Red Sox exhibiting necessary mojo to win Series
With stars aligning in clutch situations, Boston willing its way to championship
BOSTON -- If you're looking for numbers to show how the Boston Red Sox can win this World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, good luck. Then again, maybe the numbers tell the real story. Maybe the numbers tell you exactly why the Red Sox can win this World Series.
They batted just .202 in six American League Championship Series games. They got just two quality starts from their rotation. And yet, the Red Sox got by the Detroit Tigers anyway.
The Red Sox won three times by one run. They delivered the game-winning hit in the seventh inning or later three times. Every game seemed to turn on one swing of the bat or one pitch, and when the Red Sox needed something, they got it. And this is pretty much the way they drew it up.
Yep, these Red Sox are right on schedule. It goes all the way back to last offseason, when general manager Ben Cherington added 11 new players.
Not one of them -- not a single one of them -- would be considered a star. Did Cherington see things others didn't? Of course, he did.
He also had a vision for what he wanted his team to be. It was a vision based on both style and substance. He wanted a physically tough, mentally resilient team. He wanted a close team, a team that worked together and played together.
If you're rolling your eyes because, hey, this is professional sports, you've missed the whole point of this club.
"We're family," Jonny Gomes said.
Let's not play down the talent part of this deal. The Red Sox have gobs of talent, as much as anyone in the game. But the star power came from their returning players. From Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury. From Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.
To win an AL pennant, the stars had to perform like stars, and to a man, the Red Sox got what they needed from their primetime players.
Cherington filled in the rest of the roster with a certain kind of player. Good clubhouse guys. Big-time work-ethic guys. Some of them, like Gomes and David Ross, were role players. Others, like Mike Napoli, were better than their numbers might indicate.
Shane Victorino? He'd helped the Phillies win two National League pennants, but, coming off a down year, there was plenty of debate about how much productive baseball he had left in him.
Still, even after winning 97 regular-season games, leading the Majors in runs and doing pretty much everything right, only one of the new players would be considered a star.
Koji Uehara was signed to be a seventh- or eighth-inning reliever, a guy to help get the ball to closer Joel Hanrahan. After Hanrahan got hurt and then the next guy up, Andrew Bailey, got hurt, too, Red Sox manager John Farrell began handing the ball to Uehara to finish games.
He emerged as the AL's dominant closer in the second half of the season and closed out every Red Sox victory against the Tigers. He got a four-out save and a five-out save for a bullpen that allowed one earned run in 21 innings.
Uehara will be the same kind of presence in this World Series that Mariano Rivera once was for the Yankees. Because he's so dominant and so efficient, Farrell won't hesitate to call on him in the eighth inning. So the Cardinals will know that if they don't win it in the first six or seven innings, they're probably not going to win it.
And it's not just Uehara. The Cardinals have those big, young arms lined up for the late innings, but no bullpen is better than the Red Sox crew of Junichi Tazawa, lefty Crag Breslow and others. So if the Red Sox get what they think they're going to get from the rotation -- Lester, Buchholz, John Lackey and Jake Peavy -- they're in terrific shape.
There's also Fenway Park. Big advantage. It's not just that the fans are packed close to the field or that they're loud and passionate, and at times, intimidating. The Cardinals have loud, passionate fans, too. What the Cardinals don't have is a ballpark that plays unlike any other.
First, the Green Monster, with its odd bounces and short distance from home plate, can be a nightmare, not just for the left fielder (Matt Holliday ), but for the center fielder (Jon Jay ) figuring when to come in, when to play the bounce.
But if you're looking for the best reason the Red Sox can win this World Series, it's not in the ballpark or the bullpen or any of the numbers. It's that this club, these guys with their beards and their talk of family, has some magic going for it.
When it was winning time against the Tigers, the Red Sox did whatever they needed to do to win. They trailed Game 2 of the ALCS, 5-1, and were four outs from an 0-2 deficit at home when Ortiz drilled a game-tying, breath-taking, Tigers-crushing grand slam.
That single swing of the bat changed the direction of the entire series. From that point on, it seemed to be a matter of when, not if, for the Red Sox. Ortiz had just one single the rest of the series, but when his team most needed him, he did what the franchise guy is supposed to do.
So did Victorino. The Tigers were leading Game 6 by a 2-1 score and eight outs from handing the ball to Justin Verlander for Game 7 when Victorino stepped up with the bases loaded.
He lofted a grand slam onto the Green Monster, delivering another October moment for Red Sox Nation. He was 2-for-23 the rest of the series, and the numbers will tell you he didn't have a good ALCS. The Red Sox will tell you otherwise. The Red Sox will tell you he's a winning player, and that when it was time to step up and win the pennant, he stepped up and won it.
That's why the Red Sox can win this World Series. They're a team without a weakness, a team good enough to win an ALCS even when it doesn't play well across the board.
The Red Sox win because they hang in there, never back down and always think they'll write the ending they choose to write. That's what championship teams have done throughout the years, and this Red Sox team has that kind of vibe around it.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.