BOSTON-This city, scarred as it was by early-season tragedy, the city and an entire Red Sox Nation had been ready for this celebration ever since the heartbreaking drama of the Marathon Bombing in April. In the ninth inning, Matt Carpenter swung and missed and players vaulted from the dugout, racing onto the field. The city's pent-up emotions were finally released via an anxious-to-celebrate crowd of 38,447 at Fenway Park.
“All I have to say is God never left his kids alone,” World Series MVP David Ortiz said, away from the pandemonium of the still-raucous clubhouse. “This is a city that we've been through a lot of situations. Sometimes bad things got to happen for us to get the message. We got the message. Everybody stayed together and it shows the whole world that this is the best country of everyplace.”
Manager John Farrell's dream job ended its first year with undreamed of success, culminating in Wednesday's 6-1 win over the Cardinals in Game 6 of the World Series and their first title in six years. They were coming off a last-place disaster. Even in their wildest dreams, as spring training opened, nobody could have believed what the Sox would accomplish. Last to first...69 wins to 108. The first team to earn three rings this century.
“A body can't function without having a good head and our manager is outstanding,” Ortiz said. “He showed all of us since Day 1 that he was the master piece we needed to get to this level. John, he did such a nice job with all of us. And our focus was coming in and do nothing but play baseball.”
There they were on Wednesday at Fenway Park, in Game 6 racing onto the field to hug their unexpected closer Koji Uehara. The Sox behind comeback righthander John Lackey had defeated the Cardinals in Game 6 channeling Carlton Fisk and not Bill Buckner to finish out their dream season in dominant style. The Sox, in fact, had not clinched a World Series at Fenway Park since 1918. Boston strong. Boston proud.
“In a time of need, in response to a tragedy, I go back to our players undersanding their place in this city,” Farrell said. “For lack of a better way to describe it, they get it. They get that there's a civic responsibility that we have wearing this uniform, particularly here in Boston.”
The last time a World Series Game 6 had been played at Fenway, the defining moment had been an extra-inning game-winning drive to left field, high and hooking near the foul-pole deep into the post-midnight sky above the Green Monster. The lasting image for fans is of Carlton Fisk leaping up and down as he headed towards first base, desperately waving the ball to go fair. It did. Unfortunately, the next night the Sox lost Game 7.
This time there was no waving it fair necessary for Shane Victorino. In the third inning, with the bases loaded, the Sox' Gold Glove right fielder crushed a high drive to deep left-centre field that caromed off the Monster near the top. With two outs and all the runners on the move, Jonny Gomes barely beat the throw, sliding under a tag by Yadier Molina for a three-run lead. The Sox were never headed. The lasting snapshot image of this Game 6 will be the celebration of the plate of a circle of Red Sox players leaping in celebration as Gomes pops to his feet in run-scoring jubilation. This time, there will be no Game 7.
“This is one of the best organizations since I've been here,” Ortiz said. “This organization, as long as I've been here has been a box full of surprises. This year the people giving us third place in the division, maybe the last one, because of what happened last year, it helped us out. We had a little chip on our shoulder that we want to come in an put up a good run. Thank God we did.”
Cards' young righthander Michael Wacha had entered the game trying to become only the third pitcher to win five games in a single post-season and also the youngest. That's a tough task and the kid who had just four regular season wins in his career, was not up to it as the Red Sox could feel destiny calling the 617 area.
In his previous four post-season starts, Wacha allowed just three runs in 27 innings. In the third inning alone, he allowed three runs. Then came the fourth and more Sox carnage off Wacha and the pen. Stephen Drew led off with a home run into the Sox bullpen. It was his first post-season homer and his second hit of the World Series. The first had been a Game 1 popup that fell between Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina.
Wacha got two more outs in the fourth and then, following an intentional walk to Ortiz with Jacoby Ellsbury on third base, Wacha was removed in favour of reliever Lance Lynn. Mike Napoli and Victorino drove in runs charged to Wacha. Victorino's was bases loaded, again.
Even though Ortiz was not the focal point of the Game 6 offence, concern for what he had been doing in the series was the focal point for the Cardinals. Big Papi had been the biggest thorn in the side of the Cardinals. They altered their approach to pitching to him for Game 6. Too little, too late and bad timing. After he drew a base-on-balls in the first inning ther old-fashioned way, manager Mike Matheny chose to walk the red-hot DH three times intentionally -- the third, fourth and eighth innings. The Sox foiled that strategy of pitching around the MVP, cashing in five of their six runs after Big Papi walks. It was on this night that some of the five-game-dormant Red Sox bats decided to come alive.
“This is a team that we have a lot of players with heart,” Ortiz explained. “We probably don't have the talent that we have in '07 and '04, but we have guys that are capable to stay focused and do the little things. And when you win with a ballclub like that, that's special.”
Ortiz, the 2013 World Series MVP, ended the six games going 11-for-16-.688, with eight walks, two doubles, two homers, seven runs, six RBIs and an OPS of 1.948.
“We're talking about a likely Hall-of-Fame player,” Farrell said. “He and Dustin, from a position player standpoint, and Jacoby, they kind of carried the torch. The new players that came in, they look up to them and their leadership and how they respond to the distractions, the requirements to play successfully here in this city. They gave guys confidence, just in the way they carry themselves.”
The Cardinals tried to mount a rally in the seventh inning against a clearly tiring Lackey. With two out, Daniel Descalso slashed a single to right field, his first hit of the series. That was followed by a double by Carpenter and a run-scoring single to Carlos Beltran. That brough to the plate Matt Holliday and a visit to Lackey from Farrell. Lackey, as was seen earlier in the series, does not like coming out of games.
“I can't tell you what he said on the mound, but I can tell you he was emphatic,” Farrell said. “He felt like he had plenty of gas left in the tank. And at that point, you know, we had a five-run lead. I got out of there, I got out of his way.”
But Holliday walked to load the bases and Junichi Tazawa came in to face Allen Craig. A homer would have made it a one-run game, but Craig grounded to second base and that was the Cardinals' last threat.
As the ninth inning unfolded, there, watching with anxious anticipation over the dugout rail was third-base coach Brian Butterfield, a New England native. Leaning on him, reacting to every pitch, each ebb and flow, the balls and strikes served up by Uehara was utility infielder John McDonald, not on the Sox active roster but still a part of his first World Series winner at the age of 39. They were among the large Toronto connection. Butterfield was a Blue Jays coach for 12 years, while McDonald is still one of the most popular Jays ever, even if never a star, seldom even a starter. Both men became emotional.
“We weren't looking at each other, he was grabbing me by the leg every time they put the ball in play.” Butterfield said, in the middle of the clubhouse, soaked in champagne. “So that was kind of cool, but we wouldn't look at each other. We had to get those three outs. Unbelievable. I can't even put it into words. I love Toronto but I'm back home and I'm with the organization I grew up watching. It's an unbelievable group we've got here. I'm going to sleep for about two months.”
Even prior to Wednesday night's contest, the Red Sox had had a rich history of World Series Games 6's, dating back to 1912. In seven previous sixth games of the Fall Classic, the Sox were 4-3. Now they are 5-3. They hadn't actually reached a World Series Game 6 since Bill Buckner's walkoff error against the Mets in 1986 at Shea Stadium, having swept the Cards in '04 and the Rockies in '07. Prior to that it was 1975 with Fisk and Sox fans most memorable Game 6. Now they will again remember Victorino's drive off the wall and Lackey's comeback win, his second in a clinching World Series game.
Boston strong. Boston proud.