NEW YORK -- Worst to first.
It should, since the Red Sox are now making this a habit. For the second time in the last four years, the Red Sox have rebounded from a last-place finish -- two, in fact, in this instance -- to claim a division title.
On Wednesday, they won it the hard way -- by losing the game, 5-3, on a walk-off grand slam by the New York Yankees' Mark Teixeira, but clinching first thanks to a loss by the second-place Toronto Blue Jays.
It's as though the Red Sox were determined to win it on a trick bank shot. They had already won the A.L. East more conventionally in 2013, by actually winning their clinching game. But the awkwardness of blowing a three-run lead in the ninth was soon washed away in a spray of champagne and beer in a raucous clubhouse.
"One inning,'' declared John Farrell, "should not take away from the fact that we're champions.''
Indeed, the Red Sox had already paid the price to get to this point with two consecutive finishes in the division basement. They had to wait for their young foundation to mature and evolve.
Mookie Betts went from being a good, promising player to a legitimate MVP candidate. Jackie Bradley Jr. transformed from defensive marvel and streaky hitter to solid, all-around All-Star. Xander Bogaerts continued to improve and finally checked the "power'' box.
"I don't know what expectations we had coming in,'' confessed Bradley. "You just know that as long as you play hard, do the right things, keep together. . . We knew we had a talented team, but you still have to play the game. We were able to play the game at a high level this year.
"I think we knew this could happen in spring training, that we could be a pretty special team.''
By this year, the growing pains were over. The young stars had arrived and were ready to not just flash potential, but this time, do something with it.
"Everything came to fruition,'' noted Bradley, "and we're here.''
Along with the expected developments, there were surprises: Sandy Leon went from fourth-string journeyman to starting catcher, unseating several teammates along the way. Steven Wright went from bullpen long man to All-Star starter. Andrew Benintendi came from nowhere to claim the left field job in the final two months.
Some of this was planned. The rest -- and this is the beauty of sports -- was not.
The team showed a powerful finishing kick down the stretch, obliterating anything and anyone in its way in the final month, winning 11 straight, including seven in a row on the road -- all against division opponents.
The road-heavy second-half schedule that threatened to derail them instead toughened them and served as a springboard.
Comparisons will be made, of course, to the last two championship teams - 2004 stands alone for obvious reasons. Farrell was the pitching coach for one (2007) and the manager of another (2013).
"This is a more dynamic offense than those other teams,'' said Farrell. "We've got more team speed, we've got more athleticism. I can't say that this is a better team; it's different.''
"Better'' may have to wait until November, and the end of the postseason. It will require a World Series victory to match 2007 and 2013.
Time will tell. But for a night, there was enough to celebrate.
"By no means,'' said Farrell, dripping in champagne, "is this the end. This is just the beginning of our postseason.''
GOLD STAR: Take your pick: Steve Ott, Drew Miller and Luke Glendening torched the Bruins with veteran savvy and toughness against a very young defensemen unit trying to survive in the second preseason game. Ott and Glendening each scored a goal and finished with three points, and Miller finished with a goal and two points while all three forwards had a plus-3 rating for the night. All of their goals came off winning battles, crashing the net and taking advantage of defensive miscues. The goals provided a good lesson to the young kids that have a ways to go before they’re NHL ready at this point in their careers. It certainly must have been a kick to the stones to many Bruins fans when “Brave” Steve Ott was named the No. 1 Star of the game after it was all over, but that was certainly appropriate.
BLACK EYE: Adam McQuaid was the most experienced defensemen out on the ice for the Bruins on Wednesday night, and it was a rough night for him with so many young guys around him on the back end. McQuaid finished a minus-2 in 17:41 with a couple of hits and got a little better as the game was going on, but was on ice for two of the first three goals allowed to Detroit in a really lackluster middle section of the game. In general, it was about more than just one player, though. There were blown assignments in the D-zone and some really noticeable lost battles leading to scoring chances for a Red Wings group that aggressively took it to the Bruins. This is a game that will leave the Bruins coaches with plenty of video material moving forward.
TURNING POINT: The real slippage came early in the game when the Bruins failed to score on some good power play chances for Peter Mueller and Matt Beleskey, and then allowed two goals within 19 seconds of each other in the first period. The first goal was a PP one for the Red Wings with Ryan Spooner whistled for a face-off infraction, and the second was simply the Bruins falling asleep at the wheel just seconds after the first goal was scored. Lost battles led to a bang-bang play in front with Steve Ott scoring as Malcolm Subban was turned around looking for the puck, and the B’s were reeling headed into the first intermission. Only a Subban shoulder save kept it from being 3-0 at the end of the first, and that was something the B’s never seemed to rebound from.
HONORABLE MENTION: Austin Czarnik scored the B’s only goal off a nice play from Ryan Spooner driving toward the net, and continues to put together another strong training camp after doing the same thing last season. Czarnik finished with the goal, three shots on net and six shot attempts in 17:38 of ice time, and battled back from a rough start to go 6-for-12 in the face-off circle while centering an extremely young line with Sean Kuraly and Zach Senyshyn. While Czarnik might not have been a big name when talking about an open roster spot with the Bruins a couple of weeks ago, he’s pushed toward making himself a part the conversation with his heart-filled, high effort energetic performances for the Black and Gold.
BY THE NUMBERS: 4-for-16 was the final tally for Ryan Spooner in the face-off circle as he continues to be a work-in-progress on the draw.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “Maybe I was a little bit shocked first going out there. The speed of the game is noticeably faster, but I think as time went on I got more comfortable out there. Hopefully I can build off that moving forward.” – Bruins rookie D-man Matt Grzelcyk on his first NHL preseason game being a bit of a big wakeup call.