This Time Is Special

Boston sports has won eight titles in the past 12 years, lost another four times in the finals and lost another six times in the conference finals. Needless to say, this is a golden age for our teams. But Wednesday night, when the Red Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 6-1 to capture their eighth World Series title, was different. It was special.

To understand why, you have to get inside the mind of a Bostonian, something that’s not easy to do. Boston isn’t the biggest city in the U.S., it’s not the most important economically and doesn’t have the best skyline. But almost everyone from Boston is loyal to the bone. If you’ve ever met someone from the city, you probably have seen them become fiercely defensive over any slight to it. Bostonians walk around with a chip on their shoulder and are always ready to prove their city’s worth.

That’s where sports come in.

Sports give Boston the chance to claim victory, to clearly defeat New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and every other city across this country. It’s the opportunity to stand up to the Evil Empire, point at the scoreboard and say, “We’re the best.” We can raise a banner, cheer on the duck boats and know that we are unequivocally better than everyone else in America at something. It’s a point of immense pride for Bostonians.

This is why Boston fans seem to be everywhere. It’s why 3.2 million people flooded the streets in 2004 to cheer on a bunch of idiots, and it’s why millions more will do so later today. It’s why 86 percent of televisions on in Boston on Wednesday were tuned to the game. Whether or not you agree with the meaning Bostonians place on their sports teams, that meaning is real.

This brings us to the 2013 Red Sox. More than any team in recent memory – including the 2004 Sox – this team encapsulated what it means to be a Bostonian. They connected with the community on a unique level. They were underdogs in the fullest sense of the word. Few writers chose the Sox to make the playoffs, much less win the AL East and the World Series. After a disastrous 2012 season that saw them finish in last place and trade away their high-priced free agent acquisitions, 2013 was shaping up to be more of a rebuilding year than one in which they would vie for a world championship.

On an individual level, the players on this team were scrappy, underdog overachievers as well. Nearly every single one has a story. There’s Daniel Nava who went undrafted, hit a grand slam on the first pitch he saw in the majors, and then wasn’t even invited to the major league camp in 2012. This year, he surprisingly made the roster and had a great season. John Lackey was the scapegoat for the Sox’s miserable 2011 campaign, underwent Tommy John surgery and came back to have a terrific year in 2013. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz both had rocky, injury ridden seasons in 2012 to come back and pitch like aces this year. Pedroia tore a ligament in his thumb during the first game of the season and fought through it all year. Big Papi was written off in 2010, missed half of 2012 and came back to have one of the best World Series performances in history. Koji Uehara was never supposed to be this team’s closer and at 38-years-old, he pitched nearly perfectly in that role. Jonny Gomes is a career .244 hitter, but was the hero of game four. The list goes on.

This team wasn’t built around superstars. It was built around heart, will, toughness and perseverance. On paper, this isn’t the best team in baseball, but that’s why we play the game. This team played all year with a chip on its shoulder, with a point to prove and they came out every night ready to do whatever it took to win. That’s the reason this team built such a deep, personal connection with Red Sox Nation.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, the players on the team took it upon themselves to become a focal point in the community, but they didn’t want the media attention that came along with it. All they wanted to do was to help people heal. The team still had to earn back the trust of fans that it had lost the previous year, but the foundation of a deep connection between the city and its team began with the player’s commitment to be a force for good in the Boston community, on and off the field.

As this relationship grew stronger over the summer and into October, it was only fitting that the players would get to celebrate the pinnacle of the year with their fans. It was only fitting that this would be the first team to clinch the World Series in Fenway Park in 95 years. For Boston, this was a celebration decades in the making. It didn’t break any curses, but it represented everything that Bostonians see and believe in themselves. It was a moment for a team of dirt dogs to share with its resilient fans.

That’s why this title is so special.


Joe Girardi’s Message to His Team: Support A-Rod

Giardi made sure his team stuck up for A-Rod.

Giardi made sure his team stuck up for A-Rod.

It was coming at some point. The hatred for Alex Rodriguez is palpable throughout all of baseball. Players hate that their MLBPA dollars are going to his defense. And with the Red Sox and Yankees playing this weekend, it was all but certain that A-Rod would get plunked at least once. After two clean games, Ryan Dempster took it upon himself to take up the task. In the second inning, with no one out and no one on base, Dempster threw the first pitch behind Rodriguez’s back, then threw two more balls and, with a 3-0 count, hit him in the back. Sox manager John Farrell can claim otherwise as much as he wants, but the pitch was certainly intentional.

