Time Out for Sports Talk – Another Memorable Sox-Tober
Todd: We are so spoiled!
Those are the first words that come to mind as I sit down to churn out this week’s blog entry.
For sports fans like Mike and myself, we along with our most our generation realize what an embarrassment of championship-winning riches we have been fortunate enough to witness here in the 21st century. We are now up to EIGHT titles for the four major sports teams that call Boston or Foxboro their home.
Mike and I were in our thirties when the Red Sox won a World Series that we honestly thought we would never see in our lifetimes, and now the franchise that was supposedly once cursed has won three championships in the last decade. Really??? While I try to wrap my brain around that, it is just as hard for me to fathom that hoisting trophies and holding duck boat parades are all that today’s high school-aged kids know, which does make me wonder if they will be passionate sports fans in their adult years when winning it all becomes a once or twice-a-decade occurrence.
Over the last few days I found myself going back to spring training and rereading our first column on this website when we both thought the Sox might contend for a wild-card spot (at least Mike was confident they’d finish ahead of the Yankees). We certainly didn’t think they would reach the heights they did. In that column I compared new manager John Farrell to Bill Belichick, but even Belichick had a losing season his first season with the Pats before the magic began for the Pats a year later.
Only the 1991 Minnesota Twins had previously pulled off a last place-to-World Series champs finish, and if not for having home field advantage at the Metrodome they could have fallen short. So what hope did this year’s Red Sox have? This was supposed to be a bridge year to help us forget about the stench of 2012. If 2013 was indeed a bridge, forget about the Zakim or Tobin, I think they put the Golden Gate to shame! Seriously, going from 93 losses to 108 wins makes these Red Sox the greatest single-season turnaround in MLB history.
Yet these guys were more than just a collection of stars, batting averages and ERAs. They were a team in the true sense of the word, not only complimenting each other in terms of talent. But they were also a tight-knit group with a deep passion for playing the game of baseball that took on a methodical inning-by-inning, pitch-by-pitch approach which wore down their opponents and resulted in many improbable come-from-behind wins.
For the Sox, October turned out to be perfect microcosm of all the desire and hard work they displayed throughout this season. None of their postseason series wins over the Rays, Tigers or Cardinals ended in a sweep, but nor were the Sox ever pushed to the brink of elimination by any of those teams. For all the talk of struggling against the games’ best pitchers, the Sox managed to defeat the likes of Matt Moore, David Price, Justin Verlander, soon-to-be Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, Adam Wainwright and rookie sensation Michael Wacha this postseason.
The World Series win over St. Louis was quite similar to the ALCS in that the Sox once again could only hit a meager .211 as a team (and striking out an MLB-record 165 times during the postseason). But the numbers that best sum up how the Sox won this series are that they scored 27 runs on 41 hits while the Cardinals scored 14 runs on 45 hits. The foursome of Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes (Sox were 10-1 when Gomes started this postseason) combined to hit only 8-for-57 (.140) but made their hits count, driving in nearly half of Boston’s runs (13). Conversely, the Cards led the majors all year hitting well over .300 with runners in scoring position, but only hit .214 with RISP in losing to the Sox.
I certainly can’t talk about this World Series without mentioning MVP David Ortiz and his video-gamesque .688 batting average (.353 in 16 postseason games) or Jon Lester, who also deserved MVP consideration with his two wins and 0.59 ERA (4-1, 1.56 ERA in five playoff starts). Nor can I ignore how fitting it was that John Lackey and his redemption story won the championship-clinching game (becoming the only pitcher to do that for two different teams) and also appropriate that Koji Uehara threw the very last pitch of the season, concluding Boston's eighth all-time championship with a strikeout.
Just a passing thought worth mentioning: if the Red Sox win two more World Series over the next six seasons, they will match the five championships their predecessors won over a sixteen-year span at the start of the last century.
What a truly incredible ride down the road of Sox-tober this has been. Saying that, I’m also glad the month is over and that we gain an extra hour of sleep of this weekend, because I sure need it!
Mike: I'm still having trouble coming to grips with the fact that the Red Sox are the world champions (it feels weird to type that). Sure, we had some hopes going into the season, but even though I tend to be optimistic, there was no way I would have realistically thought that they would have ended the season celebrating on the Fenway field.
While the 2004 title will always be the most special because of the simple fact that they won after so many years of frustration, this title ranks over the 2007 one for me because of how unexpected it was.
We had the collapse of 2011 and the horrific Bobby Valentine year of 2012, and lots of question marks going into 2013. Remember, as good as Koji was as the closer, he was the fourth choice behind Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey and for a brief time, Junichi Tazawa before settling on what proved to be the most lights-out closer in baseball.
And while it's been talked about everywhere, how this team took care of the city and its fans after the Marathon bombing was very special. While the Red Sox will always have a huge fan base, some of that base was drifting away at the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013. But, needing healing, the fans turned to the Red Sox, and they responded.
Starting with David Ortiz's memorable "this is our bleeping city" speech to the countless tributes to the victims, the Red Sox epitomized "Boston Strong" and brought the city together, and the fans embraced them right back.
As the season wore on, it was evident that the Sox were going to make the playoffs, but at least to me, the World Series still seemed like a bit of a reach.
Maybe it's the old (pre-2004) fan in me, but I kept expecting things to go bad, but whenever they hit a rough patch, the Sox just found a way to win.
The playoff run was amazing (but long, it seems like months ago when they dispatched Tampa Bay), but stressful, as all good Red Sox playoff runs should be. Even with a 6-1 lead in the ninth of Game 6 with Koji on the mound, I was refusing to relax, which made it all the sweeter to have that emotional release when they finally won it.
Red Sox, world champions, yup, it still feels weird to type that, but I'll be happy to get used to it! :)
A VERY BRIEF PATS RECAP/PREVIEW AND OUR WEEKLY PICKS (because that’s what we usually do on Fridays)
Todd (3-0 last week, 12-9 season): Have to mention a little something about the Patriots’ win over the Dolphins, because even for one game that comeback looked as improbable as the Red Sox winning a World Series. That first half against Miami was as poor as Brady and the offense looked in quite some time (25 passing yards??), and that’s factoring in how wretched the offense has looked for stretches this season. Then within two minutes of game time the Dolphins miss a field goal, Brady finally finds the end zone and rookie Logan Ryan’s gets a strip sack to tie up the game. It was as if Adam Wainwright and Kolten Wong were both traded to Miami for the second half.
I hope the Pats don’t dig a similar hole for themselves this week against a 2-5 Pittsburgh squad that is playing like a bad team. But the Steelers still have Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, and it’s possible the Pats defense will have to go without Aqib Talib for yet another week. With the bye looming, this better not turn into a trap game for the Pats. I don't think it will but I also don't think it'll be a breeze, so I'll say Patriots 24, Steelers 17.
For my other picks, let’s take the Panthers over the Falcons, Ravens over the Browns and the Raiders over the Eagles. That’s right, I’m predicting the Raiders to win back to back games, how’s that for bold?
Mike (2-1 last week, 15-6 season): The Patriots scared me last week, almost dropping a game they should have easily won. But thankfully they pulled it out, which shows that while they won't be the dominant force they have been in the past, they are still a team to be reckoned with.
Speaking of teams that are no longer a dominant force, that brings us to the struggling Steelers. Going into the season, this looked like a typically tough game, but not so much now. I see the Patriots winning 20-10.
For my other games, I'll take Dallas over Minnesota, San Diego over Washington and the Colts over the Texans.