Why This 2013 Boston Red Sox Team Was So Special
It’s now been a few days since the Boston Red Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2013 World Series, capping off one of the most enjoyable seasons in team history. The $100,000 bottles of champagne have been guzzled and the duck boats have floated up Beantown roadways of asphalt and water. Even so, it’s hard to move on just because of how special this team was.
Expectations were low for the team in April. Coming off the stunning failure of the Bobby Valentine era, which lasted less than a calendar year, the future of the franchise was a blank slate tinged with fear and uncertainty. After all, having lost 93 games in 2012 with a team supposedly loaded enough at the start to compete for multiple championships; it appeared the foundation had been reduced to rubble before the eyes of the rabid fan base.
After a busy offseason that saw the Red Sox make numerous but unsexy acquisitions, experts generally predicted the team might win 80-85 games in 2013—if everything fell exactly right.
They did win 85 games, but the 85th came in game 142 on September 5 against the New York Yankees. 97 regular-season victories were in the left-hand column of the standings by the time all 162 contests were played. An epic playoff run finished off the magical season. But how did we get there, and exactly how special was it?
The tragic events of the Boston Marathon bombing really framed the season. The Red Sox didn’t mitigate the catastrophe or “heal” those impacted by it. However, they proved to be a diversion; a pleasant diversion that gave many people something else to concentrate on in a time of stress and pain. They also re-directed attention in the Boston area from the horrible circumstances to something more light-hearted and positive.
Baseball is a wonderful game, but insinuating that it can serve as a substitute for what is needed to heal individuals and communities is a bit offensive and small-minded. Establishing that proper context still leaves us with a Red Sox squad that became a prominent part of the Boston Strong mantra that emerged from the area with a roar in the aftermath of the explosions.
The 2013 Red Sox were special to many people for many different reasons. Here are some of the most memorable for me:
The Beards: Yes, they received way too much press and Boston wasn’t the first team to look like a band of idealistic hipsters hoping to catch a Volkswagen Van ride to San Francisco, circa 1969—but they rocked them like no one else before. The whiskers became a sign of strength and unique identity; something mirrored by the greater Boston area this year. No matter how long they grew or how hard they were yanked, it was a theme that only got stronger as the season went on; a hairy metaphor, but a powerful one nonetheless.
David Ortiz Tells the World Not to Mess with His City: On April 20th, Ortiz’s season debut coincided with the first game at Fenway Park following the bombing. As the face of the team, he was given a microphone to address the crowd and television audience. His profane statement of pride for his Boston became a rallying cry for the team and region. It was so pitch-perfect that even the typically Puritanical FCC went on record as having no problem with his very public utterance of the F-word—the only time I can recall that happening.
Koji Uehara and His Amazing High-Fives: The aging Japanese import wasn’t Boston’s first choice to close games this season. He also wasn’t the second or third choice.
Because of injuries to Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, and Junichi Tazawa being unable to handle the ninth inning, Uehara was tapped as closer. Despite a fastball that would be hard-pressed to break a pane of glass on his best days, he wound up posting amazing totals of 21 saves, a 1.09 ERA and a 0.57 WHIP during the regular season.
With a demeanor off the diamond that seems best-suited for the library sciences than one as a late-inning vanquisher, Uehara fueled the Red Sox with his dominance and surprising enthusiasm. His aggressively euphoric high-fives following victories and big plays not only motivated fans and his teammates, but once even nearly dismembered unsuspecting teammate Shane Victorino.
Every game seemed to have the utmost importance for Uehara. That sense of urgency and competitive fire spread through the team like a wild fire and was a catalyst for their relentless spirit.
Shane Victorino Means Everything Gonna Be Alright: The right fielder changed his walk-up music to Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds in July, and it became part of team lore and a rallying cry for the rest of the season. Fenway Park rocked every time the Hawaiian outfielder, who always seemed willing to run through a wall on any given play (and often tried to) strode to the dish. The raucous crowds, singing along with the message of hope and faith, effectively replaced Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline as the official Boston anthem. It was also so apropos to the season and Boston community spirit in the face of adversity.
Victorino proved that the ritual was more than a simple ditty when he belted a grand slam late in Game 6 of the ALCS, punching Boston’s World Series ticket and showing fans that indeed, everything was gonna be alright.
David Ortiz’s Grand Slam Facing a one game to none deficit in the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers, and on the losing end of a 5-1 score late in Game 2, Big Papi knocked Boston off a negative playoff axis. His grand slam just snuck past the glove of outfielder Torii Hunter, who did his best Superman imitation while valiantly diving over the right field wall to attempt the catch. Ebullient police officer Steve Horgan, standing in the depths of the Boston bullpen, seemingly willed the ball the final few inches, as the team fought back to take the game and ultimately eliminate the Tigers.
David Ortiz’s World Series Motivational Speech: If there was any doubt that this was the season of Ortiz, this classic moment drove that point home. Attempting to rally his teammates in Game 4 of the World Series, his fiery dugout speech was like a shot of adrenaline to the heart, as the team won the final three games in convincing fashion and claimed the championship.
Any team that wins the World Series has their own collection of stories and memories that made that particular season special. Some might say that Boston is just another successful team with a great season. They would be wrong.
The Red Sox not only restored confidence in a franchise seemingly going nowhere, they represented the best of a city and region that had been cut to the bone in a most terrible way.
The 2004 season may be more satisfying for how long it was in coming, and other players and teams from bygone times may be remembered more fondly, but for an overall experience and impact, the 2013 squad is one for the ages. They were simply special.
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