David Ortiz suggested to Red Sox teammate Pablo Sandoval on Twitter during the Patriots’ Super Bowl parade that the sluggers — both three-time World Series champions — need to elevate their game this season in order to catch Tom Brady, who just won his fourth championship ring. It was a challenge from one of Boston’s incumbent leaders that speaks volumes about the Red Sox’s state of affairs.
When the Patriots fell on hard times earlier this season, several players answered the bell. New England’s much-improved defense stepped up, Rob Gronkowski proved again that he’s a freak and the Patriots’ rushing attack struck a nice balance with the team’s impressive aerial assault. But it was Brady and head coach Bill Belichick — two constants — who inherently shouldered much of the burden down the stretch, into the postseason and throughout Super Bowl XLIX. It’s simply how things work with franchise cornerstones, regardless of the complementary pieces surrounding them.
Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia — the longest-tenured members of the Red Sox — enter 2015 facing a task even more daunting than the one met head-on by their New England brethren. The Red Sox have assembled a talented and hungry supporting cast this offseason, but the two Boston stalwarts must rally the troops, just as they did two years ago on the heels of a disappointing 2012 campaign.
“That’s everything,” Hanley Ramirez said recently of the importance of chemistry. “I think it’s not going to be a problem because we’ve got Papi, we’ve got Pedroia, we’ve got a bunch of guys that love to play.
“It’s one goal every day, just win. We are all going to be (on the same page). We’re going to have each other’s back and not try to do too much.”
The Red Sox have plenty of veterans. They’re also coming off a 71-91 season, so the few holdovers shouldn’t have a problem finding inspiration. But Ortiz, who joined the Red Sox as a free agent before the 2003 season, and Pedroia, who was drafted in the second round in 2004, are two players who others tend to gravitate toward. Their peaks and valleys with Boston are clear-cut evidence that the slate is wiped clean each season.
“Every year, my focus going in is I don’t worry about the year before,” Pedroia said recently. “I show up to try to win the World Series. I don’t care what we did the year before.
“Obviously, it’s in the back of your mind that we didn’t play good, we finished in last place. (But) every year you’re motivated to win the World Series.”
The Red Sox’s struggles were more pronounced than the Patriots’ in that their woes lasted a full season. The Red Sox’s last-place finish in 2014 also marked the second time in three seasons that Boston brought up the rear in the American League East. Now, Pedroia (coming off his worst season to date) and Ortiz (39 years old) must steer the vehicle on the road to redemption, much like the Patriots’ 37-year-old quarterback and his polarizing head coach did this season amid outside scrutiny that their best days were behind them.
“I always like where we are,” said Pedroia, a vocal presence since debuting with Boston in 2006. “I’m pretty confident. We’re the Boston Red Sox. We expect to compete for a championship every year. If we’re not confident in that, then we need to reevaluate.”
Reports of the Patriots’ demise were greatly exaggerated. It’s up to Ortiz and Pedroia to set the tone this season in the hopes that the Red Sox follow in the Patriots’ footsteps with a parade through Boston.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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