September 21, 2013

From worst to first, Red Sox return to postseason

By JIMMY GOLEN, The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Boston Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, right, is embraced by one of his players after the Red Sox clinched the AL East title with a 6-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays in a baseball game at Fenway Park on Friday night.

AP

Middlebrooks has yet to spend a full season in the major leagues.

"I'm still learning," he said. "But from what I saw, there were big guys like Adrian and like Carl – big-time guys. They're great players. They're on their own program with what they're doing. Here, everyone's kind of like working together. I think that's a lot different than most clubhouses, and ours was last year.

"That was the biggest thing I've seen."

Napoli was signed as a free agent, and so was Shane Victorino – a happy-go-lucky sort nicknamed "The Flyin' Hawaiian." Newcomers Mike Carp, Jonny Gomes and David Ross, along with holdovers Dustin Pedroia and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, form the nucleus of the beard brigade.

"The guys they got cared about winning," outfielder Daniel Nava said, "and they cared about the guy that's to their left and to their right."

The Red Sox clinched a playoff berth on Thursday and upgraded it to an AL East title the next night with a 6-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. With 94 wins, they had the best record in baseball.

Did they expect things to turn around this far, this quickly?

Not by the hair on their chinny chin chin.

Lucchino said he felt the Red Sox should have been better last year, if not for bad luck and bad health that cost a record number of games to injury. Henry noted that the team had one of the highest payrolls in baseball in 2012 and is in the top five again this season.

"To me," the owner said, "last year was an anomalous year."

But winning at least 94 games was unexpected, even to Lucchino.

Henry credited Farrell and GM Ben Cherington for bringing a "presence and stability" to a team that had been through a tumultuous 13 months. Lucchino said that the relationship among the team's brain trust is also more stable now than it was even during much of the time that Francona and GM Theo Epstein had their mostly successful run in Boston.

And the love affair with the fans is on its way back to where it was a decade ago, when the allegedly accursed team began a sellout streak that lasted through the team's collapse in Game 7 of the 2003 AL Championship Series against the New York Yankees and the redemptive World Series victory the next year. It took them through a second title in 2007 to the September collapse of 2011 and Fenway Park's 100th anniversary last year.

It ended this April, when the good feelings and season-ticket renewals born of the two titles finally ran out.

"The goal here was to change the performance, the personality and the perception of the team," Lucchino said as he looked out over the crowd of 38,540. "I think we've succeeded in doing that."

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