Boston Strong

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The Cover 4.com presents you with Boston Strong! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

The last time the Boston Red Sox won the World Series at home was in 1918. Babe Ruth was pitching on that team. He was later traded, and created the Curse of the Bambino. This all changed after the 2013 World Series. Boston had many things to be happy about. When the World Series began, I believed that the Red Sox had the better players and the Cardinals had the better team. I was wrong. It wasn’t the prettiest World Series or the most exciting, but the storyline was poignant and fitting. After April’s Boston Marathon bombing, the Red Sox devoted the rest of the season to overcoming this disaster.  And the Red Sox overcame adversity in this World Series as well to come back and win three consecutive games to bring a championship title back to Boston.

Going into this matchup, the Red Sox were slight favorites to win it all, but everyone knew how capable the Cardinals team was. Both teams boasted clutch hitting and solid pitching all year, and this set up to be a pretty even and contested series. The pitchers were lined up, hitters rested and coaches prepared. The Cardinals and Red Sox had each won two World Series in the past  Decade. But Tony La Russa was not coaching against Terry Francona. A new generational rivalry was born with Mike Matheny and John Farrell as managers.

Game 1 ended shortly after it started. Adam Wainwright faced off against Jon Lester, a battle of aces.. This was supposed to be the tasty appetizer for an amazing entrée. However, the Cardinals came out flat and seemed scared. They committed two errors in the first two innings, including  botching a potential double play. This allowed the Red Sox to take a 5-0 lead after two innings and they cruised to a 8-1 victory. Mike Napoli had the big three-run double in the first and the tasty appetizer did not even make it around the table to serve everyone. It was a disappointing start from a competitive standpoint but a good omen for Boston supporters.

Game 2 featured Michael Wacha, Big Papi and some unusual plays. These three things would end up playing a huge role for the rest of the series.  Wacha was dealing like a used car salesman. Up 1-0 in the sixth, Big Papi David Ortiz belted a two-run homer to give the Sox the lead. However, the lead would evaporate in the next inning on a sacrifice fly. This bases loaded, one out sacrifice fly had the ball flying from right field, to the catcher and then into the stands past third base. Two runs scored on the play and one more came across when clutch Carlos Beltran singled in the next at-bat to make it 4-2 Cardinals. This was the final score.  An ugly series of events to give the Cardinals the game, but as they say, a win is a win is a win. The series all tied up like boy scout knot. Heading back to St. Louis for three games, the Cardinals seemed to have momentum.

The unusual plays did not stop there. In Game 3, the Cardinals jumped to a 2-0 lead against Jake Peavy in the first. The game was on cruise control until the fifth. The Red Sox tied the game with one run in the fifth and sixth. The see-saw battle continued when the Cardinals took a 4-2 lead on Matt Holliday’s double in the seventh..  However, the Red Sox quickly answered with clutch hitting by Xander Bogaerts to tie it at 4 in the eighth. Whew! I just felt my heart palpitate thinking about that game again. And I have not even got to the climax yet. Or the anticlimax.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Cardinals had runners on second and third with one out. Jon Jay hit a sharp grounder to second, but Dustin Pedroia alertly threw out Yadier Molina at home for the second out of the inning. This is where normal leaves the ballpark and drama dons a whole new wardrobe, or more appropriate, uniform. After Molina made the out, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia tried to throw out Allen Craig who went from second to third on the play. And similar to Game 2, the throw went wide and into the outfield. Craig broke for home like Forrest Gump in Vietnam while Daniel Nava fielded the ball in the outfield. Nava threw a bullet and Craig was tagged out at home. Extra innings, right? Wrong. Umpire Jim Joyce ruled obstruction on third baseman Will Middlebrooks and Craig was awarded home and the game ended in one of the most bizarre endings in World Series history. Both teams stormed home plate. The Red Sox were yelling at the umpire crew. The Cardinals were reluctant to embrace victory. The crowd was confused. The television audience waited for an explanation. Utter chaos. All in all, the correct call was made by the letter of the law, and the Cardinals had a 2-1 edge in the Series.

After an unusual ending to Game 3, the Red Sox found themselves with their backs against the wall in a pretty much must-win situation. The Red Sox had grown out their beards the entire season and a bearded man came to the rescue for Game 4. Jonny Gomes blasted a three-run homer to break a 1-1 tie in the sixth and that was all she wrote. The Red Sox won 4-2 and another abnormal play occurred to end the game. Kolten Wong was pinch-running in the bottom of the ninth and Beltran was up representing the tying run with two outs. However before he could get a crack at a good pitch, Koji Uehara picked off Wong at first to end the game. Wong made his appearance one to forget, and the theme of errors, great pitching and bizarre plays continued.  World Series tied 2-2. The plot was thickening. Announcers John Buck and Tim McCarver had clever stories to tell.

