BOSTON – About two minutes after the hit that won the Boston Red Sox the World Series, dozens of Boston Police officers started streaming off two buses hard by Lansdowne Street. What everyone else could sense, the BPD already knew. The Red Sox were going to win a championship in front of a home crowd for the first time since 1918, and a hundred more buses full of cops weren't going to be enough to contain the coming party.
Shane Victorino necessitated the police presence with a bases-clearing double off the Green Monster, John Lackey emerged victorious in a title-clinching game for the second time and the Red Sox sent Fenway Park, the city of Boston and all of New England into a tizzy with a 6-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the World Series on Wednesday night that delivered their eighth championship.
[Yahoo Sports Shop: Buy Boston Red Sox World Series championship gear]
Two years after the beer-and-chicken collapse, one year after a 69-win season that left Red Sox Nation despondent, Boston retooled its roster and rode series MVP David Ortiz to a convincing victory in a back-and-forth battle between the best teams from the American and National Leagues. Though Boston won the series' final three games with a flurry of great pitching, its bats came alive in Game 6 and throttled the best starter this postseason.
Michael Wacha, all of 22, had navigated his way through four postseason games with a 1.00 earned-run average. In 3 2/3 innings Wednesday, he allowed six runs, twice as many as in his previous 27 postseason innings, none bigger than the first three that came on one third-inning swing.
After a single, a walk and a hit-by-pitch, Victorino, whose grand slam in the ALCS sent the Red Sox to the World Series, came up with perhaps an even bigger bases-loaded hit: He drove a 2-1 fastball from Wacha more than halfway up the Monster, plating Jacoby Ellsbury, Ortiz and Jonny Gomes. As Gomes slid around a tag from Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, Ellsbury, Ortiz and the on-deck hitter, Xander Bogaerts, all thrust their hands outward to signal safe. So did home-plate umpire Jim Joyce, and Fenway shook as 38,447 bellowed with the Red Sox up 3-0. Victorino, out of Games 4 and 5 with back stiffness, played hero once again, the embodiment of an offseason in which Boston signed him, Gomes, Stephen Drew, David Ross and Mike Napoli, all of whom started Game 6.
Boston doubled its lead in the fourth, starting with perhaps the unlikeliest hit of the series: Drew, who was 4 for 51 this postseason, homered to right-center field on a 91-mph fastball from Wacha, who spent most of the evening searching for a missing 5 mph. After Ellsbury doubled to right field, St. Louis intentionally walked Ortiz for the second time, the last four pitches of Wacha's night. Reliever Lance Lynn fared no better. Napoli stroked a run-scoring single to center field, Gomes walked, and Victorino pushed Ortiz home with a single to left.
By this point, the Red Sox's crowning seemed an inevitability, even if this was the same field that witnessed unprecedented comebacks previously, from Boston starting its historic 2004 rebirth in the ALCS against the Yankees to their eight-run riposte when Tampa Bay held a 7-0 lead in the 2008 ALCS. The Cardinals, flaccid in Games 4 and 5, came out limp again, and by the time they threatened Lackey, it was too late.
The 35-year-old, in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, had been in this position before. As a rookie 11 years ago, he threw five innings on three days' rest to win Game 7 against the San Francisco Giants. A little more grizzled and a lot more ornery, Lackey, one of the faces of the pitching staff that guzzled beer and housed fried chicken in the clubhouse during the Red Sox's 2011 meltdown, lasted 6 2/3 innings in Game 6, scattering nine hits and weathering even more hard-hit balls to escape with just one run allowed.
In the seventh, with runners on first and third after Carlos Beltran singled home Daniel Descalso, Red Sox manager John Farrell emerged from the dugout for a mound visit. "This is my guy!" Lackey yelled as Farrell approached, covering his mouth with his glove to avoid breaking any FCC laws and spawning hundreds of amusing animated GIFs. Farrell allayed his concerns by letting him pitch to Matt Holliday, who drew a walk to load the bases. Junichi Tazawa relieved Lackey, retired Allen Craig on a hard-hit ball to first base, and the Red Sox escaped trouble and began preparing for their celebration.
In anticipation, fans had made Game 6 the most expensive ticket not just in Boston sports history but all of baseball. Some paid up to $12,000 for a seat, and the get-in price by game time skyrocketed to more than $1,000. Whether they paid face value or 50 times it, Red Sox fans lucky enough to hold a ticket stub for the game knew they were clutching a piece of history.
They delighted in each of Lackey's five strikeouts, cheered for all the catches on hard-hit balls and caterwauled when, in the fifth inning, Ellsbury got picked off first base and, after a rundown that included five throws, slid back to first safely. It was the Cardinals' night in a nutshell, and the Red Sox's season, too. For seven months, teams have chased Boston, and in the end, nobody, not even the great Cardinals, could catch them.