Red Sox celebrate first division crown since 2007

Red Sox celebrate first division crown since 2007
September 21, 2013, 1:45 am
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BOSTON -- It was a celebration nearly two years in the making. From the collapse of September 2011 and the Orioles denying them a post-season berth in the final game of that season, through the off-season housecleaning, and then the dysfunction and chaos of 2012. The Red Sox celebrated their first American League East championship since 2007 at Fenway Park Friday night, with a 6-3 win over the Blue Jays.
“A terrific job,” said principal owner John Henry. “But they had to go and do it and they did it.
“I felt pretty good coming in tonight [with a] nine game lead and only eight games to play. I have a tremendous sense of gratitude to this group of players because they went out every day and did it. It’s 162 gmaes. They didn’t seem to get tired when teams normally start to get tired in the middle of August. They kicked it up another notch because they just, I felt like, there was such an intense camaraderie among this group that no one was going to let anyone down for one night.”
The Sox last won the American League East in 2007, John Farrell’s first season with the team as pitching coach. They would go on to win the World Series that season, their second in four years. Farrell is now in his first season with the Sox as manager.
“To me, winning is associated with the Boston Red Sox,” Farrell said. “We had a lot of good core players that needed to get healthy. When we assembled in spring training, we knew this was a team that was going to score a lot of runs. The pithing was something that we had to answer some questions. We've been able to do that. The way this team has come together and played the entire season, that's what we're most proud of.”
“It’s an important step,” said general manager Ben Cherington. “When you start the season I think you’re shooting for the division. Incredible job by everyone in the clubhouse. They were on a mission from day one in spring training. You could see it. It was a lot of fun to watch. This is step one and they got a lot of baseball to play still.”
The game was rife with symbolism:
·         Farrell clinching the division against the team from which the Red Sox had to pry him away.
·         Mike Carp, the last player the Sox added in spring training, supplying the RBIs that would turn out to be the difference in the game.
·         Dustin Pedroia, the heart and soul of the team, adding one more security run.
·         John Lester, who continues his season-long rebirth earning the clinching win in his 100th career victory.
·         A celebration at home, in front of fans that have endured two years of turmoil, testing their allegiance.
“Pedey’s one of the guys that’s been here through some really good times and really hard times,” Cherington said. “I’m really happy for anyone who’s been through some of the difficult times and come through it and being a part of this. Pedey’s a big part of this. So I’m really happy for those guys. And this team was a lot about the sum of the parts, the whole, instead of any individual. A guy like Mike Carp who we got even after spring training started, and probably had a right to feel like he should have been playing more at some points during the season. But he understood the situation, he understood the team we had, and understood the role and he was ready every time he was called upon. He’s a good example of what this team is all about.”
After the win, the Sox had a quick celebration on the field before rushing to the clubhouse for the frenzied madness of champagne, beer, cigars, hugs, and handshakes. But, they returned to the field, joined by family and friends, to share it with a large crowd that remained in the seats behind the home team dugout.
It was a scenario very few predicted before the season.
“We were confident we had a good team,” Farrell said. “We knew that this was a division that could be up for grabs for any of the five teams in it. We were able to separate and put some space between the rest of us. That's a testament to the abilities, the talents and more than anything the work ethic of this group.”
“I don’t even know,” Carp said, when asked to think back to spring training. “Just to be a part of this group. It’s a special group. And we’ve been preaching that all year: we’re going to do some special things here. And we showed everybody what we have here. We still have a tough road to go but it’s going to be a lot of fun. We’re going to work hard and get after it till the end.”
“No,” said Jarrod Saltalamacchia, when asked if he thought in spring training the Sox were a 94-win team, as they are now.
“Our focus from the get-go is to win the World Series. I think that’s what every team’s focus is. So step one is going out there and playing it day to day. That's what this team does so well. We’re not focused on a week ahead or two weeks ahead. We’re focused on that game.”
With that, Saltalamacchia was interrupted by Lester dousing him in champagne.
“I think the biggest thing is just don’t give up,” Lester said. “That’s the biggest thing. We come to work every day prepared and we’re going to grind it out until the end…Doesn’t matter, we’re going to grind it out.
“John Farrell set the tone from day one with us and what he expected from us. And the rest of us, we took it and ran with it. These guys came together and we’ve played good baseball since.”
The expectations on Lester were high going into the season. Some said it would be a test to see if the lefty, who was at the center of the chicken-and-beer fiasco that symbolized the 2011 collapse, could step up and be the ace the team would need. He’s passed the test. Lester went through a tough stretch earlier in the season, but as the postseason gets nearer, he seems to be wearing the mantle with increasing comfort.
“It was awesome,” he said of pitching the division-clinching game. “I wanted to finish the game but obviously that didn’t work out. I’ve never been on the mound in a game like this, …. Only went seven but the win’s the most important thing and we will enjoy it. Hopefully not too hard because we’ve got to hopefully get that best record.”
The Sox clinched a play-off berth on Thursday night, but opted to defer a celebration until they could secure the division. Jonny Gomes is now on his fourth team that has gone to the postseason in his 11-year career, including the 2008 Rays, the 2010 Reds, and the 2012 A’s.
“It’s definitely not done,” Gomes said of the team’s work. “This [celebration is] going to be about 24 hours. But it’s been seven months in the waiting. So we’re definitely going celebrate this one out fully.”
For others, though, the celebration has been much longer in the making.
It is a celebration that very likely never could have happened without The Trade last August that sent malcontents Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez, along with Nick Punto and more than a quarter billion dollars in payroll to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The trade freed up roster spots and payroll, and helped to clean out a toxic clubhouse. The Sox rebuilt the team over the winter. Nearly every player they added came with solid reputations.
“Day one of spring training, we all got in the clubhouse,” said Mike Napoli, one of those newcomers. “Got out there on the spring training fields and worked hard every day. We all came together, got it done.”
The change in atmosphere was obvious from day one of spring training.
“I think Ben said it well when we made the trade last year that we weren’t the team that we wanted to be. We had the second highest payroll but we didn’t do it on the field,” said principal owner John Henry. “It was a completely different feeling from spring training this year. We have the third highest payroll so people shouldn’t be shocked that we were good. But we knew, we thought that this was going to be a five-team race and I think really only Toronto was disappointing this year. So I just feel a tremendous sense of gratitude to Ben and John and these players.”
What does the turnaround mean to Henry personally?
“Well, I guess people won’t be taking shots personally this year,” Henry said.
Has the full faith of Red Sox fans returned?
“That’s not for me to say. That’s not for me to say,” Henry said.
With more celebrations like Friday night’s, the answer will be obvious.