BOSTON -- After that epic September collapse of 2011 and the six-month-long disaster with Bobby Valentine that was the last-place 2012 season, there was little reason to think the U.S. Secretary of State would be on the field at Fenway Park talking to players this October ... unless it was to help resolve another crisis in the Boston clubhouse.
OK, gentlemen. Then we're agreed. No more media grandstanding from a Red Sox manager and no more fried chicken in the clubhouse. The crumbs stick in your beard.
And yet there John Kerry was Saturday night, standing off to the side virtually alone with Shane Victorino, congratulating the Game 6 hero while baseball officials presented the Red Sox with the American League championship trophy. The former Massachusetts senator, who once ran for president and now negotiates with leaders around the globe, was imparting words of wisdom to the man known as the Flyin' Hawaiian.
"I told him, 'You've got Carlton Fisk and Bucky Dent and all those names in history -- and you're in there now,'" Kerry said. "It's one of those things that will stay forever. People will say, 'Do you remember?'"
Oh yes, Boston fans will long remember this night -- and this season. They will not, however, use a certain expletive when referring to Victorino as they do Dent. Unlike Dent, Victorino did not drive a dagger into their hearts with an opposing home run. He instead lifted them by virtually replicating David Ortiz's feat against the Detroit bullpen, with a seventh-inning grand slam that rallied the Red Sox to a 5-2 victory over the Tigers in the American League Championship Series finale.
"Boston, Boston Strong!" Victorino shouted to the cheering Fenway crowd at the start of a live TV interview immediately after the victory. He ended the interview by repeating it. "Boston Strong!"
Along perhaps with "No Razors," those are the words that captured the Red Sox season.
"Given everything that happened this year and where we were last year, this is a one of the greatest turnarounds in history. It's amazing," Kerry said. "With the marathon bombing and everything, I think the team has always represented the heart of Boston. And Fenway Park, too. This is a great moment. Look around -- everyone is still here. Nobody has left."
Nobody had. And they will be back Wednesday for Game 1 of the World Series against St. Louis.
Kerry probably will not, though. He said he is leaving Sunday on another trip in search of, among other things, solutions in the Middle East. He might want to get some pointers from Red Sox manager John Farrell, who took over a last-place, 93-loss team and somehow guided it into a 97-win American League champion.
"When it got special was Day 1 of spring training," Victorino said. "We came in with the mindset that we're all going to go out and give it our best. Take that one at-bat at a time, one pitch at a time, one game at a time. From spring training, it's continued."
Indeed. The Red Sox grind out each and every at-bat, working the count until their beards grow another scraggly quarter-inch and the pitcher's arm starts to howl for Advil. This was epitomized both by Xander Bogaert's three plate appearances against Detroit starter Max Scherzer -- the rookie fell behind 0-2, 1-2 and 1-2 but worked the count full each time and delivered two walks, a double and two runs -- and by Victorino's 0-2 grand slam.
"That summed up the whole season," left fielder Jonny Gomes said.
It pretty much summed up this series as the Red Sox figured out how to win when you face the likely Cy Young winner. It's really pretty simple. Just work the count until Scherzer is forced to leave the game, then hit a grand slam off someone in the Detroit bullpen. That's what happened in Game 2 when Scherzer left with a 5-1 lead after seven innings and Ortiz tied the game with an eighth inning grand slam. And it's what happened in Game 6 on Saturday.
Scherzer took a 2-1 lead into the seventh inning, reached 110 pitches and turned the game over to the bullpen with one out and runners at first and second. A costly Jose Iglesias error on what should have an inning-ending, double-play grounder loaded the bases and brought up the no-longer-switch-hitting Victorino.
Victorino signed with the Red Sox after a rather disappointing season with the Phillies and Dodgers last year. He gave up hitting from the left side when he hurt his back in early September. He gave it another try in Game 5, but went 0-for-5 and gave it up again. "We're squashing that for this year," he said.
So he went up against right-handed reliever Jose Veras batting right-handed. Veras threw two curveballs for strikes, the first looking, the second fouled off -- then, as the reliever has a tendency to do, tried to throw a third curve past him. That was a curve too many. Victorino connected with the pitch and the fans rose to their feet in anticipation then celebration as they watched it soar toward and then over the Green Monster.
"The first thought was get enough air to tie the game," Victorino said. "And then I thought this could get up over the wall. All the emotions went through my mind … I was definitely excited running around the bases, the pounding in in my chest. I hope the Tigers understand it was a special moment for me, for the city.
"It was a special moment. It's been a special year."
It certainly has been. It was a season that began with so few expectations outside the clubhouse in April. It included a 3-2 Patriots Day victory over Tampa Bay just before the tragic Boston Marathon bombing. It included the Ortiz speech -- "This is our f---ing city!" -- the day the Red Sox returned to Fenway. And it included so many other moments that, like Victorino's slam and another postseason Game 6, will be remembered for many years.
"This is the best city I've ever played in," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "Regardless of that happening or not, this means a lot to them. But I think when you get attacked on your home turf like that, it's a feeling of pride. And everything that 'Boston Strong' says represents what this city is about."