FORT MYERS, Fla. — In those final days of the 2013 baseball season, the Red Sox were the greatest thing since sliced Yaz Bread.
David Ortiz was the guy who hit the season-changing grand slam, then batted .688 in the World Series. Koji Uehara was the indomitable closer, better than anyone who ever finished games in the big leagues. Jon Lester was the playoff ace, John Lackey was Mr. Redemption, and phenom Xander Bogaerts was playing with the poise of a young man bound for Cooperstown.
But Shane Victorino was as good, and as popular, as any of the players who produced the magical postseason run of 2013.
Victorino is the one who hit the grand slam off Jose Veras to defeat the Tigers in the ALCS and Victorino is the one who broke open the final game of the World Series at Fenway Park on that amazing October night.
Remember? It was perhaps the loudest night in the history of the ancient yard as the Sox won a championship at Fenway for the first time since 1918. Victorino was the one who removed all drama from the game when he hit a bases-clearing double to give the Sox a 3-0 lead in the third inning.
The game was effectively over after Victorino’s hit, and everyone knew it was over. The final six innings served as a two-hour Boston baseball bacchanal.
Victorino was the man to see when it ended. Everyone wanted a piece of the Flyin’ Hawaiian. But he was surprisingly reluctant. Victorino never came to the interview room to talk about his clutch hits.
“It was the magnitude of the moment,’’ he explained Tuesday. “My kids are getting older and there comes a point where you understand that there’s magnitudes of moments and that was one of those moments.
“That night was very emotional for more reasons than one. There was the magnitude of what happened in April, and that kind of amplified everything. And winning in Fenway for the first time in 95 years.
“I really wanted to enjoy my kids and enjoy my family and embrace that moment.’’
There were some raised eyebrows when the Sox signed Victorino to a three-year, $39 million contract after the train-wreck season of 2012. A lot of us thought general manager Ben Cherington might be overreacting to the last-place finish and overpaying a veteran who was on the downside of his career. A lot of us thought Victorino might struggle in 2013.
He did not struggle. He battled to stay healthy (thumb and back injuries), but played 122 games hitting .294 with 15 homers, 61 RBIs, and 21 stolen bases while playing a spectacular right field. The 33-year-old had surgery to repair his thumb in the offseason and might be slow out of the gate in Florida, but he pledges to be ready for Opening Day.
Victorino stopped batting from the left side when he was injured and won’t say whether he’ll go back to switch-hitting in 2014 (manager John Farrell later said it’s his understanding that Victorino will switch-hit).
Victorino offered to take over the leadoff spot in the absence of Jacoby Ellsbury, but he said he was comfortable wherever Farrell puts him in the lineup.
He also said he’d move back to center field if the Sox should need him there, but nobody wants Victorino to move from the treacherous acreage in right at Fenway where he did such good work.
Often moody during the 2013 season, Victorino was positively buoyant Tuesday, speed-talking and bantering with teammates and reporters.
“It’s not that hard to turn the page,’’ he said. “I’ve been there before [Victorino was a member of the 2008 world champion Phillies]. A lot of us have been there before. I think we all have an understanding of what it’s all about. There’s going to be a target on our backs, but you prepare for 2014 and get ready for this season.’’
Victorino's Fenway walkup music, Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds,’’ forever will be part of the Boston baseball memory of 2013.
Audience participation peaked during the playoffs when Victorino would walk to the plate to “don’t worry about a thing,’’ and then step into the batter’s box while the crowd joined in with “every little thing gonna be all right.’’
“I would never change it,’’ Victorino said. “It’s going to be around. Pretty much my whole career in Philly, I came up to ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ [another Marley tune]. Day one before [last year’s] All-Star break, I changed it to ‘Three Little Birds’ and by my third at-bat, I could hear little sections of the crowd singing it and then it just carried on.’’
Almost like “Sweet Caroline”?
“I don’t want to magnify the tune,’’ he said with a laugh. “It’s a good one. It’s a song fans love, but I wouldn’t put it on that level.’’
The Little Birds will follow him into the 2014 season.