BOSTON – So this is life after Theo and Tito, life after Bobby V, life after the tear-down.
It's a mild afternoon in late October, John Farrell at the microphone, other people's managers stepping down, other people's teams wondering what went wrong – again, and the Boston Red Sox happily waiting on the St. Louis Cardinals.
Along the river paths, coeds jogged beneath orangey-brown leaves, proud in their B caps. "B Strong," the sentiment of a nation, is present on signs and T-shirts and in a ballpark where the most imposing of them put his foot down and shouted exactly what burned inside their city.
Here, in the hours before the World Series returned sooner than any of them could have expected, the Boston Red Sox, who never really went away, are back. From ascendant cowboys, to idiots, to the Now-I-Can-Die-in-Peace crowd, to the Welp-Looks-Like-the-Red Sox-Went-to-Pieces years, the Red Sox had strapped in with a bunch of good guys with middling résumés and became something pretty remarkable.
Three weeks into October, they got into their cars and drove to work, no small matter in their line of work. This was no ordinary day in The Fens, batting practice ringing out over the neighborhood, their Red Sox among them still. Three dark Octobers had given pass to low expectations and 97 wins, seven more after that, and now the World Series and the opportunity for three championships in nine years. Once a bunch of knuckleheads who – turned out – could play, the Red Sox play now for the legacy of a decade, and for each other, and for the sheer fun of it. That's a good time.
Just yesterday, it seemed, the Red Sox had been done in by the collapse of the former regime, and by success and time and flabbiness and ego. Now they were naming Jon Lester the starter in the only game that will be played Wednesday, and sorting through scouting reports on the Cardinals, and brushing out their beards.
This is the way a ballclub comes together. And the way a town turns back and, it just can't help itself, swoons again. A clubhouse attendant carried a stack of new caps, all with the World Series logo on them, and placed them all just so on the top shelf of every locker in the room. He passed a poster of John Wooden's Pyramid of Success. Also, one of "Duck Dynasty" ("Work hard, play hard, nap hard"). A man finds inspiration where he finds it.
A day among them, one gets the sense the Red Sox are just crazy enough to win this thing, primarily because of the way they pitch brilliantly and hit relentlessly. The Cardinals throw fastballs. The Red Sox hit fastballs. And the Red Sox aren't going to make the mistakes the Dodgers did. The Red Sox hardly ever lose at home. Neither do the Cardinals. But, then, thanks to whatever happened in the All-Star Game – something about Mariano Rivera, and other stuff – the Red Sox get one more home game than the Cardinals. It might be just that. The Red Sox and Cardinals appear that well matched, right down to the two managers with the squarest jaws in the game.
As the Cardinals lifted off from St. Louis, the Red Sox returned from Sunday's day off, where, presumably, they napped hard. Then they began the process of a long, hard look at the Cardinals, who like them won 97 games, and like them believe there is a greater purpose here. They built themselves differently, and sustained the past decade differently, but here they are. When Joe Kelly looks up after the national anthem to be sure he's the last man standing, he just might find 25 bearded guys gawking back.
"I don't think," Red Sox pitcher Jake Peavy said, "you could put two more similar – and complete – baseball teams on a field."
That's probably true, certainly for 2013.
When Farrell opened the door to the press room here, he peered in and found every seat taken, and more people lining the walls, and a few looking in from the rear door.
"Geez-us," he said, laughing, perhaps startled by the turnout.
Yeah, there's more season left. He woke up on a Monday morning in late October, got in his car and drove to work. Like any other day. Like every other day. Amazing.
"I don't think that it's fully set in yet," he said. "We've been in such a rotation of 'Get ready for the next series.' We haven't really stepped back and said, 'Gosh, it's Oct. 21.' …We've been entrenched in the process."
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Asked, you know, how he thought it had been for him so far, you know, after leaving Toronto and walking into the project that had become the Red Sox, and then helping – no, leading – that team to the World Series, Farrell grinned.
"Well," he said, "seems like it's gone OK."