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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Red Sox surprise story of a memorable 2013

Red Sox surprise story of a memorable 2013

Red Sox surprise story of a memorable 2013

It was a year in which baseball gave us so much. So let's count the blessings of 2013 one final time.

This was the season that saw the Dodgers reborn and the Pirates and Indians back in the playoffs. And the season the Yankees, decimated by injuries, fought like champions, doing themselves proud despite not making the playoffs.

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Mike Trout established himself as the best player on earth. Paul Goldschmidt is in that conversation as well. This was the season a lot of baseball fans got a long look at Andrew McCutchen for the first time.

They found out what the good people of Pittsburgh already knew. That he's an electrifying player and as much fun to watch as any player in any sport.

Here's a shout out to Chris Davis, one of the good guys, for an incredible year. Miguel Cabrera had one, too, another one, not his first. Chris Sale was astonishingly good, and James Shields was everything the Royals hoped he'd be.

The Cardinals reminded us they're a model franchise. The Rays and A's again showed off their smarts.

This also was the season we were introduced to new stars. Jose Fernandez and Yasiel Puig and Shelby Miller. Evan Gattis and Matt Adams and Chris Archer.

Has baseball ever had this much dazzling young talent? Teams seem less reluctant to fast-track their best players, and as Trout, Manny Machado and Starling Marte handled the challenges, other players got similar opportunities.

Two of the best managers ever, Jim Leyland and Davey Johnson, said their goodbyes to the game they've represented with dignity and excellence. Their replacements, Brad Ausmus in Detroit and Matt Williams in Washington, reflect a generational change.

Mike Matheny showed us that actual managerial experience isn't necessary. Rather, general managers look for smart men with knowledge, ambition, people skills and a relentless work ethic.

They surround them with competent people and support them completely. Accordingly, hiring managers is no longer about recycling familiar names.

And so it was a year that gave us a little bit of everything. The Rays were virtually unbeatable for a month. The Dodgers were nearly perfect for almost two. At various times, the Cardinals, Braves, Tigers, A's and Rangers all looked like the best team in the game.

In the end, though, it was the Red Sox who hoisted the World Series trophy to put the finishing touch on a season that had a magical, inevitable quality about it.

Here's the best part.

No one saw it coming. Absolutely no one. Even the people in charge of the Red Sox weren't sure how competitive their team would be.

Inside the industry, there was nearly a consensus that the Red Sox would finish at or near the bottom of the American League East.

After all, they'd lost 93 games in 2012, their worst season in 47 years. Management had unloaded some big contracts during the season and spent the offseason filling the roster with low-budget signings.

General manager Ben Cherington wanted a certain kind of player as much as he wanted a certain kind of talent. He wanted players who would embrace the Red Sox experience. He also wanted players with reputations for being solid clubhouse guys and putting the bottom line before individual accomplishments.

Jonny Gomes was one of those guys. Mike Napoli another. And David Ross, Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino and Stephen Drew.

Maybe Cherington's most important decision was bringing his former pitching coach, John Farrell, back to manage the club. Farrell brought toughness, organizational skills, competence and honesty to a job that can be as difficult as any in the game.

It was clear fairly early in Spring Training that the atmosphere around the Red Sox had changed dramatically. This would be Dustin Pedroia's team and David Ortiz's. And this team would follow Farrell's lead.

There would be no drama. There would be no 25-players, 25-cabs Red Sox. But there was still doubt.

The Red Sox needed more than a new attitude to compete. They needed big years from Jon Lester and John Lackey. They needed a big year from Ortiz. And they needed to keep their main parts, especially Ellsbury, on the field.

If all those things happened, the Red Sox would have a chance to contend. No one told them that because no one doubts Pedroia unless they're ready to take it outside with him.

Pedroia believed from Day 1, and because he believed so loudly and so passionately, it was easier for every other player to believe, too.

And it all worked. Just like Cherington and his guys drew it up. Those role players contributed across the board in ways large and small.

Lackey and Lester were tremendous, winning 25 games and pitching 402 innings. Ortiz hit 30 homers, Napoli 23. Ellsbury stole 52 bases. Pedroia hit .301. And the Red Sox led the Majors in runs.

The Sox lost two closers, Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan, only to see newly signed setup man Koji Uehara morph into the American League's best closer, allowing one earned run in the final three months of the season.

Now for the tricky part of this story. The 2013 Red Sox will be forever linked to the Boston Marathon bombing. In its aftermath, players and coaches visited hospitals, brought victims to games and did all the things that prominent citizens of a community are supposed to do.

Because of their connection to the tragedy, the Red Sox came to represent Boston -- its spirit and toughness -- in a way teams often don't.

Did they make a difference? Absolutely. Victims saw that the Red Sox cared and that they attempted to understand the pain and suffering.

To some, this World Series had an inevitable conclusion, and that's probably unfair to all those people trying to get their lives back on track. And it's unfair to the Red Sox on some level because this is their championship apart from anything else that happened in Boston.

They won because they were a tremendous team, a team that understood that the bottom line was all that counted. To watch all these unheralded and sometimes overlooked players -- Ross, Napoli, Gomes and others -- win a championship was a proud day for all of Major League Baseball.

There were so many lessons in how the Red Sox went about their business and how Cherington constructed the roster and all the rest. They were the appropriate finishing touch for a season that delivered on almost every level.

So here's a farewell to 2013, a spectacular and special season. It won't be forgotten.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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