Closing Thoughts On The 2013 World Series

TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage is set to go into the offseason, and take a break until March when the time will come again for spring training team previews. We’ve recapped the specifics of Game 6 of the World Series, the Boston Red Sox’ clinching 6-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. Let’s close out the year with some thoughts on the World Series as a whole…

*What else is there to say about David Ortiz but “Wow”? A .688 batting average for the Series, countless clutch hits and Series MVP honors. It was the crowning moment for a man who is in the discussion of the third-best Red Sox player of all time, behind Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.

*Any doubts about Jon Lester have to be permanently obliterated. The lefthander goes through stretches in a season where he seems to lose it a bit, and if you look at it by the numbers he’s probably more a high-level #2 starter than a true #1. But all that changes in the postseason, and Lester was brilliant throughout the playoffs. He was outstanding in all five of his playoff starts, including two World Series wins. Lester’s performance was Series MVP-worthy by any standard, except the impossibly high bar his own teammate in Ortiz set.

Those two players were the difference in this Series. The rest of the Boston lineup was shaky through the first five games. The St. Louis lineup had some good showings from Matt Holliday and a wounded Allen Craig, but nothing spectacular. Regular readers of TheSportsNotebook know that there comes a point in any sport where I invoke the words of former NFL analyst John Madden–“in big games, stars have to play like stars.” Team chemistry and role players get you to this point, but the big guns have to take you home. It was Ortiz and Lester who did that for Boston.

The Series was marked by blowout wins for Boston to open and close it, but for four games in between, this Fall Classic lived up to its billing, which is that these were truly the best two teams in baseball. There were some uncharacteristic mistakes, and the 2013 Fall Classic won’t go down as one of the great battles in baseball history. But it was still highly compelling, and I think met any reasonable expectations fans might have had going in.

There were points during the Series where each team seemed in control–after St. Louis took that controversial win in Game 3 and would face a fatigued Clay Bucholz in Game 4, it seemed everything was in their grasp. Even when Boston survived Game 4, the Cards just needed Adam Wainwright to win one battle with Lester to take a 3-2 series lead back to Boston.

If drama is measured by doubt about who’s going to win for a long period of time–and that seems a pretty reasonable standard–the 2013 World Series provided drama that was at least good, if not great. As evidence I would cite my own reactions as a Red Sox fan. I enjoyed watching the World Series in 2004 and 2007. I didn’t enjoy one second of watching this Series. Not until last night did I finally breathe again.

I know it sounds trite, but St. Louis and their great fans need to be immensely proud of their team. I know one of the ways I kept my sanity during this Series was to repeat to myself that I had been able to see the Red Sox win two World Series titles in recent years and now just winning another pennant, and then making it to the back end  of the World Series(Games 6 & 7) and help a hyped Fall Classic live up to its billing, had to count for a great year. All of that logic, right down to the two recent World Series titles can be embraced by the good people of St. Loo.

Furthermore, the minute you invest yourself in the idea that anything short of a World Series title has to be apologized for or explained away, you’ve set yourself up for a lot of misery as a sports fan. All the little celebrations along the way have to be appreciated.

And if you’re St. Louis specifically, thinking about all that young pitching–Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, Seth Maness–and then getting people like Jason Motte, Jake Westbrook and Jaime Garcia back from injury next year, should provide plenty of optimistic moments throughout the offseason.

The Red Sox and Cardinals are the only teams with multiple World Series titles since the end of the last Yankee Dynasty (1996-2001). Boston won the race to get three, but if you were to tell me right now that St. Louis is about to win a couple more of their own in short order, I wouldn’t be surprised.

For me, right now I’m thinking of three key moments…

*On the last day of the 2012 regular season, I watched the Red Sox lose in Yankee Stadium when New York scored nine times early on. I kept the TV set for the entire game, watching the repeated camera shots of Bobby Valentine. My reasoning was simple–I wanted to feel those hard times, so the good times would feel much better. I won’t say I thought a World Series title was imminent, much less the following year, but I wanted to embrace the misery of the moment.

*The next two moments kind of roll together. I was in Fort Myers this past spring, able to see a couple Red Sox spring training games. Then shortly after, I got together with some friends here in the Milwaukee area on Opening Day at a local pub to watch the games. I remember a very cautious sense of optimism–I believed Boston would win more than they lost, and that maybe the playoffs was doable. But nothing like this, and the worst fears were still in the back of my mind. Those are all gone now.

And baseball is gone too, at least for a few months. I can turn my own attention as a fan back to cursing the Redskins and sweating out the Bruins. Here at TheSportsNotebook our attention will be heavy on college football in November and early December along with regular coverage of the NFL. The NBA and NHL have started, and college basketball is just a couple weeks away. The beautiful rhythm of the sports calendar thunders on, as the Boston Red Sox join Louisville basketball, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Miami Heat on the list of champions in 2013.