Home plate umpire Brian O’Nora warned both teams immediately, but did not eject Dempster. The benches briefly cleared, but the players never came together. Yankees manager Joe Girardi was incensed. He got in O’Nora’s face, screaming at the umpire and throwing his hat in disgust. Girardi was quickly ejected, but his point was clear: Alex Rodriquez is a member of the New York Yankees and players stick up for their teammates. After rumors surfaced last week that A-Rod had turned over evidence that implicated other MLB players in the Biogenesis scandal, including teammate Francisco Cervelli, it was fair to wonder how even his own teammates would treat him. Rodriguez has always been an outcast in the clubhouse, but if he had snitched on a teammate, would players even support him when he inevitably got beaned?

The answer is yes. The dugouts and bullpens cleared briefly, but the main action was Girardi’s tirade against O’Nora. He knew Dempster hit A-Rod on purpose and wanted the Sox starter ejected from the game. But the real reason for his explosion was to show his team that no matter what A-Rod has done, he’s still the starting third basemen for the New York Yankees and as such, they will defend him. They can ignore him in the clubhouse and after the game, but on the diamond, teammates protect each other. Period. Girardi sent that message loud and clear.

Pedroia Demonstrates His Leadership

Anyone who hasn’t seen David Ortiz’s outburst last night should watch immediately:

The count was 3-0 when Ortiz stepped out of the batters box and asked for time. Home plate umpire Tim Timmons refused, Baltimore pitcher Jair Asencio threw a pitch high and Timmons called it a strike anyways. It should’ve been ball four. A few pitches later, Ortiz struck out and had some words for Timmons as he headed back to the dugout.

Then Big Papi lost it. He took three huge swings with his bat against the telephone in the dugout. The plastic box that encases the telephone was destroyed with pieces of it and the bat flying in different directions. It was a pretty dangerous move by the Sox slugger. He nearly hit Dustin Pedroia with his swings and the flying plastic went off all over the place.

Immediately, Timmons ejected Ortiz, who came storming back on the field and had to be restrained by multiple Red Sox. In the dugout afterwards, Pedroia can be seen getting in Big Papi’s face, clearly upset about Ortiz’s dangerous tantrum.

Pedroia is just about the only player on the team that could get in Ortiz’s face there and have the right to do so. Big Papi is a team leader, a community leader and the face of the Boston Red Sox. He knows how important he is to this ballclub, but he also has a temper and has gotten mad at umpires over the years. It’s completely okay to get upset every once in a while – it happens to everyone, including Pedroia. But it’s not okay to take wild swings at a telephone in the dugout in close proximity to your teammates. That put not just Ortiz’s health in jeopardy, but also a number of other players. It was entirely unacceptable.

But, as I said, Ortiz is also a team leader and most players have so much respect for him to allow him a temper tantrum of that magnitude. Some players may even think he’s earned that right. He hasn’t. No player has and Pedroia told him so. Pedey is also a team leader and will be the face of the Red Sox for years to come after signing a seven-year deal last week. The deal takes him until he’s 38 years old and some people are a bit concerned about the length and significant amount of money tied up in it. But there’s a reason the Sox splurged on him. Pedroia is more than just one of the top second basemen in baseball. He’s also a great leader and clubhouse presence. He knew Ortiz was out of order and it was his job to tell him so. His teammates notice that. Young players notice that. They notice that he lets other players get upset about calls and is fine with it, but when a player’s tantrum puts other players’ safety at risk, it’s not okay. Not even when that player is David Ortiz.

After the game, Pedroia was asked about the incident and demonstrated his leadership once again:

It’s a good win. We have to build on that. Guys get frustrated. It’s part of the game. I just wanted to make sure David didn’t get too bad where he gets suspended or any of that. … He’s the biggest part of our lineup. We can’t afford to lose David for even one game.

That’s it. The issue is over. It’ll be on SportsCenter for a while and talked about on Monday. But Pedroia put it to bed here. He told Ortiz what he did wasn’t okay. He made sure the slugger didn’t get suspended by going after Timmons. He spoke to reporters after the game and focused on what matters: winning. The two probably cleared things up more in the clubhouse, but that stays there, as it should.

That, in a nutshell, is why Pedroia is so worthy of his new contract. Even though he’s in a slump right now, his leadership is still immensely valuable and a major reason why this Red Sox team has done so well this year. Don’t forget that when evaluating his new deal.