The Red Sox are World Champions again, and no one saw it coming. After a frustrating collapse in September of 2011 and a 2012 campaign that was a disaster from beginning to end, the Red Sox came into 2013 with the lowest expectations in years. Thanks to a trade the previous August, the team was free of their most burdensome contracts, and they signed a host of new faces. The new players weren't the biggest names out there, and they all seemed to come with questions. How would Mike Napoli handle the switch to first base? Was Jonny Gomes anything more than a platoon player? How would Ryan Dempster do in the American League? Was Shane Victorino washed up? Would Koji Uehara be able to pitch on back-to-back days? Even the returning players offered no guarantees. Would Big Papi's foot injury be healed in time for the start of the season? Would Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester ever pitch like they had early in their careers again? What could we expect from John Lackey after his Tommy John surgery? Would Jacoby Ellsbury be able to stay healthy? Factor all that in, and it looked like a "bridge year" while the Red Sox waited for their prospects to be ready. Oh, sure, they'd probably win more games than they'd lose - which itself would be an improvement over the previous year - but in the tough A.L. East it was a stretch to think that would translate into a playoff spot. No one saw a World Championship coming.
No one, that is, except the players. Jonny Gomes showed up at Spring Training and greeted his new teammates with, "Another day closer to the parade." The team bought in, and they got off to a hot start in April. While their adopted city reeled in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, they brought us together again, displaying a comeraderie and a love of the game that made baseball fun again. As the days grew longer, their beards grew longer, and the wins piled up. By the end of June, the Red Sox became the first team to reach 50 wins. Before we knew it, "How are they doing it?" turned into, "They might actually do it." The answer, of course, was that they had made themselves into a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts. With a resurgent pitching staff and a remarkably consistent offense, they never lost more than three games in a row all year. Losses didn't carry over from day to day; a heartbreaking loss one night was often followed by a dramatic win the next. They racked up a league-best 97 wins in the regular season, 11 in their last at-bat.
In the playoffs, they faced the best competition at every level, and they raised their game every step of the way. Looking back now, they seemed to roll past the Rays in the Division Series, but though they made it look easy, they had to overcome some really good pitchers who had stifled them in the past. Then it was on to the ALCS, where the pitchers turned it up another notch, having no problem going toe to toe with the year's Cy Young winner, Max Scherzer, and author of two no-hitters, Justin Verlander, in a series full of nail-biting one-run victories. Hits were scarce, but well-timed; grand slams by Ortiz and Victorino were pivotal moments. In the World Series, and they once again displayed their resiliency. They fell behind 2 games to 1 in the series, with Game 3 ending in a shocking obstruction play. They trailed early in Game 4, but Papi gathered his teammates in the dugout between innings and delivered a speech that spurred them on to a win that evened the series, and from there, they never looked back.
They returned home to Fenway for Game 6, and won the deciding game of the Series in front of a home crowd for the first time in 95 years. The Red Sox were World Champions again, and no one saw it coming. No one, that is, except, you, me, Jonny Gomes, 24 other players, 38,000 lucky enough to be in the stands that night, and millions of fans the world over.