This time, New England cemeteries were not as busy as they were that incomparable night in 2004, when Red Sox fans impulsively flocked to the grave sites of loved ones to share the joy of a World Series title with those who had passed on without having witnessed such a wondrous event in their lifetimes.
What once seemed a miracle has become a thrice-in-a-decade’s-time occurrence: 2004, 2007 and now 2013, the Red Sox dispatching the St. Louis Cardinals in six games. Understandable to fear one day the onset of creeping Steinbrennerism -- that attitude of smothering arrogance that marks any season a failure that does not end in a championship.
Happily, that was not the case in 2013, when these Sox, of whom so little was expected after 2012’s last-place fiasco, captured the imagination not only with their ability to win, but by their capacity to delight -- bearded rogues who encountered no adversity big enough to sidetrack them from their avowed goals of playing every night as if their season depended on it, and to have fun while doing so. They trusted John Farrell, they believed in each other, and they swept us along in their brothers-in-arms exuberance.
And, in a season in which they also pledged their devotion to the wounded city that was their home -- regardless of whether they had come from Texas or the Dominican Republic or Japan -- we believed with all of our hearts that yes, it really can be more than just about the laundry.
Here is one man’s view of the Top 5 moments of the 2013 Red Sox season:
5. Sept. 20: Sox win the AL East
It was not Jon Lester’s most memorable outing of 2013, but none came attached with more meaning. The pitcher who had shouldered more than his share of blame for 2011’s September collapse and 2012’s meltdown completed the team’s worst-to-first odyssey, the first in franchise history, by beating the Blue Jays. The Sox left-hander’s performance (one run over seven innings), which resulted in his 100th major-league win, also foreshadowed his dominating October, when he established himself as the once and future ace of the Sox. Boston lost 93 games in 2012. This was win No. 94 en route to a major-league best 97 for the season.
4. Aug. 1: Sox score 6 in ninth to beat Seattle, 8-7
The Sox had 11 walk-off wins in the regular season. The last time they had more was in 1961, when they had 12 and fell just two short of the club record, set in 1940. None in 2013 topped this one. The Sox trailed the Mariners, 7-2, entering the ninth. Daniel Nava opened the inning with a walk. He ended it with a game-winning single, the Sox scoring six times on six hits and two walks to give them their second walk-off win in the span of 24 hours. “In a word, magical," manager John Farrell said. “It kind of happened like a microwave -- everything pretty instant," Jonny Gomes said.
3. Oct. 30: Sox win World Series
Three World Series titles in 10 years. Other than the Yankees, only two franchises since 1946 had matched that feat in the span of a decade: the Los Angeles Dodgers (1959-63-65) and the Oakland Athletics (1972-74). The Red Sox almost a century earlier had won four Series titles in the span of seven seasons. This was the first won at Fenway Park since 1918, 95 years ago. Shane Victorino punched a hole in his chest after hitting a bases-clearing double. John Lackey, who was breaking bad just two years earlier, came full circle and won the clincher. And when it ended, closer Koji Uehara and catcher David Ross, unsung newcomers to Boston last spring, partnered for the celebratory championship clinch, the perfect symbol of the improbability of it all.
2. April 20: “This is our f----- city.” Ortiz’s speech, Nava’s home run.
This game stands apart from perhaps any other in the team’s history, the Sox taking the field at Fenway just five days after two bombs tore through crowds of spectators at the Boston Marathon finish line and just hours after police killed one of two bombing suspects and apprehended the other. Equipment manager Tom McLaughlin arranged for the team to wear “Boston” stitched on their home whites, with a “B Strong" patch over the heart. The somber beauty of pregame ceremonies remembering the victims and honoring first responders struck a different chord, one of impassioned defiance, when Ortiz took the microphone. Neil Diamond showed up unannounced to sing “Sweet Caroline.” Daniel Nava hit a game-winning home run. And fear struck out.
It didn’t win the World Series; it didn’t even win a game. But this will be a moment that will rank with Carlton Fisk’s home run off the foul pole, Curt Schilling’s bloody sock, Hendu’s home run in Disneyland, Dave Roberts’s stolen base in Red Sox postseason lore.
The Sox were on life support. They had been held to one hit in a Game 1 shutout loss to the Detroit Tigers. They had struck out 13 times and managed just two hits against Tigers starter Max Scherzer through seven innings in Game 2. They trailed, 5-0, and were still down, 5-1, entering the eighth. No Sox team in the postseason had ever come back from four or more runs down entering the eighth. It had been done only five times by anyone in postseason history.
But with one out and nobody on, Will Middlebrooks doubled. Jacoby Ellsbury walked. One out later, Dustin Pedroia singled to load the bases, and brought Ortiz to the plate and Benoit out of the bullpen. Roughly 15 million people live in New England. After the fact, 14,999,000 boasted they knew Ortiz would hit a slam to tie the game, even though he had never hit a slam in October, and had last homered off Benoit -- never.
Ortiz said he was looking for something off-speed on the first pitch. Benoit threw a hanging splitter. Ortiz sent it on a line into the Sox bullpen, just beyond a lunging Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter and into the glove of bullpen catcher Mani Martinez. Hunter tumbled into the pen, legs akimbo, framed by the raised arms of the cop in the bullpen.
In a decade full of Big Papi delivering in the clutch, this is the one that cemented the statue.