By Bill Burt
---- — BOSTON — Who would’ve thunk it?
Honestly, back in March, I’ll tell you how many. Maybe one.
“My expectations of our team didn’t change from last spring training to this one,” said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia before last night’s 6-1 clincher. “Our goal, your goal playing for the Red Sox every year, is to try to be at this point and win the World Series.”
OK, the other 10 million or so of us who live in the confines of Red Sox Nation had no such thoughts or premonitions. None.
And nobody could blame us.
Sure, we knew this team was going to be more likeable, with the acquisition of more than a half-dozen good guys, but the three most expensive acquisitions — Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli and Ryan Dempster — were coming off career-worst seasons.
Not only that, but in a sport that obsesses about percentages, there were enough question marks in key spots — starting pitching, bullpen, power hitting and manager — to pick the Red Sox for fourth or fifth place in the always-rugged American League East division.
And that’s just where most baseball people had them.
But we were all wrong.
It started with “Come back and talk to me on May 1.” Then the date was pushed back to June 1, the All-Star break in mid-July, then September 1 and the postseason.
In fact, it was argued every step of the way, versus Tampa Bay, Detroit and St. Louis, the Red Sox didn’t have the pitching to line up with all of them. It was a good argument.
But then the games were played, and the “Who’s Who” list of starting pitchers, most of whom are past, current or future Cy Young Award winners included Tampa Bay’s young guys of Matt Moore, David Price and Alex Cobb, followed by Detroit’s Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anabel Sanchez and, most recently, Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn.
With several of these pitchers flirting with no-hitters and striking out Red Sox batter after Red Sox batter the last three weeks, somehow it wasn’t enough.
“These games are nine innings,” said Red Sox left-fielder Jonny Gomes. “We play until the last out is made.”
It wouldn’t be right to credit the Red Sox pitching, which kept them in nearly every game of every series, allowing the offense to do its thing some time before the last out was made. If not for David Ortiz, Jon Lester’s two dominating World Series victories would be more than enough for MVP. And closer Koji Uehara, MVP of the ALCS, was every bit as dominating as the great Mariano Rivera was when he was at the top of the heap.
Speaking of pitching, last night’s clincher, in the irony of ironies, the guy who most embodies the Red Sox Bad (2011 and 2012) and Red Sox Great (2013), John Lackey, was the starting pitcher in the clinching game last night, two weeks after one of the greatest performances in his career in beating Verlander, 1-0. Well, he did it again, battling his way through 62/3 innings, this time with a lead, allowing only one run with virtually nothing left in his tank.
Last, but definitely, was one of the greatest World Series performances ever. Ortiz’s 11 hits in 15 official at bats, including two home runs, is unparalleled. He not only survived the National League experience, playing flawlessly at first base, but he wouldn’t let anything less than a World Series title suffice.
For those counting at home, that’s three titles for Ortiz, the same number as Tom Brady and Larry Bird. Pretty good company, eh?