Game 5 was the most crucial game in the Series. Typically, the winner of this game takes it all and this trend did not disappoint. The aces were back on the mound and Lester continued where he left off. After Big Papi doubled in Pedroia in the first, Lester dominated on the mound. His only mistake was a mammoth of a home run surrendered to Matt Holliday in the fourth. He hit it so far that Bud Selig was able to grow a full beard before the ball landed. Knotted at one, the Sox had something brewing in the seventh. With Saltalamacchia’s throwing woes, veteran David Ross had gotten the nod as catcher in games four, five and six. And he and his beard delivered a game-winning double in the top of the seventh. The Sox tacked on one more on Jacoby Ellsbury’s single. With Lester and Uehara baffling the Cardinals’ bats, the Red Sox won 3-1 and the usually energetic St. Louis fans were dead silent. Those fans are baseball smart, and they knew that their Cardinal team had blown two huge opportunities to take control in the series.

Heading back to Boston, Wacha was due to take the mound in Game 6. Despite Wainwright being the team’s ace, it was Wacha who had been the Cardinals’ best pitcher in the playoffs. John Lackey was the starter for the Sox, the same Lackey that started and won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series for the Angels. The weather was cold and the Bostonians were anxious to win. The game creeped into the bottom of the third scoreless with 2 outs, when Shane Victorino came to bat with the bases loaded. The “Flying Hawaiian” proved Wacha’s mortality by lacing a double off the Green Monster in left to clear the bases. The Red Sox took a 3-0 lead and never looked back. They never had to. Stephen Drew smacked a home run and the Cardinals for the third consecutive game could not deliver the clutch hits. They continually set the table, but nobody wanted to eat. Lackey gave up only run and Uehara fittingly recorded the final out as the Red Sox won 6-1 and became the 2013 World Series champions. Babe Ruth somewhere smoked a cigar in tribute. Boston won in more ways than one.

The St. Louis Cardinals led the major leagues with a .330 batting average with runners in scoring position during the year but batted just a puny .214 during the World Series. Some would say it was because of great Boston pitching. Some would say the Cardinals bats picked a bad time to go into hibernation. Who knows  the real reason. Ortiz won the World Series MVP boasting a videogame-like .688 batting average. Given the events of the bombing during the Boston Marathon, this World Series had much more meaning than baseball for the city of Boston. Especially the way the Red Sox overcame a deficit, unprecedented events and an intimidating opposing ballpark. Just like their city during the crisis, the Red Sox were resilient, galvanized and determined.

This World Series might not be as celebrated as the one that broke the Curse of the Bambino in 2004, but its importance to the city is invaluable. The St. Louis Cardinals are young and will be back for many years to come. They ran into the beards of the Sox. Was it inopportune hitting? Great pitching? Or could it be fate?  Maybe it just was not in the Cards. I do know that this World Series was an amazing one to cap off one of the best baseball playoffs I can remember. The better teams won. In the end, the best team won. Congratulations Red Sox. Boston has a lot to be proud of.

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Paul Culley
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The New Red Sox Nation

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The Curse of the Bambino? That’s old news. The Red Sox now are the cream of the crop these days in the Major Leagues, which is a long way since their days of misery and woe. With the Sox finally breaking through and winning the World Series in  2004 and repeating in 2007, they began a new era in New England. Winning, however, leads to higher standards and expectations. If not handled correctly, you can lose your identity in this transitional process.

Look at the Chicago Cubs. They are nicknamed the lovable losers because losing is the expectation on the North Side of Chicago. Cubs fans accept the fact that the Cubs are not supposed to be good, and it is OK. When you go to a cheap horror film these days, you still enjoy the movie even though you know chances are you are not really going to get scared. Mistakes and bad breaks are supposed to happen at Wrigley Field, and this is the culture that has existed there since 1908. This same ideology existed for the people of Fenway Park, but not anymore for the Red Sox after breaking through in October. They had created a new standard of winning and could finally give the New York Yankees a run for their money, literally. However this new winning environment comes with dangerous territory.

