By now, it’s almost cliché to write about the extreme likability of the 2013 Red Sox. And obviously, it’s easy to get caught up in a world of puppy dogs and ice cream after a victory like last night. Still, if you watched Tuesday’s 13-2 undressing of lefty (!) Wei-Yin Chen and the Orioles, you went to bed feeling good. Not only because, thanks to a blown save in Tampa, the Sox have re-built a more comfortable two and a half game lead in the AL East, but also because — cliché be damned — man, this team is fun to watch.
On the field, of course. It’s not hard to enjoy watching a team that has the second most wins in baseball with less than 30 games to play. But with these guys, it’s just as fun to see them interact with each other. Whether it’s Koji’s nightly high five party, the field trip to the Blue Jays game, the way they celebrate walk off after walk off, and even last night, to see Felix Doubront — after being removed by his manager, at a time when some starters might feel like pouting — reach out with a smile and playfully tug at Mike Napoli’s beard. . . what can you say? Considering where this team has come from, what more can you really ask for?
In a way, it’s still hard to believe that it was this easy. For the past two winters, anyone who was even remotely invested in the Sox had pinpointed their most glaring issue — chemistry; personality. Basically, there weren’t enough players in the clubhouse that really enjoyed playing baseball and/or enjoyed playing with each other. So, the first order of business had to be clearing out the most poisonous weeds, and rebuilding on a foundation that better resembled the “Idiots” of 2004 as opposed to the idiots of 2011 and 2012.
The process began with the trade that sent Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers. It reached the next level when Bobby Valentine was fired the following month. The quick hiring of John Farrell was obviously a step in the right direction, and with every subsequent roster move, the Sox seemed to speak directly to the chemistry crowd (and I don’t mean Walter White): Johnny Gomes, David Ross, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino. All of them were valuable in their own way, but the common thread, and the one thing we heard above all else when the signings became official was: “Well liked. Good clubhouse guy.” And naturally, as had become the norm when dealing with the Red Sox over the past few years, folks were skeptical. The thought was that the owners were going overboard. That they knew what people wanted and were now bound to cram it down Boston’s throat. “Here you go! Here’s your likable baseball team! Now let’s start another sell out streak!”
Meanwhile, the general consensus was that the Red Sox were going to suck. Most experts had them destined for another last place finish. But even with the presumed pandering by the owners and the sad short-term projections, Red Sox fans felt better. For the first time in a long time, the team was at least headed down the right path.
Fast forward to today, and like I said, could it really be this easy? Sure, it helps that John Lackey got his act together and that David Ortiz has remained (to this point) relatively healthy and that the team, in general, seems to respect the man in charge, but when you take a step back and attempt to put your finger on the biggest reason why the Red Sox are where they are today — how they’ve been so resilient and successful both in close games and with their backs against the wall — it’s hard to ignore that one thing that everyone had been clamoring for all along. Which also, unfortunately, happens to be one of the hardest aspects of sports to quantify — especially in baseball: Chemistry.
It’s the age-old question: Are the Sox winning because they’re getting along, or are they getting along because they’re winning?
Umm . . . yes?
I don’t know, but let’s just say the combination of the two continues to make for a great story and an even better experience for Boston sports fans. In light of all disappointment and disaster of this past summer it couldn’t have come at a better time. And with September only a few days away, and this baseball season about to kick into another gear, the potential for this team and everything they stand for to takeover this city feels so very real. And that it might come only a year after everything was so wrong is still hard to believe.
But at this point, we have no choice.
Not that anyone is complaining.