Maybe it was the memory of Dustin Pedroia’s third inning blast that missed the foul pole by less than half the length of Dustin Pedroia. Or maybe it was the memory of Xander Bogaerts’ “home run anywhere but Fenway” double in the fifth, or Jonny Gomes’ seventh-inning laser that left a dent about two centimeters from the very top of the Monster.
Maybe it was the memory of a long string of ALCS at-bats, when Shane Victorino was so consistently overmatched, the fact that nothing had changed over the first two pitches of this particular at-bat, or the fact that Victorino had yet to hit a home run in these playoffs and had only hit one, in any capacity, since September 6.
Whatever the reason, when Victorino connected on Jose Veras’ 0-2 offering with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh, my brain couldn’t process a grand slam. It wouldn’t believe a grand slam. After a full season of watching these Red Sox overcome the most unlikely odds at the most unlikely times, and so often thanks to contributions from the most unlikely sources, this one still wouldn’t register. Not until that ball securely found a home a few rows deep into the Monster seats. But the moment it did, there was no mistaking the result.
The Red Sox were headed back to the World Series.
And they are. Six years since the last time. Nine years since the most recent and significant title. For only the 12th time in 113 years of professional baseball in Boston, the Red Sox are headed to the World Series.
First and foremost, credit their bullpen. Koji Uehara, the much-deserved ALCS MVP and, if only for one season, the most dominant closer in Red Sox history. Credit Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa, who weren’t quite as dominant in the LCS as they were in the LDS against Tampa but were still more than up to the task presented by Detroit’s formidable line-up. And credit Brandon Workman, who answered the call on Saturday, saved Franklin Morales from an infamous Red Sox legacy and made it possible for Tazawa, Breslow and Uehara to do what they do — and what they did. The bullpen allowed only one run over 21 innings in the ALCS.
Credit their starters. Especially, John Lackey, who delivered the outing that may have very well turned the series. The Sox rotation was not the better of the two in this series. The Tigers staff was more dominant and effective. But aside from Jake Peavy’s forgettable Game 4, Lester, Buchholz and Lackey always gave Boston a chance, and with this team, a chance is all you need.
Credit Jacoby Ellsbury, who for the second straight series led the Sox in hits, but none were bigger than last night’s fifth inning, two-out single that scored Xander Bogaerts, proved Max Scherzer to be human, gave Boston a 1-0 lead and dumped all the pressure into Detroit’s dugout.
Credit Shane Victorino, obviously, for one of the most significant hits of any kind in Red Sox history. On second thought, maybe we’ll forgive him for that third-inning bunt.
Credit Dustin Pedroia, whose .256/.311/.308 playoffs splits still leave so much to be desired, but who continues to have a presence that can’t be replaced.
Credit David Ortiz, if for nothing else, that one swing in the eighth inning of Game 2.
Credit Mike Napoli, if for nothing else, those two swings — Game 3 against Justin Verlander and Game 5 against Anibal Sanchez. Hitters as streaky as Napoli don’t typically have the luxury of picking their spots, but even if Napoli did, he couldn’t have chosen two better moments to come through or, just in general, to morph into a borderline Gold Glove first baseman.
Credit Jonny Gomes, for continuing to make John Farrell look like a genius, for consistently making plays and affecting games in ways that go far beyond his skill set.
Credit David Ross and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, for handling the staff with care and precision of Jason Varitek in his prime and delivering their share — Salty at the end of Game 2 and Ross at the start of Game 5 — of timely hitting.
Credit Stephen Drew, who couldn’t have been worse at the plate, but still managed to contribute in the field — most notably with his diving stop to kill Detroit’s rally in last night’s seventh inning.
Credit Xander Bogaerts. Xander freaking Bogaerts. What can you even say? How can you even say it? What he’s done. What he might do. The fact that there was so much discussion about whether to even bring him up in September, and now he’ll be the starting third baseman in Game 1 of the World Series.
Credit John Farrell for keeping everyone together.
Credit Ben Cherington for bringing everyone together.
Credit, ugh, Larry Lucchino for stepping aside and allowing Cherington to do his job.
Credit everyone and everything that’s had a hand in making this Red Sox season what it is. Have faith that all those pieces, as individuals and as a collective unit, aren’t anywhere ready to stop defying those odds and making you believe when every form of logic is just begging you to stop.
Get ready for the Cardinals. Get psyched for the World Series.
Four more wins and this dream becomes a reality.
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