I won’t mention everyone, but here are some of the Boston Red Sox who left indelible impressions on me this post-season:
John Lackey: His former pitching coach with the Angels, Padres manager Bud Black, tells a great story about how he bumped into Lackey at the start of the season. Both the Padres and Red Sox opened in New York and stayed in the same hotel. When Black saw Lackey in the lobby – the new, thinner Lackey – he said, “Wow, Lack!”
Black said it was obvious that Lackey had worked hard not only to rehabilitate his elbow from Tommy John surgery, but also to improve his conditioning. In fact, Lackey looked so thin, Black thought that he appeared taller than his listed 6-foot-6. Lackey, Black said, “had a good look in his eye. There was just something different about him.”
He reshaped his body, he reshaped his reputation. The crowd at Fenway chanted his name in the seventh inning of the Game 6 clincher, then gave him a standing ovation when he left the mound. Lackey, reviled during his early years in Boston, tipped his cap – something veteran Red Sox writers thought they never would see him do at Fenway.
Dustin Pedroia: He had faith in the team even in spring training. In mid-March, Pedroia went to dinner with his agents, Cherington and the team’s owners. They were discussing his eventual contract extension, but he made it clear, even then, that he expected the Red Sox to win – and win big.
“He spoke out very forcefully,” club president Larry Lucchino said. “I was not surprised to hear it from him. I was surprised at the certainty with which he spoke. He was certainly very bold and very bullish about the quality of the team. He was one of the early voices who saw which way the wind was blowing.”
David Ortiz: The off-field moment I will remember most is a conversation that Ortiz had with A.J. Pierzynski, who worked for FOX during the post-season. Ortiz and Pierzynski go way back – they were teammates at Class A with the Twins’ organization in 1997.
Pierzynski was teasing Ortiz that their old Twins teammate, Torii Hunter, just missed catching the DH’s grand slam in Game 2 of the ALCS. The home run was perhaps the turning point of the Red Sox’s post-season. And Ortiz was having none of Pierzynski’s talk.
“It was a missile!” he shouted, his voice booming through the clubhouse. “A missile!”
Then he dropped his voice.
“I was scared,” Ortiz admitted, chuckling.
Stephen Drew: Who knew he was this good a defender? Not me, but Sox third-base coach Brian Butterfield, who instructs the Red Sox’s infielders, said he had never worked with a shortstop who attacks the ball as ferociously as Drew – and that is high praise from a coach who mentored a young Derek Jeter.
Drew’s nickname is “Dirt.” Butterfield called him, “Dirty Laundry.” And when Drew would make a stunning play, Butterfield and others on the bench would shout, “Launderizing!”
Jonny Gomes: Not sure where to begin, but the last thing I expected during my on-field interview with Gomes during the Red Sox’s celebration was for him to launch into a blistering tirade against sabermetrics.
Before we went on camera, I congratulated Gomes. He told me, “10-1 with me in the lineup in the post-season. Start with that.” So, I figured what the heck, if that’s the question he wants, fine, I would follow with my own. And then … goodness.
I also will remember standing with Gomes at the batting cage when Farrell informed him that he was starting Game 4 in place of Victorino, who was suffering from lower back tightness.
I told Gomes he probably would hit a home run. He didn’t disagree. And then, in the sixth inning, Gomes hit a three-run shot that helped the Sox tie the Series.
Shane Victorino: That same night, Victorino greeted his teammates as they entered the clubhouse triumphant, shouting, “I’m the MVP of the game! Great decision! It worked!” Meaning, if he had not been a late scratch, then Gomes never would have hit his home run.
Victorino said as he exchanged “knuckles” with his teammates, they told him, “Way to stay out of it! Way to stay out of it!”
He was back in it Wednesday night for the first time since Game 3 and twice delivered with the bases loaded, going 2-for-4 with four RBIs.
Jake Peavy: Well, he won’t have to start Game 7. Peavy would have relished the opportunity, but he told me before Wednesday night’s game that more than anything he wanted Lackey to succeed – and the Red Sox to close the sucker out.
Peavy, a 12-year-veteran, was playing in his first Series. He said in recent days that he was “biting the heads off” of family members, explaining that he was comfortable only with his teammates, who understood what he was experiencing.
“Never in my life have I wanted something as bad as I want this,” he said.
Ryan Dempster and David Ross: Think these guys are happy that they signed with the Red Sox as free agents? Dempster is in his 16th season, Ross his 12th. And both are World Series champions for the first time.
Ross’ season was especially poignant. He twice went on the disabled list with concussions, missing a total of about 2½ months. But at age 36, he started the final three games of the Series, in part due to Jarrod Saltalamacchi’s struggles offensively and defensively.
Daniel Nava: His .894 OPS against right-handers was the ninth-highest among American Leaguers during the regular season, and the Cardinals had an all-right-handed rotation. Still, Nava started only two of the six games during the Series, with Farrell often preferring Gomes.
Perhaps it’s because of his modest baseball background – Nava was an equipment manager at Santa Clara, and once was cut by an independent league team – but he did not offer a hint of disappointment. In fact, he said that he and Gomes joked about their time-share arrangement, incredulous that anyone would think either was upset.
Ben Cherington: People will talk about his spectacular trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, (in which ownership played a large role) and his terrific free-agent signings last off-season. The people who work for Cherington, though, talk about more about his human qualities, his dignity, his honesty.
Not once last season did Cherington complain, even privately, about Bobby Valentine, a manager who was not his choice. Quite the contrary, one Sox executive said. Cherington tried to make the relationship work until the end.
John Farrell: He might never be forgiven in Toronto for calling the Red Sox’s position his “dream job,” but guess what? It was Farrell’s dream job because of the relationships he had formed with Sox players and executives during his time as pitching coach.
Ortiz identified Farrell as the single biggest reason for the team’s turnaround. That might be overstating it, but Farrell’s communication and preparation earned him immense respect, and the players understood that he had only one agenda – winning.
Brian Butterfield: On the off-day before Game 3, the Sox’s third-base coach took a lap around the field at Busch Stadium, inspecting the various nooks and crannies, trying to figure out which ways balls would bounce off the walls.
Butterfield said he keeps notes on such things, but had not been to Busch since 2011, when he was with the Jays. His attention to detail was typical of Farrell and his staff. Butterfield even noticed that the netting to protect one of the sound dishes behind home plate was tight while the other was loose. That obviously would affect the way the ball bounced off them, and he pointed out the difference to Saltalamacchia during the workout.
The Red Sox did the little things, they did the big things.