BOSTON — There is no comparison.
The 2013 Red Sox inherently were compared to the 2004 and 2007 championship teams countless times throughout the year. But now, as the Red Sox bask in the glory of an improbable World Series title, it’s time to recognize that this year’s team is special in its own way.
This isn’t to say that this year’s team is “better” than the teams of 2004 and 2007. (That’s totally subjective, and each Red Sox fan is well within his or her right to feel any way he or she would like.) It’s simply to say that despite certain similarities between this year’s team and champions of years past, the 2013 Red Sox are unlike any other team to pass through Boston.
“Still trying to take all this in,” said John Farrell, who rejoined the organization as its manager last October. “When the fireworks went off at the presentation of the trophy out there, when the ballpark will filled with smoke, it was completely surreal. To be in this position, given where we’ve come from, reflecting back a year ago at this time, there’s been a lot that’s happened in 13 months.”
The Red Sox’ 2012 debacle is well-documented. But while it will forever stand as one of the most disappointing seasons in Red Sox history, it also helped fuel one of the most remarkable sports turnarounds in recent memory.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, who had money to spend following Boston’s megadeal with the Dodgers in August 2012, sought players last offseason who not only brought a certain on-field skill set, but who also relished the opportunity to play in a big market like Boston. Thus, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, and so on and so forth came to town with the intention of bringing a down-and-out franchise back to prominence.
“Ben Cherington deserves all the credit in the world for what he has done for this roster, the players that he’s brought in, and most importantly, to the players,” Farrell said. “To come in and see the energy and the commitment that they had, the buying into a team concept every single day, and the one thing that really stands out more than anything is just their overall will to win.”
It didn’t take long before this year’s Red Sox team jelled. Ask any player in the Red Sox’ clubhouse, and they’ll tell you that Day 1 of spring training was when everything clicked.
“We felt there was a very good core group of players here that finished last year with injuries, and a number of returning players that were driven and motivated to rewrite their own story,” Farrell said after Wednesday’s World Series-clincher. “There was a tremendous feeling of embarrassment here a year ago, and guys came into spring training determined. And the players that came in to augment those returning came in as a very strong team.”
The Red Sox’ strength was apparent early, but it was the tragic events of April 15 that gave way to the phrase, “Boston Strong.” Suddenly, the Red Sox were playing for much more than pride or the chance to rewrite their story following some the franchise’s darkest days. They were playing for an entire city that needed a morale boost.
“In a time of need, in response to a tragedy, I go back to our players understanding their place in this city,” Farrell said. “They kind of — for lack of a better way to describe it — they get it. They get that there’s, I think, a civil responsibility that we have wearing this uniform, particularly here in Boston. It became a connection initially, the way our guys reached out to the individuals or to hospital visits, and it continued to build throughout the course of the season.
“I think our fans, they got to a point where they appreciated the way we played the game, how they cared for one another. And in return, they gave these guys an incredible amount of energy to thrive on in this ballpark.”
For Red Sox fans, what started out as blind optimism soon turned into faith. And before long, that faith evolved into a love affair that was felt as much by the players as it was by those cheering them on. Mere months after a 69-93 season and less than two years removed from an epic September collapse, the Red Sox were once again the pride of Boston.
The old adage is that “winning solves everything,” and there’s a great deal of truth to that. But there’s a difference between chemistry, which can be created by winning, and character. The 2013 Red Sox had both.
The walk-off wins. The incredible comebacks. The bushy beards. Koji Uehara’s high-fives. John Lackey’s road to redemption. Jon Lester’s rebound. Jonny Gomes’ Army helmet. The list of signature moments, traits and acts of resilience goes on and on and on. And collectively, it’s what makes this year’s Red Sox team unique.
This isn’t 2004 or 2007. It’s 2013. The Red Sox are back on top of the baseball world, and the journey was unlike any other.
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