BOSTON — It was a celebration 95 years in the making, one only their most foolishly ardent fans could have imagined in spring training.
The Boston Red Sox were last in the American League East in a 2012 season that became the franchise’s biggest summer of discontent in nearly 50 years. Now they are World Series champions.
And for the first time since 1918, the Red Sox celebrated a championship in front of the Fenway Park faithful. Behind a strong performance from starter John Lackey and a three-run double from Shane Victorino off St. Louis rookie sensation Michael Wacha, Boston clipped the Cardinals, 6-1, Wednesday in Game Six.
Lackey blanked the Cards until there were two outs in the seventh and became the first pitcher in history to start and win a Series clincher for two different teams. This one came more than 11 years after he won Game Seven as a rookie for the Anaheim Angels in 2002 over San Francisco.
Victorino, whose grand slam in Game Six against Detroit won the American League Championship Series, was 0 for 10 in this series when he took Wacha off the Green Monster in left with two out and the bases loaded in the third.
That made the score 3-0 and the Red Sox could already start counting down the outs they needed to complete a worst-to-first run not seen since the 1991 Minnesota Twins.
Koji Uehara, not anointed the closer until June, got the final three outs through the popping of fans’ flashbulbs. The game ended with a strikeout of Matt Carpenter, with Uehara and catcher David Ross embracing between the mound and home as the Boston dugout emptied and the crowd of 38,447 roared.
It was the climactic moment of a tumultuous few months here, with the Red Sox becoming a rallying point for a city and coining the phrase “Boston Strong” in the wake of the April Marathon bombings.
“Stuff happened in this city and we wanted to do something special and make everybody proud of their team in the toughest of times,” said second baseman Dustin Pedroia. “And I think we did.”
The Sox were a bunch of bearded wonders led by first-year manager John Farrell and bench coach Torey Lovullo, a pair of former Buffalo Bisons who arrived after two nondescript years in Toronto and got Boston to the top almost immediately.
“They bought in to each other right away in spring, committed to a team concept and this is the result,” Farrell said. “I might not be full of adjectives right now but these guys did it.”
After the final out, fireworks filled the sky and the Red Sox were presented the championship trophy on the field. Beloved slugger David Ortiz, who finished 11 for 16 in the series, also accepted the Most Valuable Player award and addressed the crowd.
“This is for you Boston,” Ortiz roared. “I knew it was going to be a special year. When we started rolling, we never stopped the train. It’s a team in every sense of the word with a will I’ve never been a part of.”
The victory makes the Red Sox – the once-cursed, never-won-in-generations Red Sox – the only team with three World Series titles since the century turned 13 years ago.
After losing in the 11th inning of Game Seven of the ALCS in 2003 at New York, the Red Sox finally snapped their 86-year title drought the next year in St. Louis. They made it two in four years in 2007 at Colorado. In both cases, their adoring public had to wait a couple of days before the parade of duckboats through downtown to share the joy with their heroes.
Not so Wednesday.
On a night where standing room seats were selling online for around $900, bleacher seats were going for as much as $1,500 and box seats were pushing a cool $10,000 a pop, the folks who plunked down the big bucks got the lifetime memory they were banking on. The 101-year-old park rocked like it rarely has over the years.
The noise started with ceremonial first pitches from Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk and former ace Luis Tiant and it never stopped. The fans stood in huge chunks around the park through much of the game, especially when the Red Sox were batting. They taunted Wacha, the rookie who has been the backbone of the Cardinals this postseason, with chants of “Wa-cha, Wa-cha”
Wacha, who was 4-0 in October, couldn’t will the Cardinals to force a Game Seven. He got out of a first-and-second jam with no outs in the second but had no such luck in the third.
Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a single and Ortiz was intentionally walked one out later. Wacha fanned Mike Napoli for the second out but hit Jonny Gomes with a pitch on the top of the hand to load the bases.
The count on Victorino was 2 and 1 when Wacha fired a 93-mph fastball that caught too much of the plate. Victorino drove the ball deep to left over Matt Holliday as all three runners scored, Gomes with an excellent slide, and the park erupted.
“I’m speechless,” Victorino said. “It’s one of those moments you live for.”
Wacha had given up three runs in four starts the entire postseason, then gave up three on one swing. Opposing batters had been 0 for 14 with runners in scoring position against him.
There was more from where that came in the fourth as Boston got three more runs. Light-hitting shortstop Stephen Drew (4 for 51 in the postseason, 1 for 16 in the series) snapped a drought of 80 at-bats without a home run when he popped one into the bullpen in right to make it 4-0.
Wacha left after an Ellsbury double and an Ortiz walk, and Lance Lynn provided no relief, allowing RBI singles to Napoli and Victorino.
The Cardinals were a complete bust in this one. They went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base.
Third baseman David Freese, the MVP and unquestioned hero of their 2011 World Series triumph against Texas, was 0 for 4 and finished the series 3 for 19.