In so many ways it’s hard to fathom. And then, on the other hand, it seems so obvious.
On the first of August I tweeted this out to followers of my @RSNStats:
Team of destiny?
— Red Sox Nation Stats (@RSNStats) August 2, 2013
I don’t even remember exactly what made me say it. But on reflection, there actually could have been a lot of reasons.
- Perhaps it was after one of the Red Sox’ 36 come-from-behind wins. Or one of their 11 walk-offs, Boston’s most since the 12 of the 1961 club and just two from the club’s all time record set in 1940.
- Or maybe it was after one of their MLB-best 9 grand slams, 2 more than any other club in 2013, and the most in the American League since the 11 by the Indians in 2008.
- It could have been after one of their MLB-best 33 series wins, the 2nd most in club history.
- Or maybe it was after they won 8 straight series, the club’s longest such streak since 1995.
- Perhaps it was when I realized that Sox pitchers’ had held opponents to a .243 batting average at home, the club’s best since 1968 or that opponent’s on-base percentage at Fenway this season was the best of any Boston pitching staff since 1921.
- And speaking of pitching, it might have been the 1,294 strikeouts or the 8.0 Ks per 9.0 innings pitched, the club’s best record ever.
- Or maybe it was one of the other remarkable team or individual achievements I covered in my first review of the regular season.
The fact is, it could have been any of those reasons. Or any of these:
- The Sox topped MLB with 853 runs scored (5.3 per game), 819 RBI, 363 doubles, 570 extra-base hits, 2,521 total bases, a .349 OBP, .446 SLG, and .795 OPS.
- It was our 4th season in a row to lead the MLB in doubles and the 18th straight season to have at least 300.
- While we didn’t hit a ton of home runs (our 178 ranked 6th-best in MLB, 5th best in the American League), we had the 2nd most in the majors (80) from the All-Star break on. Only Oakland had more (88).
- Our pinch hitting was electric, topping MLB with a .359 OBP, .564 SLG, and .923 OPS, the Red Sox best pinch-hit numbers since at least 1974.
- And all that power, all that pitching, was supplemented by something many of us hadn’t really seen much in a Red Sox team: speed! The club led the majors with an 86.6% stolen base percentage, going 123-for-142, the best such ratio in American League history. Only the 2009 club had more steals (129) than this year’s club.
This was a team that didn’t once lose more than 3-in-a-row (and did that only once after the All-Star break) for just the 2nd time in its 113 year history. The only other Red Sox club to do that was the 1903 crew, which then went on to win Boston’s very first World Series championship. No team in baseball has avoided losing more than 3-in-a-row during the regular season since the 2005 Cardinals.
Where this win ranks
A lot has been written and said about how gratifying this World Series win is when compared to the others of recent memory. 2004 was so important because it “broke the curse” of having seen generations come and go without seeing their beloved team go all the way to the Finish Line. I saw it in my grandfather. I saw it in my mother. And on October 27, 2004, when the hooting and hollering and backslapping had ended, I remember stepping outside into the cool night air and looking to the stars and being grateful. There were poignant moments throughout New England and across the baseball world.
After thrillingly getting past the Yankees in 2004 the Series vs the Cardinals was a breeze. In a 4-in-a-row sweep of the Rockies in 2007 the club seemed hardly to break a sweat.
But 2013 was different and the team had to work to overcome tough and worthy competition in the division, for the league championship, and for the ultimate prize. In all but the last game of the World Series, every postseason game was a grinder, a high pressure, high stakes game that could have gone either way.
Looking back on it from the future it will hard not to think of David Ortiz‘s contributions, his .688 (11-for-16) batting average and .750 (18-for-24) on-base percentage in the World Series. But Boston’s postseason should be remembered for the contributions that came from up and down the Red Sox lineup and for late inning heroics at the plate and on the mound. This was the group that never quit, that learned and adjusted in every plate appearance, and that, save for a few miscues, did so many of the little things right.
On the field and off
No discussion of 2013 should ignore what happened away from the ballpark. The Red Sox of 2013 were a team of great achievements on the field, but off of it as well. A team of character and heart. There were no leaked “team meetings” and the word “disgruntled” never seemed to come up, even as new manager John Farrell made some tough calls from time to time. Farrell, of course, returned to the Red Sox after being the club’s pitching coach from 2007-10. His steady hand, familiarity to the veterans, and clubhouse demeanor earned the players’ respect, to hear them talk about him. In return, of 46 managers in the franchise history, he is only the 2nd to lead Boston to at least a share of MLB’s best record in his 1st year, joining 1912 manager Jake Stahl.
The Marathon bombings of April 15th and the Red Sox response, both in public and behind the scenes, linked the club to the community and vice versa.
From #BostonStrong and the 617 jersey hanging in the dugout, to Daniel Nava‘s game-winning 2-out, 3-run home run in their first game back at Fenway after the marathon, to the final remembrance as the parade stopped so that the World Series trophy could be placed momentarily at the marathon’s finish line, the Red Sox took shouldered the responsibility for helping a region cope and heal. Readers will remember that this was April, not August. 12 games into the season there was no expectation of Red Sox greatness, and in fact, just the opposite. These weren’t stars who felt compelled to make an appearance. They seemed, even the newcomers, like genuinely decent people who wanted, like all decent people, to lend a hand.
The Red Sox response to the bombings transcended sports or, even better, magnified the connection between a club and its fans and the impact of all that on a community’s health and spirit.
So obvious after all
And so we head to the winter and leave a very memorable season behind. 2014 won’t be the same, even if the roster doesn’t change, and we know it will. The 2014 club will be successful in its own ways.
But for me 2013 will always be the year of a team of destiny. A team and community that galvanized to overcome and to win together. It all seems so obvious, if only in retrospect.