The staple of the Red Sox teams that won  two World Series was grittiness, toughness and hustle. Nicknamed the idiots, led by caveman-looking Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar, this group of guys represented all hard-working class people. They were not pretty boys like Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. They sported beards, probably didn’t brush their teeth and grinded everything out like it was their last day on Earth. Instead of dating celebrities like Cameron Diaz and Jordana Brewster, most Red Sox players preferred bromances and men’s stags. You could tell. They had fun. They fought until the very end. And they won.

This hard-nosed persona however seemed to change over time. With winning comes fame and media attention. The phrase sell-out comes to mind when I think of the non-famous getting famous. Led by Terry Francona, the Red Sox became lazy and strayed away from the ways that brought them success. Those beards were being shaved making us realize why they weren’t dating those aforementioned. The inmates started to realize that they were good, and bought too much into their own hype. They lost their identity and started to run the asylum themselves.

They “shed their beard” when they lost Damon and Millar to free agency. Ironically Damon went to the Yankees, definitely not selling out (sarcasm intended). David Ortiz was still there, but steroid rumors were circling around his name like vultures to a desert carcass. Jonathan Papelbon was becoming more known for his media outrages on social topics than closing games. Josh Beckett and John Lackey had VIP access to the disabled list, finally showing the treads on their tires. Rumor had it that some of players would be drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during the games. Even for the idiots, that was dumb given this era of social media. From the naked eye, winning wasn’t as important as it used to be.

The Red Sox tried signing big free agents like Carl Crawford in a Yankee-like move, but this proved to be unsuccessful. They even invested in the Japanese phenom pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka. Sure he showed flashes of brilliance, but injuries and declining stuff yielded a poor return on investment. Injuries and blowing leads seemed to be the new theme for the Sox. The team chemistry was falling apart and it was plain for every fan to see. The team eventually fired Francona, who found a new home in broadcasting before landing another manager gig in Cleveland this year.

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In an effort to bring in a new voice for this team, the Red Sox hired former Mets manager Bobby Valentine last year. But despite his last name, there was very little love shared amongst the team. Valentine is a candid fellow, and openly criticized his players to the media often, which rubbed a lot of them the wrong way. And when he went after the heart and soul of the team in Dustin Pedroia, the fans started to turn against the new leader of the pack. Combined with more losing, the Valentine experiment was aborted after only one year. He has been rumored to attend some Red Sox games this year, but wears a fake moustache and glasses to disguise himself. However, the real disguise was looming over the Red Sox organization. Their new era of a winning expectation was not working, and the machine needed to be tweaked.

The Red Sox went back to the basics. Out with the old and in with the new. They shipped out Adrian Gonzalez, Crawford and Beckett to the Dodgers. Papelbon signed with the Phillies. The got less flashy and started to revamp their team to resemble more of those idiots. They signed Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino as undervalued free agents and they have been a perfect fit in Boston. They went from having one Drew brother in J.D. to another one in Stephen. They went within the division to hire their new manager.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Toronto Blue Jays

The new sheriff in town was John Farrell. Farrell is a strong silent type who leads by example, and is now a leading candidate for Manager of the Year. Big Papi is back, crushing home runs (and telephones), leading this team to a playoff berth with co-captain Pedoria. They have homegrown prospects in Daniel Nava, Will Middlebrooks, and Felix Doubront, contributing to the cause. Their pitching is led by ace Jon Lester, who is pitching like Sandy Koufax. Lackey must have gone on the Subway diet because he is thin, healthy and throwing cheese to the hitters. Their bullpen is comprised of a bunch of no-namers who just come in, gets outs and do their job. They acquired veteran Jake Peavy at the trade deadline, a common staple of any contending team. More symbolically, the beards are back. Johnny Gomes and Napoli are the new cavemen for the team, illustrating that tough and gritty mentality of the team is back in full force.

The Boston Red Sox have one of the best records in baseball this year. They are running away with the AL East and set up for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and another World Series title. They are playing fundamental baseball. Working the count, hustling, cheering for teammates and most importantly, having fun doing it. The players are no longer bigger than the game, but vice versa. The Red Sox are resembling those teams that broke the Curse of the Bambino. They dropped the tuxedos and Gucci sunglasses and put on their cargo jeans and working boots. They lost their identity and tried to be a group of people they were definitely not. Leave those shenanigans to the Yankees boys. They might not be the idiots we fell in love with in years past, but they are on their way to re-branding a new version of hard work, team play and scrappiness for Red Sox Nation.

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Oh yeah, tell your friends too!

Paul Culley
Sports Activist for The Cover 4
http://www.facebook.com/thecover4
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