It all looked so different a year ago.
Then, the Boston Red Sox ended bottom of the American League East in one of their worst seasons in memory.
On Wednesday night, Fenway Park was rocking as they beat the St Louis Cardinals 6-1 to secure a 4-2 victory in the World Series, and their third Major League Baseball championship since they ended a 86-year drought in 2004.
“Hey, we’re world champs, can’t believe it,” said Shane Victorino, one of veterans who joined the Red Sox this year for their improbable run.
Victorino led the way with a three-run double in the third and a bases-loaded single in the fourth for four runs batted in.
David “Big Papi” Ortiz was named Most Valuable Player of the series, going 11-for-16 at the plate for a .688 batting average with two home runs and six RBIs.
|Relief pitcher Koji Uehara ends the game and the series by striking out Matt Carpenter [AP]|
Closer Koji Uehara struck out Matt Carpenter for the final out, setting off wild celebrations on the field and in the stands for the first World Series clinched in front of the home fans at Fenway Park since their 1918 championship.
It was an emotional climax for a team that had finished last in the American League East in 2012 with a 69-93 record, and had vowed to “B strong” in solidarity with a city shaken by deadly bomb attacks at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in April.
“What happened to this city, we wanted to do something special and make everybody happy and proud of their team in the toughest of times and hopefully we did that,” said Dustin Pedroia. “We love each other and that’s why we’re here.”
The Red Sox became the only team other than the 1991 Minnesota Twins to go from last place in one season to World Series champions the next year.
While Victorino and the Red Sox did their damage against the Cardinals’ 22-year-old rookie sensation Michael Wacha, Boston starter John Lackey held St Louis in check.
The big righthander went 6-2/3 innings, giving up one run and scattering nine hits as the Cardinals failed to capitalise on opportunities, stranding nine runners on base.
Ortiz, 37, capped an already stellar career with his MVP award.
Already a cult figure in New England, the Red Sox slugger was an unstoppable force during the series, smashing two home runs and batting a remarkable .733 (11-for-15) with six runs batted in for the six-game series.
This is a team that we have a lot of players with heart. We probably don't have the talent that we have in '07 and '04, but we have guys that are capable to stay focused and do the little things.
“I know I’m one of the forces for this ballgame, and I like to take things personal, you know,” he told reporters after his team mates sprayed him with champagne.
“And that’s been my whole career, a challenge. I wasn’t trying to be the guy, but I know I got to get something done to keep the line moving.
“And thank God, everything worked out well, and I don’t even have to do anything today, I guess, the rest of the team take over.”
By Wednesday’s game six at Fenway Park, the Cardinals had virtually given up on stopping Ortiz and elected to walk him four times as he completed one of the most dominant batting performances ever seen in a Fall Classic.
“He’s as hot as anyone you’re going to see this time of year,” said Mike Matheny, the St Louis manager. “We tried to make tough pitches in tough situations, tried to pitch around him at times.”
The lefthander, who also won the World Series with the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007, set the tone for Boston’s victory when he hit the first home run of the series in game one at Fenway Park.
In game two, Ortiz smashed a 375-feet homer over the ‘Green Monster’ wall off Cardinals rookie sensation Michael Wacha.
But it was his inspirational pep talk in the dugout in game four, with his team 2-1 behind the series, that proved as important as anything he did with the bat.
Jonny Gomes belted a three-run homer and the Red Sox won the game to tie the series. They then won the next two to clinch their first title in front of their own fans at Fenway Park in 95 years.
“This is a team that we have a lot of players with heart,” Ortiz said. “We probably don’t have the talent that we have 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 ball club like that, that’s special.”