The walkoffs. The comebacks. The unlikely heroes. The high-fives. The beards. Oh, those beards.
There’s only one bit of information that could possibly counteract the exuberance Red Sox fans are feeling today with this unflappable group unthinkably sitting a mere one win away from a third World Series championship in the span of a decade.
It’s almost over.
With hopefully one and, win or lose, no more than two games remaining in the 2013 baseball season, the hairiest bunch of ballplayers to ever call Fenway home are on the verge of becoming a memory. A city-wide celebration and an eighth parade in a dozen years could dull the pain for a while but, eventually, we’ll only be able to reflect upon one of the most entertaining seasons in Red Sox history rather than bask in a daily unpredictability that’s been around since April.
We all know the story by now. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
When the Sox made a franchise-altering trade with the Dodgers on Aug. 25, 2012, it was impossible to rewrite an agonizingly frustrating calendar year that had caused the organization a public relations nightmare and resulted in significant media mockery and a substantial loss of fan support. But they were blessed with the opportunity to start anew with a core of newly healthy leaders and truckloads of money available for the right mix of character free agents to re-create clubhouse chemistry and remind a few jaded veterans of just how much fun it can be to win.
Under the guidance of well-respected but largely unproven new manager John Farrell, the never-say-die Red Sox put a miserable 69-win campaign behind them by jumping out to a 20-8 start. But, as May arrived, fan attention shifted to the Bruins and their pursuit of a second Stanley Cup title in three seasons. As that reality became more and more plausible by June, the Sox were winning to very little fanfare – at least compared to what you’d expect for a team approaching 50 victories before July.
Along the way, Tim Tebow arrived, and his college teammate, Aaron Hernandez, defamed the ‘Patriot Way.’ The once beloved Doc Rivers left town, and future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett found out first-hand where Brooklyn's at. A fresh-faced Brad Stevens came from Larry Bird country, Tyler Seguin was told to grow up elsewhere, Nathan Horton opted for a change of scenery, and Jarome Iginla developed a thirst for some dirty water.
It was essentially the MLB All-Star Break by the time many of us gave the Red Sox the attention they deserved.
If only we could take that back.
The Sox’ importance in helping our city heal in the wake of the Boston Marathon tragedy was not lost in the shuffle as we casually marveled at their ability to distract us when we needed it most. The symbolic dugout addition of a ‘Boston Strong 617’ jersey followed, and we never felt more connected to David Ortiz than when his five powerful words united our bleeping city.
But, on the field, day-to-day drama elsewhere overshadowed the theater the Red Sox were rehearsing to endless encores.
Fortunately, even if you tuned in late, you had plenty of time to go on one hell of a ride that included 36 regular season come-from-behind wins, 22 final at-bat victories, and 11 triumphs that, by August, had left the Hub with the nickname, “Walk-off City.”
When September came to a close, a bunch of fun-loving, scraggly-looking guys you’d expect to run into at a dive-bar singing, “Don’t Stop Believing,” on Karaoke Night high-fived and beard-tugged their way to a worst-to-first turnaround, 97 wins, and the team’s first division crown since 2007.
Amazingly, we thought that was the entertaining part.
In a postseason that’s featured a different slumping hero virtually every night and a 37-year-old Ortiz hitting like it’s 2004, the Red Sox have pitched and slammed their way to dominance against the Rays, those oh my Tigers, and, soon, they’ll probably soak Lansdowne Street with champagne to the dismay of the Cardinals.
Years from now, we won’t remember that we mocked such offseason slogans as, “What’s broken can be fixed” and “162 chances to restore the faith.” The problems that existed late in the Terry Francona regime and throughout the abbreviated Bobby Valentine era have surely been fixed, and faith is as high as it’s been in years.
We’ll ignore our cries over handing an oft-injured, aging Ortiz a two-year deal when one certainly would have sufficed. We’ll be shocked to discover that playoff hero Jon Lester boasted a 6.27 ERA over about two months of his season before becoming the best pitcher in the game in the second-half. Even Clay Buchholz’s alleged fragility may be retold as the story of a gamer who gutted his way through a World Series start when his team had nowhere else to turn.
We’ll forget that the practically unhittable emergence of Uehara wasn’t the plan all along, as opposed to a fourth-time's-a-charm stroke of luck. And we’ll positively overlook the abundance of blown saves and the uncertain path to those effortless ninth innings that existed for weeks before everything stabilized in October almost overnight.
Mike Napoli’s historic number of strikeouts? Why those were just part of what made the man so hip.
And who will care or recall what took Xander Bogaerts so long to get in the lineup, since he was there when Farrell’s group needed him most.
No, we’ll remember these men for their oozing and undeniable love for the game and each other. It’ll be viewed as the year that other clubs’ castaways turned in career performances and defied Father Time.
“The one thing that we’ve seen repeatedly throughout the course of this year is their awareness inside of a game, the will to succeed, the desire to compete have been present with this team from Day One,” Farrell said of his Sox following Monday’s Game 5 win in St. Louis. “They find a way. The one thing that we tried to establish in spring training, the most important thing is the game tonight, and how do we put together a game-plan to win.”
In recent years in Boston, we learned that a collection of great talent with a lack of cohesiveness can yield breathtakingly poor results. This year has taught us that good individual talent paired with the right ‘everything to prove, live in the moment’ mindset and perhaps a little luck can accomplish the improbable. Expectations were not simply exceeded for ownership, management, players, and fans of a team predicted to finish near the bottom of the division again – they were redefined.
It’s getting cold outside, November is upon us, and snow won’t be far behind. It seems unfair that this season can’t go on forever but, alas, all good things must come to an end.
While most players are poised to return next season, trades could be made and free agents like Jacoby Ellsbury, Napoli, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, or Drew may wind up elsewhere. When the World Series concludes this week, so too will the run for this group.
So, what will I miss most about the 2013 Boston Red Sox’ bridge year?
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About this blog
Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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