What a difference a year makes

What a difference a year makes
August 2, 2013, 2:15 pm
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Well, they did it again.

Last night at Fenway, for the 11th (!) time this season, the Red Sox walked off with a win, and this one — coming back from a 7-2 ninth inning deficit — was the most memorable and impressive of them all.

Thanks to the victory, and heading into this weekend’s interleague series with Arizona, the Sox are a game up on Tampa for first place in the AL East and the proud owners of the best record in the American League. But perhaps as important as the fact that they’re winning, is how they’re winning and who they’re winning with. A year removed from one of the worst seasons in franchise history and almost two years removed from one of the worst collapses in baseball history, the once maligned and dysfunctional Sox have become a team’s team. A roster of (mostly) selfless players who believe in each other, who actually seem to enjoy each other, and who, not coincidentally, have made a habit of pulling off comebacks along the lines of (if not quite as ridiculous as) last night.

It’s unbelievable how far this team has come in such a short amount of time.

At this point last summer, I’m pretty sure I was the only writer in Boston and/or on planet Earth who still defended Bobby Valentine on a regular basis. Yeah, I know. But whatever. It was just my thing. Down the stretch, I even had a running segment on this blog called “The Bobby V. Apologist” where I’d take whatever Valentine melodrama had unfolded on a given day, and spin it in Bobby’s favor.

For the most part, it was tongue in cheek. More than anything, a play on/off the deep and borderline psychotic contempt that some of the louder voices in the media held for the manager. I thought it was fair, important, maybe even healthy, for there to be at least one alternative take on the Bobby V. Experience, even if some of those takes were slightly exaggerated.

So I guess it’s not a surprise that for a brief moment during last night’s installment of #WalkOffCity, I actually caught myself thinking: “You know, Bobby V. really doesn’t get enough credit for the magnitude of what he accomplished here in Boston.”

NO WAIT! Here’s what I mean —

Looking back now, at all that’s happened and how far this team has come these last few years, I think we can all agree on what qualifies as the most crucial, franchise-altering moment in recent Red Sox history. It wasn’t hiring Valentine in December of 2011 or firing him in October of 2012 or hiring John Farrell a few weeks later. Instead, it was last August’s unloading of two bad apples (Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez) and one horrific contract (Carl Crawford) to the Dodgers in return for prospects and new sense of pride within the clubhouse and the entire organization.

Above all else, regardless of who the Sox had brought in to replace Terry Francona, nothing was really going to change until they rid itself of that rotten core, and at the time, it didn’t seem like the owners and front office necessarily realized that. Whether it was a matter of pride or ticket sales, you didn’t even get the sense that they wanted to. And honestly, had they brought Farrell back into the fold right away, my guess is that he would have righted the ship just enough to convince the higher ups to maintain the status quo. In that case, sure, maybe the 2012 Red Sox would have been a little better, and certainly less toxic than they turned out to be. But deep down, nothing would have changed; you never would have or could have fallen back in love with that team. They wouldn’t have allowed it.

But as it turned out, Valentine forced everyone’s hand. In retrospect, his natural ability to take that bad situation and transform it into one of the most scandalous, pathetic and infuriating seasons in Sox history was almost essential to turning this thing around. His massive failure left the team prideless, fanless and with nothing left to lose. It removed the emperor’s clothes. It killed what was left of the fairy tale and forced the franchise to accept reality.

Of course, that was never Valentine’s intention upon taking the job or the Sox intention upon hiring him, but that’s Bobby Valentine’s legacy here in Boston. And it’s an important one, even if it was accidental.

Bobby Valentine was a hero!

No, no he wasn’t. If anything, I’d say Valentine was like an aggressive, debilitating regimen of chemotherapy. I’d say that in the moment, his presence took a bad situation and made it undeniably worse. But ultimately, that presence played a major role in destroying the bigger, more powerful disease that was eating away at this team. On the field and in the owner’s box.

And OK, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but here’s my bigger point:

In September of 2011, the Red Sox collapsed in the grossest, most depressing way possible. They were a black mark on Boston sports. A broken franchise, with no repair in sight.

In August of 2013, the Red Sox are an inspiration. They’re the best team in the American League, and the most likable team in the city. Expectations are once again bright, and the future looks even brighter.

Say what you will about what happened during that season in between. Call it a disaster (after all, it was). Call it an embarrassment (after all, it was). Call Bobby Valentine a massive tool (after all, he is).

But if given the chance to go back and do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing.

I’d more than willingly relive that disaster and put up with that embarrassment for the opportunity so see the Red Sox back where they are right now.

Most likely hanging out and having fun in the clubhouse, just waiting on another walk-off.