One of my favorite teams, and favorite baseball years, ever. An over-achieving Cinderella team of mostly baseball nobodies that wins a World Series just as improbably as the much more talented 2004 team. Francona's team is still the emotional highlight of my baseball life, but you cannot ignore the feel-good of watching this team keep on winning, going from "worst to first" and climbing that mountain all the way. Even David Ortiz said that this team was one of the least-talented (and I mean that with affection) that has ever won a World Series. Consider:
* No pitcher on the team won more than 15 games. Nobody had the chance to win 20.
* No pitcher (besides Buchholz, who didn't finish with enough innings to qualify) was close to winning an ERA title.
* No pitcher was in the Cy Young conversation.
* Only one player drove in 100 RBIs. And he didn't drive in more than 110.
* Only two everyday players hit over .300. Neither hit over .310.
* No player came close to leading the league in homers, RBIs, or average.
* No player was in the MVP conversation.
* Players in the top-10 in the league in any positive category were in the middle of the pack, or the back of it.
* And that player was either Ortiz (for average, on-base %, slugging %, and maybe homers and RBIs--but, again, placing 5-10 in the top-10 for any of those), Pedroia (for average and maybe on-base % only) or Ellsbury (for stolen bases, stolen base %, and, maybe, batting average).
* World Champions--and Division and League Leaders--always have someone in the Cy Young or MVP conversation, with eye-popping stats, like those of Chris Davis, but not these guys.
So how did they win?
How can a guy who almost led the league in strikeouts also lead the league (and the majors) in pitches seen per at-bat, and be the offensive star of the 1-0 win over Verlander in the ALCS?
How can a player like Daniel Nava, who finished in the top-10 in the league (but who just barely qualified with his low number of ABs) not play in the World Series, or many of the postseason games in general, and be replaced by a guy who, literally, didn't hit his own weight? And not one Sox fan, including me, complained!
How can a staff without a 20-game winner (or even a 17-game winner) and without a Cy Young or MVP candidate win the World Series?
How can such a team beat a Tigers team in 6 games, when the Tigers have the MVP (Cabrera), the Cy Young (Scherzer), the perpetual Great Pitcher (Verlander), the overlooked Gold Glove-candidate (and ROY-candidate) and the wise sage as manager?
How can Shane Victorino win games in the ALCS and in the World Series with a grand slam and a three-run double, and yet still hit way below .200 in each series?
How can a team win two out of three in another stadium when they lost the first one in the bottom of the ninth due to an obstruction call?
For that matter, how can a team go without a World Series title in 85 years, and then win three in the next ten?
God help us cynics, but I think the Sox did it with....teamwork? Consistency? Preparation? Desire? And a lot of luck, of course.
How lucky were they in the postseason?
Lucky enough that the best hitter in all of baseball had such a bad groin injury that it needed to be operated on at the end of the World Series--and it made him unable to get to the outside fastball. How did Tazawa get him out in all of those clutch situations? Outside fastballs. It even hurt him to foul them off.
Lucky enough that a rookie pinch runner gets picked off first base, with one of the best hitters in postseason history at the plate, to end the game.
Lucky enough that they won although Ortiz had just two hits in all of the ALCS. That's right--he was 2 for 22, or something horrible like that. The second hit was a little blooper over second base. The first was the grand slam that tied the second game and woke up Boston.
Lucky enough that Boston had one hit in the first fourteen innings of the ALCS--and still won the second game, and lost the first just 1-0.
Lucky enough that Victor Martinez decided to stop rather than run to second. And lucky enough that Prince Fielder decided to stop rather than score from third. On the same play.
Lucky enough that a magician at shortstop booted an easy double-play ball--and then watched as Victorino hit his grand slam.
Lucky enough that an umpire didn't see that Stephen Drew's foot was a zip code away from second base when Drew started the first of the many double plays that sank the Tigers.
Lucky enough that the Cardinals inexplicably decided to pitch to Ortiz in every single clutch situation in the first five games of the World Series. Or did Napoli scare them that much? Was Napoli the guy they couldn't let beat them, and not Ortiz?
Lucky enough that the other teams ran themselves, or fielded themselves, into all of their losses. The Sox certainly did not hit themselves into all of their wins. Their scarce hits were enough to win the game because the other teams kept shooting themselves in the foot, and not hitting with men on base.
Lucky enough that the one or two hits that a particular player got in an entire series was enough to win one game apiece in that series. Ortiz in the ALCS. Napoli in the ALCS. Ross in the World Series. And Victorino in both the ALCS and in the World Series.
Lucky enough that they were able to win despite David Ross being an offensive improvement over another catcher.
Lucky enough that, during the regular season, they lost their legit closer to injury, then lost their other legit closer to injury, and then plugged an embattled 7th and 8th inning guy as the closer--and got the best results of all! (Bailey and Hanrahan return next year, BTW, so where do you pitch them if Uehara still closes?)
Lucky enough that the team loses three more games than it should have, according to the Pythagorean W-L Theorem--which is a huge sway in the wrong direction--and still handily wins its division?
Lucky enough that, during the regular season, Uehara (4-1), Breslow (5-2), Bailey (3-1), Brandon Workman (6-3), Jake Peavy (4-1), Alfredo Aceves (4-1) and Steven Wright (2-0) go a combined 28-9. Read that one again.
Lucky enough that they win it all even though their top five starters (Lester, 15-8; Lackey 10-13; Dempster 8-9; Doubront, 11-6; Buchholz, 12-1) go a combined 56-37. Which is pretty damn good, but not in the same universe as the top-5 starters for the Tigers, Rays, or Cardinals. Or did you think most World Series-winning teams have two of their top-5 starters finish below .500?
And little things--but lots of little things--like great baserunning, good starting pitching and great relief pitching, and awesome defense. And timely hitting, to the extent that they were either hitting in the clutch or they weren't hitting at all.
And--by far the most important thing this whole year--fouling off pitches, taking the pitch just outside or inside, driving the pitch count up, and getting the starters out of there and slapping around the bullpen.
And having a Gold Glove-winner at second base, and in right field, and--with a combination of Iglesias and Drew--at shortstop. And Napoli was very smooth, and a great scooper, at first.
Unbelievable. What a great team to watch all year, especially after the catastrophe of last year. Especially in the playoffs, when they hit under .220 total and still won each series in six.
We won't see anything like it anytime soon, maybe not even next year, so I hope you were watching as many games, and appreciating them, as I was. You know how we hear all that B.S. about chemistry, about leadership, about working hard and sticking together, about playing hard until the very last pitch?
This year, it was all true. All of it.