Red Sox ride depth to turnaround, World Series

Red Sox ride depth to turnaround, World Series
October 23, 2013, 1:00 pm
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Embarrassed by the mess of September, 2011, bottomed out last year, and rebuilt over the winter, the Red Sox are back in the World Series for the first time since 2007.   

The turnaround, measured in real time, was fast enough to produce whiplash. A year ago, the Red Sox had fired their second manager in 12 months and the questions weren't about who could start Game 2 of the Series.

No, they were far more basic. Will any free agent want to come to Boston? Does Ben Cherington know what he's doing? What's the attraction to John Farrell?    

A year removed, those questions seem quaint now.    

The Red Sox essentially led wire-to-wire in the American League East, dropping out of first place for only a day or two at a time, and never more than a full game behind.    

They re-stocked at the trade deadline, augmented from within and held off all challengers.    

They withstood a three-month long injury to their No. 2 starter and went through three other closers before settling, by default really, on Koji Uehara, who has only been a revelation in the role.    

During the course of the season, they displayed both toughness and consistency. They fashioned 22 last at-bat wins and were the only team in the American League to not have a losing streak longer than three games.

They began the season with one third baseman (Will Middlebrooks), went with another (Jose Iglesias) two months later, then, after trading the replacement,
returned to the incumbent, only to have yet another prospect (Xander Bogaerts) claim the position in the last week.    

The best start of the postseason was turned in by the veteran starter who missed all of 2012 with Tommy John surgery, someone who had previously been the face of the chicken-and-beer scandal two seasons ago. It would have been difficult to find a player more despised than John Lackey only 12 months ago; now, it's a challenge to find one who's more respected.    

As befits a team with the best record in the American League, the Red Sox, while not flawless, have few obvious holes.    

The starting rotation, keyed by the turnarounds of Game 1 starter Jon Lester, regularly kept the team in games. The defense was second in efficiency -- that is, turning balls in play into outs. The bullpen, anchored by Uehara, was particularly strong in the second half. The offense led the majors in runs scored.    

"It doesn't matter what the situation is,'' said Ortiz, "we never give up. We play hard, man. We give up when you get the last out. Until then, we never give up.''    

"Everybody on this team,'' said shortstop Stephen Drew, "we've got good talent and we always come out to win. It started from the top and filtered down. Just the way the clubhouse is, the way the guys are going about their business, that's why we're here. Everybody pulls for each other. If one guy don't get it done, the next guy does, and that's been huge all year for us."    

Indeed, depth has been a strength. For much of the season, there was a platoon in left field. Mike Carp was a big contributor off the bench.    

And now that Daniel Nava and Middlebrooks have lost playing time in the postseasons, there are no complaints.    

The "team-first'' attitude has been a revelation.    

Not long ago, the Sox were viewed as selfish, entitled, and unprofessional. But beginning in spring training, Farrell established the proper tone.    

"John did the most important thing that any manager can do for a team do better -- build us with confidence,'' said Ortiz. "He's been able to do that for everyone, even the guys who don't play. I don't know how he does it, but he keeps everyone sharp.''    

"We play as one,'' concluded Mike Napoli.    

And now, they play to win four more, and their third World Series title in the last decade.