McAdam: Red Sox go from worst to first together

McAdam: Red Sox go from worst to first together
October 31, 2013, 2:15 am
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GAME 6: RED SOX 6, CARDS 1

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BOSTON -- For much of the second half of the season, it had been blasted in the clubhouse after wins. For the past month, one playoff round after another, it thumped from the PA system at Fenway.    

Now, after the trophy had been presented, the speeches made, the ovations swelled, it played one more time, a fitting theme for a team that executed a dramatic 180-degree turnaround in the span of a year.    

"Started from the bottom, now we're here,'' sang Drake.    

And indeed they had, and indeed they were.    

Rebounding from a last-place finish, the Red Sox had captured the World Series with a convincing 6-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 at Fenway Park, capping the most improbable season here since perhaps 1967.    

Not long ago, World Series titles had become, if not expected, then, dare we say, a little routine. There was the one in 2004, which ended the 86-year drought, and another three years later, which hinted at a dynasty.    

But then came the backslide. An ALCS defeat a year later. A first-round exit the year after that. And then three straight post-season DNQs, bottoming out with the epic collapse of 2011, then digging deeper with the nightmare of the mercifully brief Bobby Valentine Error.    

Respectability was the goal in the spring, a far comedown from the trophy-hoisting and parades of the not-too-distant past.    

Instead, the Red Sox outstripped expectations by a wide margin. They spent a handful of days out of first place all season, made quick work of the Tampa Bay Rays, dispatched the Tigers in six, and then, after falling behind two games to one to the Cardinals, ripped off three straight wins to win their eighth championship in franchise history.    

The best presents are the ones you never see coming.    

"We had a group that wanted to write a different story,'' said GM Ben Cherington. "We weren't happy with the way things went the last two years."    

Cherington, in his second season as GM -- and this time with a manager of his own choosing -- did a masterful job in remaking the roster, reinvesting the money saved from the mega-deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers in remarkable speed.    

He chose not only quality players, but players built to withstand the pressure-cooker that is Boston.    

Skill and character were needed in equal supply. It did no good to have one without the other.    

"We could go and get good guys,'' said Cherington in spring training, "but if we get good guys who can't play, we're going to finish last again.''    

Instead, they assembled parts, and nearly every free agent paid off: Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, David Ross, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes and Koji Uehara.    

They joined a core of veterans like David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury and others, all of whom knew they had some making up to do.    

"To come in and see the energy and the commitment that they had,'' marveled manager John Farrell, "the buying into a team concept every single day, and the one thing that really stands out more than anything is just the overall will to win, and that was no more evident than in the entire post-season.''    

Homegrown or newcomers, rookies or veterans, the team somehow bonded. Gone were the clubhouse cliques. When they team went out to dinner, attendance was high.    

Beyond the bond within the clubhouse, the team also linked itself to the city in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon tragedy. The Sox represented the city, spread the motto of Boston Strong, cheered the heroes and comforted the wounded and grieving.    

And the city -- and region -- took note. The franchise had alienated many with the clubhouse drama and games and seeming indifference of years prior. But the Red Sox' response to the bombings was so strong, sincere, it gave fans a compelling reason to jump on the bandwagon.    

"We didn't put Boston on our back,'' said Jonny Gomes. "Boston put us on its back. I don't think a win/loss record sums up how much we care about this city."   

Buoyed by the support, the Red Sox made it up as they went along. They changed closers four times. A deposed starter proved invaluable out of the post-season bullpen. The starting catcher lost his job with three games left in the season.    

None of it mattered. Egos got checked at the door and wins kept piling up, ahead of schedule.    

In the end, somehow, it all worked out.    

Farrell turned to bench coach Torey Lovullo with one out in the ninth and the Sox in possession of a five-run lead.    

"Can you believe we're going to win the World Series?'' asked Farrell.    

Worst to first.    

Like the song says: Started from the bottom, now they're here.