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Tuesday, October 21, 2014         

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Extreme makeover paid off for Red Sox

By Bill Shaikin

Los Angeles Times

POSTED:


BOSTON » No longer does Boston have to fret about all those poor kindergartners who had lived their whole lives without seeing the Red Sox win the World Series.

The big deal about how the Red Sox had not won a World Series at home since 1918? Made for TV, and made for Boston.

The truly big deal: The Red Sox won the World Series for the third time in a decade. In the last half-century, only four franchises can say they did that: the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Oakland Athletics, the New York Yankees, and now the Red Sox.

What makes the Boston success so fascinating is the extreme makeover. The Dodgers won with Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Maury Wills. The A's won with Reggie Jackson, Vida Blue and Rollie Fingers. The Yankees most recently won with Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.

The Red Sox won with David Ortiz and a revolving cast of characters. Ortiz is the only constant among the 2004 team that swept the St. Louis Cardinals, the 2007 team that swept the Colorado Rockies and this year's team, the one that clinched the World Series on Wednesday, with a 6-1 victory over the Cardinals.

These Red Sox did not fit the definition of dominant. They stumbled into October with two reliable starters, and look how they won the World Series: two victories from Jon Lester, one from John Lackey, and one on a walkoff pickoff.

The same Boston fans that wanted to run Lackey out of town, branding him as an out-of-shape malcontent, could not stop cheering for him Wednesday, so loud that manager John Farrell said he got chills.

"It's almost fitting he was the guy on the mound," Farrell said. "He mirrors the remake of this team."

The Red Sox cleaned out the clubhouse to come up winners -- not just since 2004, and not just since 2007, but since last year. They went last to first, the first team to do so since the Minnesota Twins in 1991.

It is difficult to call these Red Sox a Cinderella story, or a model for small-market teams. They opened the season with a $159 million payroll, about the same as the Philadelphia Phillies, exceeded only by the Dodgers and Yankees.

If there is a lesson to be learned from the success of these Red Sox, it might be this: Pay no attention to all those breathless analyses of the winter winners and losers.

The Miami Marlins won the winter two years ago, with Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle. The Toronto Blue Jays won the winter last year, also with Reyes and Buehrle. The Angels won both winters, with Albert Pujols one year and Josh Hamilton the next.

The Red Sox unloaded Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and $260 million in contracts on the Dodgers in 2012, but then general manager Ben Cherington committed $100 million to seven free agents last winter, in what looked like a shopping spree of quantity over quality.

Mike Napoli had a bad hip. Koji Uehara was a 38-year-old setup man. Shane Victorino looked so done with the Dodgers that they did not wait for the season to end to acquire his replacement, Crawford.

Ryan Dempster was 35, coming off an atypically effective season. Stephen Drew was a good-field, no-hit shortstop. Jonny Gomes was a platoon outfielder, miscast beyond designated hitter. David Ross was a backup catcher.

"He hit it, spot on, with every guy he brought in," Farrell said.

The Sox targeted players who would embrace the tough crowds here, who would put a positive and respectable face on the franchise once again.

"We expected a step in the right direction," Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said. "We just didn't know how big a step it would be."

Amid the celebration Wednesday, Ortiz said he was "not really" sure at first that this team could win.

"When we started rolling, nobody ever stopped the train," Ortiz said.

Gomes and Ross became heroes of the fall. Victorino, Drew and Napoli drove in all the runs in the clincher. Uehara, the third choice at closer this season, got the last out.

Lackey pitched the clincher for the second time in 11 years, the last time for the unheralded Angels, each time for a team shown no love in the winter forecasts.

"These days," Lackey said, "the word 'expert' gets thrown out way too much."






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