If it is true that there is an inherent poetry to the game of baseball, then the way the season began and ended, opening with tragedy in the same city that celebrated the triumph of its team at the end, was the stuff that poet’s feast on.
On April 15, just as the annual Patriots’ Day Game at Fenway Park was concluding, a bomb exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon (also run annually on that city-wide holiday). Three people died and scores more were seriously injured. The city was distraught and grief-stricken. Its team, the Red Sox, was coming off of a miserable year that had seen them lose almost 100 games as it finished last in the American League’s Eastern Division.
Nothing can redeem lives lost in such a horrific manner, but the Red Sox did embody the resilient spirit of the city as the team proceeded to clinch, first, the Division crown for the AL East (ending the season with the most wins in the league), and then the American League pennant (vanquishing the mighty Tigers and beating their trio of star pitchers in the process).
In the World Series, against the seemingly invincible Cardinals, the Sox whipped St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright twice and got the better of rookie phenom Michael Wacha in the deciding sixth game. David Ortiz, who had announced defiantly at a rally after the bombing for the city’s bereaved residents that Boston was their “bleeping” city, had a Series for the ages. He was just about impossible to get out, batting almost .700 in being named Series MVP.
But he wasn’t the only player who elevated his game in the spotlight. Star pitcher Jon Lester pitched two gems, beating Wainwright both times; John Lackey pitched the clincher, three days after throwing a shutdown inning in relief to help preserve Boston’s clutch victory in Game 4; backup catcher David Ross had the winning hit in Game 5; reserve outfielder Jonny Gomes had a key home run in Game 4; Shane Victorino had a three-run double in Game 6 (after sitting out the previous two games with a tight back); and journeyman reliever Koji Uehara closed out each win by throwing unhittable strikes that rarely broke 90 mph on the speed gun.
Several of the games were noteworthy for bizarre plays that proved, as always, that you can expect to see something in any baseball game that you have never seen before. Both games three and four ended with such plays.
In Game 3, the Cardinals scored the winning run when Red Sox third baseman, Will Middlebrooks, unintentionally interfered with the Cardinals’ runner, Allen Craig, as he scrambled to try to run home after a throw from catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia sailed past Middlebrooks. No one had ever seen a game end on that technicality, although a review of the rule book proved that umpire Jim Joyce had made the correct call.
The following night, with the Cardinals trailing by two runs, pinch runner Kolten Wong was picked off of first base with the Cards star Carlos Beltran representing the tying run at the plate. It was the final out of the game, another first for observers. What made that play so bizarre was that, as any little league coach could have explained, Wong’s run meant nothing at the time. The Cardinals needed two runs to tie, and with two outs in the ninth, their only hope was that Beltran would keep the inning alive. Wong’s gaffe was one for the ages. (He later explained, inexplicably, that he was hoping he could get a good jump on a Beltran extra-base hit.)
The Series had the potential to be a great one, as it brought the teams with the two best records over the long 162-game season to the final match-up, the first time that had occurred in the wild-card playoff era since 1999 when the Yankees and Braves held those positions. The Cardinals had prevailed in a tough season-long division battle against the Reds and the Pirates. They then defeated the Pirates in a decisive fifth game of the division series and took the Dodgers in six games in the League Championship Series.
That series had lots of potential until injuries beset the LA team yet again. The Dodgers had struggled at the start of the season as injuries put many of their top players out of commission. But in late June, they began a historic run that saw them win 42 of 50 games (a stretch that was as good as any team’s in almost a century). Led by rookie sensation Yasiel Puig, a finally healthy Hanley Ramirez, and a top pitching staff headed by Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, they bolted from last place to first in the NL Western Division and never looked back.
But the playoffs saw injuries again claim their top stars, as both Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier were unable to go. Then, in the first game of the series against the Cardinals, Ramirez took a 95 mph fastball in the ribs, and he was essentially done (ultimately diagnosed with a fractured rib), as was his team, which couldn’t score enough to beat the healthier (and better) Cardinals.
The Pirates were also a story, as it made the playoffs for the first time since Barry Bonds played his last season with the team in 1992. Pittsburgh had suffered long enough, and even if the Pirates ultimately succumbed to the Cardinals in a tough best-of-five series, the city was rejuvenated by what its team had accomplished.
But in the end, it was Boston’s faithful that got the parade. Its team had come together, if not in memory of the city’s bombing victims, then in a spirit that would have done those victims proud. In winning its eighth championship, the team that plays in baseball’s oldest and most revered ballpark had scored a team victory for a city that needed the redemption that only a World Series trophy could bring to help ease the pain of that April nightmare.