Victorino a difference-maker, start to finish

BOSTON -- The Red Sox of 2013 had many tone-setting moments. Shane Victorino provided one as the offensive star in their season opener, an 8-4 win over the New York Yankees that saw Boston's new right fielder record a pair of hits and drive in three runs.

Still, he was a bad signing on a team that had no shot, right? The next game he had three more hits and another RBI in another Red Sox win. But he was, at $13 million and coming off a down year, overpaid and a real stretch for a front office just looking for some sort of change at many positions. Right?

Little did many observers know that Victorino was beginning to pen his chapter of the drama that has become the 2013 Red Sox. Fitting, then, that he provided a nice bookend to his tale with another big night at the plate when it counted most, ripping a three-run double and driving in four runs overall to spark Boston to a World Series-clinching 6-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night.

Minutes after the victory, as those who brought Victorino to town accepted a trophy and accolades upon a stage set up on the field at Fenway Park, the star of Game 6 was seen wandering the outfield with his kids, a smile on a his face and a spring in his step. He told reporters he would try to catch up with them later, content at the time to take in the moment with the ones he loves most.

Through a magical campaign, Victorino's teammates have joined that group, and some offered their praise following the clincher.

"Vic's got so many big hits for us, you just expect it," said Dustin Pedroia. "He's always up in huge situations, always coming through. The way he's played defense all year, he's a baseball player. A winning player."

There is not one specific part of Victorino's game that severely outshines all the rest. He can hit for average, has some pop, plays defense with the best of them and can certainly steal a base. As Pedroia said, he is simply a winning player, and perhaps the best example of what made this year's version of the Red Sox tick.

Not long after those stat-stuffing efforts in April, the physical issues began to mount for Victorino, who would be forced to play through leg and back issues, to name just a couple of his myriad ailments. He accounted for some lower-body issues by going the unorthodox route of abandoning his customary switch-hitting style. Sure enough, he shined batting right-handed against right-handed pitchers.

Victorino continued to power through the pain into the postseason, capping an otherwise difficult American League Championship Series with a go-ahead grand slam in the decisive sixth game. That stands as one of the big blows delivered by the Boston bats in the playoffs, with his three-run double in the third inning Wednesday night not far behind. It was, once again, a tone-setter that stuck the first nail in the Cardinals' coffin and allowed Victorino to silence the talk that he had finally hit the wall. Remember, Victorino had missed the previous two games because of a back strain and was dropped to the sixth spot in the order upon his return, looking to build upon an 0-for-10 showing thus far in the series.

He did, and with a flourish, again defining the makeup of a team that plowed through every obstacle in its way to achieve glory.

"It's just symbolic of what this group has been about all year," general manager Ben Cherington said. "They're so well prepared, individually and as a team, so it doesn't matter how bad a guy is going or if we're in a tough stretch as a team, they're going to be prepared for that opportunity if it comes.

"Sure enough, Victorino has two huge at-bats when he had been struggling a little bit. A huge factor in two huge wins in the postseason. I could mention 12 other guys who did the same thing. It reflects how well prepared they are as a group and individuals."

The Sox have Victorino for two more years at the same price, which now seems like a bargain compared to the sums doled out for some of the big bats that have fizzled in recent years in places like New York and Anaheim. Boston gets a complete, winning ballplayer and someone who was on board from the start.

Given what transpired at Fenway Park in 2012, that last point cannot be discounted. The Sox needed players who could buy in to the mission, rather than lament their lot in life for being a part of an organization seemingly in turmoil.

"For me, when I signed here, I knew what this was about," Victorino said before Wednesday's game. "It wasn't just a bump in the road the last couple of years. And I didn't look at it any differently. Even though they were in last place, I knew this was a first-class organization. They're about winning. They want to be at the top."

Hours later, after the win, he was reminded that he had predicted earlier in the year that the team could win it all.

"Making a comment like that, I guess I looked at what was around, the team that was around me, the guys around me and that's probably why I said that," Victorino said. "The pieces of the puzzle were here."

Victorino described Fenway Park as "the cathedral of baseball," and the manner in which he soaked in the World Series triumph with his family was like that of a parishioner strolling out of another lovely service. He had put the finishing touches on a mission to prove the doubters wrong, a mission that began on Opening Day.