- Gordon Edes, Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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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. In doing so, they also kept a promise.
To win a championship? No one in a Red Sox uniform was foolish enough to make that vow, especially after 2012’s last-place finish.
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.
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 pride -- Dropkick Murphys’ “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.
The constant in all three of those championship seasons? David Ortiz, who was given little chance Wednesday to burnish his MVP-worthy resume, the Cardinals finally opting for prudence and pitching around the Sox designated hitter. But the two times St. Louis walked him intentionally, Ortiz came around to score, first on Shane Victorino’s three-run double in the third inning, 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.
The other constant? The ownership troika of John W. Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino, who 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 roster space.
Cherington and his baseball operations staff did the rest, transforming 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.
It was only fitting then, that three such players 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 here at age 35 Wednesday night.
Lackey provided the night with its greatest dramatic tension, when manager John 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. Only 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.
Lackey lost Holliday after a seven-pitch at-bat, walking him on a full count and loading the bases. This time, there would be no turning back. 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.
Tazawa spared Farrell the ordeal of another second-guess by retiring Allen Craig on a hard-hit ground ball to second.
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.
The first two outs were fly balls to left fielder Jonny Gomes. 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.
Your 2013 World Series champions. The Boston Red Sox. The Redeem Team.
10hRandy Jennings, Special to ESPN.com
12hRandy Jennings, Special to ESPN.com
15hRandy Jennings, Special to ESPN.com
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1dRandy Jennings, Special to ESPN.com
2dRandy Jennings, Special to ESPN.com