AL champions surprise everyone but themselves

BOSTON — Stephen Drew said he knew back in February the Red Sox were going to be something special.

Larry Lucchino said it took him a little longer, though not too much longer … April.

The Red Sox completed a worst-to-first transformation late Saturday night with a 5-2 victory over the Tigers that sent them to the World Series for the 13th time.

And just about everyone involved says that transformation won’t be truly complete unless they beat the Cardinals in the Series, which starts Wednesday night at Fenway Park.

“We’re going to enjoy this one and then get ready for St. Louis,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said.

Still, there was plenty of soaking in what had been accomplished this season — shaking off not only the 69-victory stench of the failed Bobby Valentine experiment of 2012, but the collapse of September 2011 that cost manager Terry Francona his job and altered the perception of the franchise.

“We just wanted to take a big step in the right direction,” said Lucchino, the club’s president and CEO. “We didn’t know we could step this far this fast.”

Expectations weren’t high coming into the season. The Red Sox were breaking in new manager John Farrell and a slew of veteran players such as Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara and Drew.

But the club surprised many, going an AL-best 97-65.

Victorino, of course, hit the seventh-inning grand slam Saturday that turned a 2-1 deficit into a 5-2 lead. Uehara has shined in the closer role after Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey were lost for the season to injuries and earned ALCS MVP honors by recording three saves.

“We’ve got so many MVPs on this team,” Saltalamacchia said. “The pitching staff, the bullpen, a different guy in the lineup every night.”

Farrell, who left the Blue Jays’ managerial post to come back to Boston, where he served as Francona’s pitching coach from 2007-10, said this year’s success can “sustain.”

“It’s the type of people that are here,” Farrell said. “We feel like this has got a chance to continue on. And again it goes back to targeting the right people that can play here in Boston.”

Drew had an overwhelmingly positive feeling when the team reported to Fort Myers, Fla., in February.

“We knew we had something special when we got to spring training,” said Drew, who has hit horribly this postseason but has played standout defense. “You don’t know how team chemistry is going to work until you get there, and there was something about it. The clubhouse is always loose, we have a lot of fun, and everyone has confidence in each other.”

Lucchino wasn’t as sure, but the team’s fast start — 18-8 in April — convinced him that shedding the stigma of 2011 and 2012 could be done this year.

“When we got off to a good start, even the first game (an 8-2 victory over the Yankees) was kind of a harbinger in many ways for the rest of the season,” said Lucchino, who later used the phrase “scrappy and underrated and underappreciated” to describe the Red Sox. “We saw in April a team that had a lot of potential and possibilities because we saw how well they played. By the end of April, we had a pretty good feeling this was going to be a good team.

“But I don’t know that anybody, none of us were smart enough to say we were going to win 97 games and the American League pennant,” he said. “I wish I could say our business plan called for it.”

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