vans parked outside Hernandez’s home for days at a time. Helicopters hovered over his SUV as he made his way into Boston. All the while, the tight end said he was innocent.

Read: Kraft Says Hernandez “Duped” Patriots Organization

Then it all came to a head with Hernandez being brought out of his home in handcuffs on June 26. A few hours later, he was cut by the Patriots. Not long after that, he was officially charged with murder.

And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Since, we’ve heard of the bubblegum and bullet shells in his rental car – in which Lloyd allegedly rode the night of his murder. We found out that Hernandez is also being investigated in a 2012 double-homicide in Boston, and there’s a flop house in Franklin that has some wondering if Hernandez was some sort of Avon Barksdale-like drug kingpin.

There’s rumors of gun trafficking, numerous off-field issues during his college days in Florida, and even a heated threat to Wes Welker during Hernandez’s rookie season. We learned more of Hernandez’s difficult youth, and how it started to spiral out of control after the death of his father in 2006.

Read: Fans Line Up At Gillette To Exchange Hernandez Jerseys

Hernandez has maintained his innocence from prison in letters to pen pals (who turned around and sold those letters, so we use the term “pal” loosely).

From a football standpoint, the Patriots lost a player that was supposed to be one of Tom Brady’s most dangerous targets on the field. But all of that took a backseat to the fact a human life was taken away, and a person who many saw as a reformed individual is the one who allegedly pulled the trigger. (Continued…)

Tebow Signs With Patriots, Gets Cut Before Season

Love him or hate him, Tim Tebow is one of the most popular sports figures in the world (and he doesn’t even play anymore).

Need proof? Look no further than the stir he created in New England as a third-string quarterback.

A large group of reporters surround Tim Tebow on his first day with the New England Patriots. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

A large group of reporters surround Tim Tebow on his first day with the New England Patriots. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

When he first made it to Gillette, a massive crowd of reporters were waiting. When he caught passes in his first practice, most of the sports world exploded with speculation he would be a tight end. When he played poorly in his first preseason game, it was the top story until the following week.

Even when Tebow didn’t play in the preseason (you know, letting Tom Brady get tuned up to do his job) it was a bigger deal than most other stories on the national stage.

In other words, Tebow Mania was just pure insanity.

And then he was cut before the regular season, and it all disappeared.

It’s hard to knock Tebow though, who was the consummate professional during his brief time as a Patriot. While the story was all about Tebow, Tim Tebow was not all about Tim Tebow. In true Patriot fashion he continually said all the right things, focusing on helping the team and becoming a better football player.

He just wasn’t very good at football, and didn’t earn a spot on the roster.

Tyler Seguin Traded To Dallas

Fireworks are expected on the Fourth of July, but they don’t usually come from a hockey team.

Tyler Seguin was supposed to be the future of the Bruins franchise, but Peter Chiarelli and Co. shipped him to Dallas along with Rich Peverley and Ryan Button for Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith Brandon Morrow and Matt Frasor.  The move shocked many, confused others, and led to weeks of speculating about Seguin’s off-ice activities (which got Mama Seguin very upset).

The Bruins saw the move as one that gave them a better chance to win now. Just 21, Seguin still has some growing-up to do, and Boston didn’t want to waste the finals years of their established core waiting for the talented forward to do so.

Dallas clearly got the better player in the deal, but time will tell who comes out on top in the long run.

Celtics Begin Rebuilding Period

When the Boston Celtics fell to the New York Knicks in the first round of the playoffs last May, it was the end of an era.

Just a few months later, both Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were in Brooklyn, Doc Rivers was in Los Angeles, and Brad Stevens was plucked from the college ranks to lead the rebuilding of the storied franchise.

Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry were sent to the Nets for a slew of contracts and plethora of draft picks, but the best part of the trade is we got this photo out of it as well:

At least Brad Stevens is smiling. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

At least Brad Stevens is smiling. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

With Rajon Rondo out until the new year while recovering from an ACL injury, “tank talk” dominated the chatter leading up to the season.  The Celtics weren’t so much a team, but rather a collection of players expected to finish somewhere near the bottom of the league, and visions of Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker sporting Celtics green next season danced in the minds of many fans.

But Stevens, as he did at Butler, has made the most with the rag-tag roster he was given, and the Celtics find themselves near the top of the Atlantic Division.

Most of the Celtics success has to do with the struggles of the rest of the Eastern Conference (and the Atlantic in particular), but so far Stevens has showed that he can indeed coach the NBA game and can get the most out of all of his players – no matter how little the expectations are.

Wes Welker Heads To Denver

Welker blessed all of New England with his super hero-like catch-and-run abilities for six years,  catching 672 passes from Tom Brady and Matt Cassel. But he wasn’t feeling the love from Bill Belichick and Bob Kraft when he hit free agency, and decided to head for greener pastures in Denver.

All it took was a two-year, $12-million offer from the Broncos to get Welker to agree to catch passes from Peyton Manning, sending most Patriots fans into a tizzy. But when the team inked Danny Amendola to a five-year deal (either shortly after or shortly before the Welker announcement, depending on who you ask), it was fairly clear they didn’t really want #83 back in the first place.

Fans fell in love with Welker, who gave it his all for every play on every Sunday. He returned from a devastating ACL tear in a matter of months, and became the first player in NFL history to record five 100-catch seasons while wearing a Patriots jersey.

Now, he is with the enemy and doing what he does best for Manning and not Brady. (Continued…)

Uehara Dominates

Red Sox closer Koji Uehara celebrates with his teammates after beating the Cardinals in Game 4 of the World Series. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Red Sox closer Koji Uehara celebrates with his teammates after beating the Cardinals in Game 4 of the World Series. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

High fives will never be the same in Boston.

