ONE more win.
That’s all they need. One more win — with two chances to get it — and their journey from the ruins of collapse and through the dregs of calamity will end with the spoils of coronation. One more win, and these bearded men will be immortalized forever, in baseball and especially in Boston.
One more win, and the Red Sox will be World Series champions, the first Boston team to claim that designation at Fenway Park since their 1918 predecessors.
And how fitting that in this season of redemption, the man with a chance to close out the Series in Game 6 tonight is chicken and beer poster boy-turned-happy warrior John Lackey, who will start for the Sox opposite Cardinals wunderkind Michael Wacha three days after coming out of the bullpen to help preserve a critical Game 4 win.
None of this seemed possible 24 months ago, when tumult turned the organization upside down. It didn’t seem possible 14 months ago, when the team traded a quarter billion dollars worth of talent on its way to its worst record in 47 years. It didn’t even seem possible seven months ago, when the club packed things up and headed north from Fort Myers.
But, now, the ultimate prize seems eminently possible — perhaps even probable — because since the Sox got to Yankee Stadium on the first of April and that day began the process of making all their doubters look like fools, they’ve made a habit of finding a way to somehow, someway meet the challenge they face tonight (and potentially tomorrow): Win one more game.
“The one thing that we’ve seen repeatedly throughout the course of this year,” Boston manager John Farrell said, “is the awareness inside the game, the will to succeed, the desire to compete have been present with this team from day one.”
The Sox have won 107 games acting on those principles, the first 97 taking them from worst to first in the American League East, the next three advancing them to the AL Championship Series, the four after that clinching the pennant, and the last three putting them here, on the cusp of a title. And those victories have come together in all sorts of manners along the way.
They’ve won by coming from behind 41 times. They’ve won a dozen games via walk-off. They’ve won 10 games in extra innings. They’ve won 35 games by at least five runs. They’ve won 42 games by two runs or less.
They’ve won 63 games against winning teams. They’ve won 44 games against losing teams. They’ve won with a consistency evident in losing only 16 of the 54 series they’ve played.
They’ve won 49 games on the road. They’ve won 58 games at home. They’ve won 73 games against right-handed starters. And, answering some mid-season doubts, they’ve won 34 (of 56) games against left-handed starters.
They’ve beaten up on bad pitching. And, particularly in these playoffs — when the array of arms they’ve gone up against reads like a Cy Young ballot — they’ve found a way to beat good pitching, too.
Tampa Bay’s David Price and Matt Moore, Detroit’s Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, St. Louis’ Adam Wainright — the Sox have won games started all of them this postseason.
“They find a way,” Farrell said of his players.
“The one thing that we tried to establish in spring training, the most important thing is the game tonight and how we put together a game plan to win. And I think we’re seeing that against top-flight pitching throughout the season.”
They’ve won by sticking to their plan. They’ve won through preparation. But most of all they’ve won with execution.
They’ve won by doing whatever it takes to win that day, whether that has required them to use their bats, their arms, their gloves, their legs — or, in most cases, some combination of the four.
They’ve won because of balance, and because of a well-constructed roster that didn’t rely on a few big stars nearly as much as it relied on the contributions of the entire collection.
Eight different players delivered walk-off hits. Sixteen players produced game-winning RBI. Because of injuries, they were forced to use 22 position players and 26 pitchers, but that didn’t stop them from scoring more runs than any team in baseball or from finishing with a better-than-average earned run average.
They aren’t likely to have a player finish near the top in voting for any individual awards. They had only three All-Stars despite leading the division for most of the first half. And never once have they seemed to care. Instead they’ve personified the next-man-up approach and become a special blend of camaraderie, chemistry and cohesiveness that’s symbolized by the beards on their face — but even better reflected in their record and the way they play the game.
That way of winning isn’t always easy to understand from the outside, and so there are plenty whose doubts lingered deep into a season that began with ownership so feeling the need to entice people to the ballpark that they discounted beer and hot dog prices in hopes of filling seats and re-earning trust.
Some weren’t fully convinced even in September — when there was a “Dollar Beard Night” promotion — and even in the postseason there were people and pundits who wondered how the Red Sox would fare when facing really good pitching. First it was the Rays. Then it was the Tigers. Now it’s the Cardinals.
But the Red Sox have kept finding a way. They haven’t hit those hurlers hard, but they’ve found a way to piece together a win. Maybe it was a clutch homer. Maybe it was their own good pitching. Maybe it was taking advantage of mistakes. Whatever has been required to reach this point, whatever style of play that’s been mandated, whatever strategy needed to be employed, they’ve done it. So here they are.
Needing just one more win.
“Comes down to one game. Pretty special time,” starting pitcher Jon Lester said Monday night after hurling a masterpiece in a 3-1 Game 5 victory. “We’ve just got to go out and keep playing baseball the way we’ve been doing it all year.”
Dave D’Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.