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MacArthur: A healing city celebrates ALCS victory

Scott MacArthur, TSN.ca
10/20/2013 9:58:48 AM
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BOSTON - There are cities which long for winners. Toronto would be one.

There are cities which have perennial winners, yet to outsiders seem to take all those victories for granted. Atlanta, which didn't sell out some of those playoff games during the Braves' heyday of the late 1990s and early 2000s, comes to mind.

Then there are cities which have become accustomed to winning, regardless of the sport, enjoy the feeling and crave more. Fans get so involved, are so passionate, it becomes difficult to separate them from their team to the point they get credit for pushing their team to victory, even though their real effect is negligible. Boston, with your Red Sox and your Patriots and your Bruins and your Celtics, that's you.

What cannot be denied, ever, is the unifying force a successful sports franchise has on an invested community.

Standing on the lush green grass of Fenway Park's infield, minutes after the Red Sox had defeated the Tigers 5-2 in Game 6 to clinch the American League pennant and hours after the Dropkick Murphy's had put their spin on the national anthem and belted out “Shipping Up To Boston,” it was hard to forget that only eight months earlier, Boston was a city in pain.

It was April 15, Patriots' Day, when the annual Boston Marathon was interrupted by two explosions near the finish line on Boylston Street in nearby Cambridge. Three people were killed and almost 300 others were hurt. A police officer was shot and killed in a gun battle with one of the suspects three days later.

A city was wounded.

The Red Sox, both overtly and covertly, have aided the city in its recovery from that horrific day. Saturday night's victory was their latest generous overture to their baseball-obsessed town.

“It means so much to this city, so much to the guys on this team,” said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

A lot went right for Boston in this series. To win, it must.

Nobody will talk about how David Ortiz was held to only two hits in the series, one of them a bloop single in Game 5. That's because the other hit was a monstrous grand slam, which erased a 5-1 deficit in Game 2 and catapulted the Red Sox back into the series. It would have been a difficult task, heading to Detroit down two games and with the prospect of facing Justin Verlander in enemy territory.

On another day, two actually, Mike Napoli was a hero. In the deciding Game 6, it was Shane Victorino with the seventh inning grand slam that turned a 2-1 deficit into a 5-2 lead.

Xander Bogaerts, the steel-eyed 21-year-old who carries himself as if he's a 10-year veteran, went 3-5 with two doubles and two walks after taking over third base from Will Middlebrooks late in Game 4. He worked three full count plate appearances in the clincher, reached base each time and scored twice.

Red Sox hitters struck out an ALCS record 73 times. Through four games, they were overwhelmed by the Tigers' extraordinary starting rotation, a staff Detroit manager Jim Leyland referred to as the best he's had in his eight career postseasons. Yet, there was Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey matching their opponents pitch for pitch, sometimes getting by with just enough.

How about that Boston bullpen? Koji Uehara, with three saves and a win to show for his six innings, was named the MVP of the ALCS. Junichi Tazawa found another gear and in three head-to-head meetings with Tigers' third baseman Miguel Cabrera, shut him down on a strikeout and two ground balls, one of which was a key, rally-killing double play in the seventh inning of Game 5. Left-hander Craig Breslow offered up 3 1/3 scoreless innings, often working in specialty situations against Detroit's potent left-handed and switch-hitters. Honourable mention also goes to youngster Brandon Workman, who worked the long role and cleaned up others' messes.

“It's an unbelievable team over there, extremely well coached, well managed and a great group of players,” said Canadian Ryan Dempster, who selflessly didn't raise a stink when he was asked, or more like told, he would be moving from the starting rotation to the bullpen for the playoffs. “We were able to fight through some tough times and come away with the series win and win our American League pennant. Now we've got to go on and have a real tough challenge with St. Louis.”

The Tigers will lament the leg injury which severely limited Cabrera's offensive and defensive effectiveness, the poor performance of Prince Fielder and, likely most of all, the inability of the bullpen to work at anywhere near the level of the starting rotation.

For Detroit, which has two recent unsuccessful World Series appearances – 2006 and 2012 – along with ALCS losses to New York in 2009 and now, to Boston, it represents more playoff disappointment.

For Boston, a community that's overcoming is celebrating another sporting victory, anticipating that the best is yet to come.

The Cardinals will arrive on Tuesday and the World Series will start, at Fenway Park, on Wednesday.

Here, there is nothing to distinguish the bombing victims from the Dropkick Murphys, from the players, from the fans.

They're all the same in one respect. They're Red Sox Nation.

Right now, we're all living in it.

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