BOSTON -- For six months, it has been the rallying cry of a city and its most beloved institution, coating sorrow with resolution, resilience and hope.
And Wednesday night in Fenway Park, "B Strong," the message carved so lovingly on the Fenway lawn by groundskeeper Dave Mellor before the postseason began, became Boston Strongest.
Ninety-five years after they last won a World Series at home and 198 days after a pair of bombs shredded the fabric of the cherished Boston tradition known as the marathon, the Boston Red Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 6-1 to win the 109th World Series and join the 1991 Minnesota Twins as the only teams to win a Series after finishing in last place the year before.
"Are you stunned?" asked owner John W. Henry, confessing to that feeling while Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes rushed past in his combat helmet, waving a huge red flag as if in the battle scene of "Les Miserables."
The Sox not only won, but they kept a promise. To win a championship? No one in a Red Sox uniform had been foolish enough to make that vow, especially after 2012's 93-loss fiasco.
Their collective pledge, symbolized by the rough whiskers they wore on hard faces, was of a more fundamental nature, simple yet powerful: to play each game like it was the only one that mattered, and to give the town a team that it could happily wrap its arms around again.
"I don't think a win-loss record sums up how we care about this city and what we rallied around,'' Gomes said. "I'll tell you what, I don't think we put Boston on our back, I think we jumped on their back. They wouldn't let us quit."
They succeeded on all counts, and on a chilly October night that began with a brush of history (Series legends Carlton Fisk and Luis Tiant threw out first pitches) and an anthem of local pride (Dropkick Murphys' "I'm Shipping Up to Boston"), this team claimed its own place in the hearts of a region rewarded with its third World Series title in a span of 10 years.
"I think everybody came here with that intent," manager John Farrell said. "Like I said, rewrite their own story for the returning players, and for the guys that came in through free agency. They committed to one another. We just tried to make it as simple as possible, prepare as well as we could and find a way to win. This is a group of baseball players that are winning players."
The constant in all three of those championship seasons? David Ortiz, who was given little chance Wednesday to burnish his MVP résumé, the Cardinals finally opting for prudence and pitching around the Sox DH. But on two of the three occasions St. Louis walked him intentionally, Ortiz came around to score, first on Shane Victorino's three-run double in the third inning, and the second time on Victorino's single in a three-run fourth, which began with the most improbable hit of October: a leadoff home run by Stephen (4-for-51) Drew.
"I think that this may be the most special of all the World Series that I have been a part of," said Ortiz, who finished the Series with a .688 batting average (11-for-16) and .760 on-base percentage (19-for-25). "This is a team that we have a lot of players with heart. We probably don't have as much talent that we had in '07 and '04, but we have guys that are capable to stay focused and do the little things.
"And when you win with a ballclub like that, that's special."
The other constant? The ownership troika of Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino. They took accountability for last season's disaster, shouldering the blame for the misbegotten hiring of manager Bobby Valentine, then rectifying a misshapen roster in one spectacular swoop, working hand in hand with general manager Ben Cherington to pull off the megadeal with the Dodgers that freed up $262 million in salary and roster space.
"Any time you win a World Series is a tremendous satisfaction," Henry said. "So much goes into it. So many people working so hard. They're the unsung heroes of world championships -- your scouting staff, your medical team, which did such a tremendous job getting Papi on the field in April and May and June. The coaching staff is the best in baseball. It's tremendously satisfying. It's so hard to beat out 29 teams.
"And we saw some of the toughest competition I've ever seen, the toughest pitching I've ever seen -- Tampa, Detroit, St. Louis."
Cherington and his baseball operations staff, unchained from cumbersome contracts, transformed a clubhouse of discontent into a bastion of strength, manned by what Lucchino likes to call a "band of brothers," many of whom bore recent scars of disappointment and a determination to prove their value anew.
"The credit this year goes to Ben, goes to John [Farrell], and to these guys who worked so hard," Henry said. "I've never seen guys work harder to get to this point."
It was only fitting then, that three players with tarnished reputations would seize the night as their own Wednesday -- pitcher John Lackey, shortstop Drew and outfielder Victorino, who had gone hitless in 10 Series at-bats since hitting a Game 6 grand slam to clinch the ALCS against the Tigers until he cracked Cardinals rookie Michael Wacha with a wall-denting double that cleared the bases in the third for the first three runs of the game.
Lackey completed a personal transformation from pariah in his adopted home to Series conqueror, bookending his Series-winning Game 7 effort as an Angels rookie in 2002 with another command performance at age 35 on Wednesday night.
"His turnaround mirrors that of this organization," Farrell said.
Lackey provided the night with its greatest dramatic tension, when Farrell emerged from the dugout to relieve him with two on in the seventh. The scene has been replayed many times this season: a scowling Lackey taking it as a personal affront to be asked to give up the ball. But this time, as Lackey could be seen mouthing the words "This is my guy," Farrell shockingly relented, allowing him to pitch to Cardinals slugger Matt Holliday.
"I'll tell you what, I can't use the words he used while I was at the mound," Farrell said with a chuckle, "but I'll tell you what, he was so adamant and he had such a good track record against Matt Holliday, he talked me into it. 'I got this guy, I got plenty left,' and you know what? In that moment, I'm not taking that away from him."
Said Lackey: "Finally won one, I guess."
Watching from the dugout was third baseman Will Middlebrooks. "That gave me goose bumps," he said. "He pitched his butt off. He has all year for us. He's been a leader in the clubhouse. Couldn't ask for a better guy."
Lackey lost Holliday (1-for-13 lifetime versus the Sox right-hander) after a seven-pitch at-bat, walking him on a full count and loading the bases. This time, there would be no turning back, as Farrell replaced Lackey with Junichi Tazawa. And Lackey, for the first time in memory, lifted his cap in acknowledgment of a crowd that once booed him pitilessly, but now roared its approval, 38,447 strong.
"This means a lot," Lackey said. "It's going to be a lot of fun when I can get out of here and party with my team."
Tazawa spared Farrell the ordeal of another second-guess by retiring Allen Craig on a hard-hit ground ball to first.
With the crowd chanting, "Ko-ji, Ko-ji," in the ninth, it was left to Boston's accidental closer, Koji Uehara, to finish off the Cardinals. "I don't know if I've ever felt more comfortable with another teammate on the mound," Lackey said. "That says a lot."
The first two outs were fly balls to Gomes in left. With flashbulbs popping like fireflies from every corner of this ancient edifice, and the team owners in the front row next to the Sox dugout, it ended with Uehara striking out Matt Carpenter, leaping into the arms of catcher David Ross and pointing skyward in a spasm of pure joy.
"We knew we let a lot of people down [last season]," Cherington said. "I let people down. We as a group let people down. We weren't near what we wanted to be, on the field, off the field. But we were committed to get back to what we wanted to be as quickly as we could. We have a remarkable group of people in that clubhouse, who truly put winning first, put each other first, and had each other's backs for nine months, from spring training to October."
Your 2013 World Series champions. The Boston Red Sox. The Redeem Team.