It had to be better than last year. For the Boston Red Sox, their 2012 season with 93 losses and a last-place finish in the AL East, was a low point for a proud franchise that won two World Series in the past 10 years. Most people expected the Red Sox to be better in 2013, but the World Series? Not many predicted that.
The Red Sox rebounded from their first 90-loss season since 1966 in spectacular fashion. They won 97 games, tied for the most in baseball with their World Series foes from St. Louis, leading the AL East for all but 18 days. They beat the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS, then the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS.
We heard all about the beards and "Boston Strong," but this team's success goes beyond T-shirt catchphrases. The Red Sox got the most from a handful of offseason acquisitions, which melded well with their veteran core. New fan favorites like Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes joined old stars like Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, and once again, the Red Sox returned to the upper echelon of baseball.
While we prepare for Wednesday's Game 1 of the World Series, let's look back at the Boston Red Sox season — how they rebounded, what went right, who stepped up and how they made it back to the World Series.
General manager Ben Cherington didn't get off to the best start in Boston, but he righted a lot of wrongs quickly. It really started with last season's blockbuster trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to Los Angeles. But the Red Sox 2013 roster really started to take shape last October. In fact, it was one year ago Sunday that Cherington traded infielder Mike Aviles to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for manager John Farrell.
Manager trades are rare, but it certainly worked for Boston. In the offseason, Cherington went on a little shopping spree, collecting name brand players that seemed to lose their luster elsewhere. He brought in Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, Ryan Dempster and, of course, Koji Uehara. At the time, the signings were viewed more as band-aids than meaningful additions, but each contributed to Boston's cause.
Perhaps the Red Sox strongest asset this season was their unity. Never was that more evident than in the days following the Boston Marathon bombing, but it never faded as time marched on. It actually grew, in the form of beards that many of the Red Sox stars are currently sporting. The look isn't appealing to everybody, but it doesn't have to be. It's what connects them and makes them a team. It's their identity.
Koji Uehara’s emergence as closer
Boston started the season with Joel Hanrahan in the closer's role, but he only lasted nine appearances before tearing a tendon in his elbow that required Tommy John surgery. Next, John Farrell turned to experienced closer Andrew Bailey (81 saves in four season), but reoccurring biceps and shoulder injuries would end his season in June again necessitating a change. Barring a trade, that left 38-year-old Koji Uehera as the next logical choice, and boy are the Red Sox lucky they didn’t panic and look elsewhere.
After taking over the role for good on June 26, Uehara notched 20 saves in 22 chances. He also posted a 0.41 ERA in 41 appearances overall, and held opponents to a .097 average with a .260 OPS over that stretch. The word dominant isn’t strong effort. He was simply on a level above everyone else, especially when he hit his stride in early July.
Over a nine-week, 27-appearance stretch beginning on July 9, Uehera didn’t allow a run in 30 2/3 innings. From the last batter in his appearance on Aug. 17 to the first he faced on Sept. 17 — 37 batters overall — he didn’t allow a single base runner. All the while he was racking up strikeouts — 101 in 74 1/3 total innings — and solidifying one of the greatest seasons from a reliever in MLB history.
Without him, the Red Sox ninth innings could have been a mess over the final three months, and the AL East may have gone as far south as Tampa.
Ran over the Yankees and Rays
Neither the Red Sox or the Yankees are above kicking the other while they're down. That's exactly what the Red Sox did this season, winning 13 of their 19 matchups and outscoring New York 120-85. That was by far Boston's biggest run differential against a single opponent, but they were also really good against the Tampa Bay Rays, winning 12 of those 19 matchups. When you beat up on the teams you're in direct competition with, and even eliminate one in the postseason, you've definitely earned your spot in the World Series.
No losing months
You can't win a division in April, but you can certainly lose it. The Red Sox didn't have to worry about that though, going 18-8 out of the blocks in the first month. After leveling at 15-15 in May, the Red Sox were at least four games over .500 in each of the final four months. The finish was especially strong, as they finished September 16-9. Consistency goes a long way, and so does winning. The Red Sox were good at both.
Over his first 20 starts, Jon Lester was 8-6 with a 4.58 ERA. Over this start last 16 starts including the postseason, he's 9-3 with a 2.52 ERA. The Red Sox really needed the lift, especially after Clay Buchholz went down in May with shoulder problems. The addition of Jake Peavy helped, too, but Boston's pitching finds its groove when Lester does.
The ALCS grand slams
Two swings of the bat changed the ALCS entirely. The first is a postseason moment that will live forever for several reasons. Torii Hunter’s terrific effort as he tumbled over the short wall into the bullpen. The celebrating cop nearby. The Red Sox bullpen catcher catching the ball on the fly. But most importantly to Red Sox fans, it will be remembered for the outcome.
The Red Sox were trailing 5-1 in eighth inning and on the verge of falling down 0-2 to the Detroit Tigers, but once Ortiz‘s grand slam cleared the wall, tying the game at five, they were reborn. The season that was slipping away was there to be taken again. In Game 6, they grabbed it thanks to Shane Victorino. His go-ahead slam in the seventh inning sealed Detroit's fate, and clinched the Red Sox their 12th World Series appearance.
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