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From worst to first, Sox deliver unforgettable season

From worst to first, Sox deliver unforgettable season

From worst to first, Sox deliver unforgettable season

BOSTON -- For the Red Sox, it was a year that started with confidence and resolve within the clubhouse and doubts galore outside of it.

The pundits just couldn't seem to look past the 69-93 debacle that Boston had to endure in 2012.

But that's exactly why general manager Ben Cherington completely transformed his clubhouse, adding winners like Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Dempster and David Ross to the ones (David Ortiz, Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia) who were already there.

Year in Review
Looking back at 2013
MLB statistical leaders
Final standings

For the second straight season, the Red Sox had a new manager. This time, however, they had the perfect man to lead the group in John Farrell, who still carried plenty of respect from his four-year stint (2007-10) as Boston's pitching coach.

Farrell opened Spring Training by demanding his players make each night's game the sole focus and cutting out the distractions that had hindered the team's recent past.

His demands were received, and the Red Sox produced one of their most gratifying and unexpectedly successful seasons in history.

It ended with a World Series championship -- the third by the Red Sox in a span of 10 seasons. This, after they went 86 years without winning it all.

"I think we had a combination of a group of guys that were here last year, a core group of guys returning that were so motivated to write a different story," Cherington said. "They were not happy with how things went the last two years, so they were really motivated to prove to people that's not who they were. And then we had a group of guys that came into the clubhouse this year that just completely got it. That group meshed so easily in Spring Training and early in the season."

And late in the season, when it mattered most, the Red Sox played better than everybody else.

Here are a look at five of the top storylines from a year that will never be forgotten.

1. Boston Strong

The Red Sox had just produced their second walk-off win of the season on Napoli's double off the Green Monster on Patriots Day when the smile was swiftly wiped off their faces. As the club headed out of the clubhouse for a bus ride to Logan Airport, they were informed of the tragedy that had taken place just a couple of miles down the road at the Boston Marathon. Multiple bombs went off that killed three people and injured hundreds.

When the shaken players arrived in Cleveland that night, they had a team dinner that was attended by just about everyone. It was there they talked about how precious life can be, and vowed to make a difference in the community. Gomes hatched the idea to put a jersey in the dugout every game for the rest of the season that said "Boston 617 Strong" on the back.

The Red Sox returned to Boston the night of April 18, only to be in the middle of chaos again. There was a manhunt for the bombers, and the entire city went into lockdown, postponing the Red Sox-Royals game on April 19.

Fenway was back open for business on April 20, and the Red Sox put together an emotionally stirring ceremony that still resonates. Ortiz grabbed a microphone and proclaimed Boston as "our f-----g city and no one is going to dictate our freedom."

A tone was set for the rest of the season in which the Sox would play not just for each other, but for an entire city.

2. Comeback Kids

If there was a dominant theme for the Red Sox in 2013, it was that they were never out of any game. Time and again, they thrilled their fans with riveting comebacks.

They came roaring back on a Sunday afternoon in late May against Terry Francona's Indians, scoring one in the eighth and four in the ninth to pull out an improbable 6-5 win.

The most memorable night of the season was probably on Aug. 1, when Daniel Nava's walk-off single to the warning track in center capped a six-run comeback, which included one run in the eighth and sixth in the bottom of the ninth.

"In a word, magical," Farrell said after that game.

There would be plenty of more nights like it, including two walk-off homers by Gomes within a span of two weeks in midsummer, a tiebreaking pinch-hit grand slam by Mike Carp at Tropicana Field in September, and back-to-back comebacks at Yankee Stadium late in the regular season.

3. Koji's dominance

The Red Sox started the season with Joel Hanrahan as the closer, but he was ineffective and injured. Andrew Bailey was next up, and the same thing happened to him. Then it was time for Koji Uehara, and he produced arguably the best season by any closer in club history.

Uehara produced a microscopic 1.09 ERA while notching 101 strikeouts in 74 1/3 innings. Opponents hit .130 against him.

And he did it with flair, practically breaking his teammates hands with high fives after a successful inning. Uehara was on the mound when the Red Sox won the American League East, and again when they clinched all three playoff rounds.

4. Papi's legend grows

Among the storylines that were tossed around entering the postseason, nobody speculated that Ortiz would become an even bigger legend in October than he was in 2004. That didn't seem possible, considering Ortiz produced three walk-off hits during the curse-breaking October nine years earlier.

Somehow, he had an even bigger impact in 2013. It started when he clocked two home runs against Rays ace David Price in Game 2 of the American League Division Series.

But he produced perhaps the most monumental hit of his career in Game 2 of the AL Championship Series. With the Red Sox down 5-1 in the eighth, and four outs away from going down 2-0 in the series, Ortiz clocked a grand slam into Boston's bullpen in right-center to tie the game. Torii Hunter nearly made the catch of his life, but instead went tumbling into the bullpen. And an indelible image emerged, that of a police officer stationed in the bullpen raising his hands in triumph when the grand slam landed.

The Red Sox won that game on a walk-off single by Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Ortiz again inspired his troops in the World Series, both with a hitting performance that landed him the MVP and an in-game speech that propelled his teammates out of an offensive malaise in Game 4.

5. Ellsbury leaves for, gulp, New York

The first sign that the euphoria of winning a World Series had ended came in early December, when Jacoby Ellsbury left as a free agent and signed a whopping seven-year, $153 million deal to play for the Yankees.

The Red Sox hadn't been this stung by a leadoff man/center fielder since Johnny Damon made the same maneuver eight years earlier.

Boston fans hope that Jackie Bradley Jr. can make them forget about Ellsbury, much like Ellsbury once made them forget about Damon.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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