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November 02. 2013 8:18PM

Dave D'Donofrio's Sox Beat: Redemption Sox


Red Sox pitcher John Lester waves to the fans inside of Fenway Park prior to the World Series parade and celebration. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

BOSTON --- After more than a decade or work in baseball operations made him the hand-picked, hands-down choice to succeed Theo Epstein - and having grown up a Red Sox fan in the Plainfield, N.H., village of Meriden - Ben Cherington understood the disappointment when his first season as the team's general manager was, record-wise, its worst season in 47 years.

"We knew we let a lot of people down. I let people down. We as a group let people down," he said. "We weren't near who we wanted to be, on the field, off the field, so we were committed to trying to get back toward what we wanted to be as quickly as we could."

"We didn't know exactly what speed that would happen - and sure enough, it happened this year."

Indeed it did.

Cherington's words of reflection were spoken amid the champagne-soaked celebration of the Red Sox' World Series-clinching victory over the Cardinals Wednesday night. And on Saturday he road on a duck boat through the streets of Boston as the region came by the hundreds of thousands to cheer one of the more remarkable turnarounds in New England sports history.

Just a year after plummeting to last place in the American League East, Cherington and the Red Sox plunged into the Charles River as World Series champions.

These Sox are a team to be celebrated for so many reasons, a testament to the value of high character, of true chemistry, of tireless commitment. But if there is any single lesson to be drawn from this club and applied elsewhere, either in sports or in life, it may be the value of taking each day as it comes and making the most of it.

When the Sox convened in Fort Myers back in February, they understood the challenge ahead of them. They had seven weeks to get ready for a season they hoped would last seven months. But on the insistence of John Farrell, their new manager, they didn't look at the process in broad, big-picture terms like weeks, months, seasons or years.

"He said he was going to make the focus on the field and make the game that night the most important thing," Cherington said. "It's one thing to say in February and March, and a lot harder to pull off."

That difficulty had been painfully evident for about 18 months prior, when the focus seemed to be on everything except the field, and the distractions and dysfunction ultimately got in the way of the players stepping between the foul lines and doing their jobs.

But, from the start, Farrell and his coaches effectively laid the framework for the culture they were trying to establish, and from there the players Cherington had so brilliantly brought in to complement the talented core that remained helped set the tone of the clubhouse.

Part of that was adding players who liked each other, liked the pressure of playing in Boston, and liked the idea of building something from the bottom up.

More important, though, was the way those players all bought in to the idea that there was no sense in looking ahead, because today came first.

"The ultimate goal for everybody should be to win the World Series, but really what we focused on was the day to day," catcher David Ross said. "That's the character of this team. The guys laid it on the line every night. That's what made this team."

That's what made this team so resilient and so relentless. They never gave up on a game, whether in April or October, because every one mattered to them so much. They never fell into any prolonged collective slumps - never lost more than three games in a row - because yesterday was forgotten as soon as it was over and today became the priority. They never let the moment get too big because, to them, every moment was big.

That attitude set them up to succeed no matter the circumstances. From a late rally to win the home opener in Yankee Stadium, to a dramatic victory in the first game at Fenway Park after bombs exploded in Boston, to erasing a six-run ninth-inning deficit, to 11 other walk-offs, to matching the best in the game pitch for pitch at playoff time and coming up with so many clutch hits in the postseason, over the course of the season they won 108 games in nearly as many ways, with dozens of different guys each enjoying his moment.
 
"We go out with the attitude that, hey, we're coming," said right fielder Shane Victorino. "We're going to play every single out, every single inning - and if you're not ready we're going to go out and try to beat you."
 
"You never knew who was going to do it that night," added first baseman Mike Napoli. "We got better as the season went on. We'd just go out that day and try to win. We never got ahead of ourselves. We just kept rolling.

"And now we're world champs."

As soon as that became official with last Wednesday's 6-1 win over the Cardinals, and for the first time in 95 years the Sox celebrated a championship inside their "cathedral of baseball," as Victorino called Fenway Park, many of the players were asked when they believed this ending would be possible.

Almost unanimously they professed that they'd believed it was possible from the beginning, noting the new manager, the veteran nature of the players who were brought in and the proven abilities of the players who were here already.

They reiterated those sentiments again Saturday when they gathered at Fenway to board the duck boats. Pitcher Ryan Dempster, in fact, related the story that on the first day pitchers and catchers were joined by position players at spring training, he went up to Jonny Gomes and asked how he was doing.

"One day closer to the parade," the outfielder answered.

And day by day they went. Until it finally arrived.

Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is ddonof13@gmail.com.


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