There wasn’t much fanfare when Ben Cherington signed Koji Uehara to a one-year deal back in December. When Cherington traded for closer Joel Hanrahan eight days later, Uehara was thought of as a depth arm behind the likes of Andrew Bailey, Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa.

Then Hanrahan kept getting hurt. Bailey tried to handle closing duties, but didn’t have great success and eventually made his yearly trip to the DL. Tazawa also got a shot at the gig, but couldn’t lock it down.

So Uehara spoke up, and despite Boston’s fear of burning out the 38-year-old hurler’s arm, John Farrell started sending him out in the ninth inning on a regular basis.

Dominance followed.

Uehara threw strike after strike, setting down batter after batter, usually on three pitches or less. He didn’t allowed a single earned run in the month of July. Or in the month of August.

Overall, Uehara went 34.1 innings without allowing an earned run. He set down 37 straight batters during the streak, following each of his saves with a high-five line that sometimes extended to downtown Boston.

After giving up two runs to the Angels in a non-save situation on June 9, he allowed just two earned runs over his next 50 innings of work.

The rubber-armed reliever led all major leaguers with a 1.09 ERA and 0.57 WHIP during the regular season, and was just as good in the playoffs. Uehara’s only blip in 13.2 postseason innings was a “what the heck just happened” game-winning solo homer to Tampa’s Jose Lobaton in Game 3 of the ALDS.

Uehara finished the postseason a perfect 7-for-7 in save situations, issuing no walks and striking out 16.

It was truly a dominating run by Uehara, one that electrified the ninth inning for Red Sox fans (at least on nights when the team wasn’t walking off).

Gronkowski’s Injury Saga

When Rob Gronkowski re-broke his right arm in the Patriots’ AFC Divisional round trouncing of the Houston Texans, we were prepared for an off-season or rehab for the Pro Bowl tight end.

But three surgeries?!? That’s just crazy. It’s even crazier that, in all, he underwent five different surgeries in an eight-month span.

Aside from the two surgeries he underwent after breaking the arm, Gronk had to have two additional surgeries; one to remove an infection caused by a plate in his arm, and another to determine if the infection was gone.

But that’s only four, and four wasn’t enough. Gronk also went under the knife to fix a back problem that has plagued him since his college days, making it five different times they cut him open since last November.

After being sawed apart that much, it was known that Gronkowski would miss some time at the start of the 2013 season. But when he hit the field during training camp, and throughout the preseason despite not playing, reporters and fans alike got antsy for his return. But at least we got a few nice Bill Belichick vs. Bert Breer exchanges out of the drama.

Gronkowski wasn’t placed on the PUP list to start the season, which meant a return before Week 6 was possible. Some thought he could be back for Week 3 against the Buccaneers. Then there was a chance for the following weekend when the Patriots were featured on Sunday Night Football against the Atlanta Falcons, but that came and went without Gronk (in his defense, he was probably watching the Breaking Bad finale that night).

But then there were rumbles that there was a discord between the Patriots and the Gronkowski family. The Gronkowskis didn’t want him to undergo surgery in the first place, and would have preferred the arm to heal on its own. It all made for a very interesting soap opera — none of which involved actual football.

Luckily, Gronk was back for action in Week 7 against the Jets. All the bad vibes seemed to disappear, and two weeks later Gronk was back to doing what Gronk does best: catching touchdowns.

Gronkowski had touchdown grabs in four straight weeks, and the Pats offense seemed to be back to normal in early December. That is until Gronk’s knee was shattered by Cleveland’s T.J. Ward in Week 14, and the tight end is back on the shelf with an ACL and MCL tear.

And so the cycle starts again. Gronk won’t be back for awhile, but now we’ll see if he can still perform wrestling moves with a bum leg.

Marathon Tributes

The City of Boston had plenty of support after the tragic events of April 15, and as they often do, the local sports teams were there to help.

The Red Sox showed enormous support, visiting victims in the hospital in the weeks following the attack, and invited them to be part of numerous pregame ceremonies throughout the season. Will Middlebrooks helped popularize the phrase “Boston Strong,” and David Ortiz delivered one inspirational profanity to let anyone that didn’t know who Boston belongs to.

As the team paraded through the streets of Boston to celebrate their World Series title, Jonny Gomes and Jarrod Saltalamacchia stopped their duck boat at the Marathon finish line where they placed the trophy. Gomes covered it with the “617: Boston Strong” Red Sox jersey that was a mainstay in the Boston dugout in honor of all the victims.

The Patriots, Bruins and Celtics each did their part as well, honoring victims ahead of games. The Celtics wore a “Boston Stands As One” patch for their playoff series against the Knicks, and honored victims and survivors at their remaining home games. The Patriots did the same prior to their home opener against the Jets, and the Bruins invited victims to serve as their honorary flag captain throughout their playoff run. The B’s even wore law enforcement hats during their pregame warmups the day after the city was shutdown as authorities searched for the alleged bombers.

Boston Marathon survivors are honored at Gillette Stadium. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Boston Marathon survivors are honored at Gillette Stadium. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

But one of the most memorable instances of a city coming together came just two days after the attack. In the first major sporting event after the bombing, the Bruins honored first responders and played a video tribute prior to their game against the Buffalo Sabres. Rene Rancourt went to his usual spot on the ice to sing the national anthem after the ceremony, but he only sang the first line before letting a packed TD Garden take over. The Bruins went on to lose in overtime, but the players said that night is one they will never forget.

Despite the heavy security in and around the Garden that night, it was clear that the city had begun the healing process.

The wounds of April 15, 2013 may never fully heal, but Boston’s sports teams helped play a big part in kick-starting the process.

What did we forget? Let us know your favorite Boston sports moments of 2013 in the comments section!