BOSTON -- From nasty weather in the finale to a season full of injuries, between an airplane ambush and stolen signs in the dugout, the Red Sox’ division title was more a lesson in recovery than a tutorial in excellence.
After 161 games and a throwback scare from the Yankees, the standings are a reward for crisis aversion as much as dominant play.
“We don’t make anything easy,” said Mookie Betts, who homered in Saturday’s 6-3 win over the Astros. “But I think that’s why it’s fun for us.”
- Had 'em all the way: Red Sox finally wrap up A.L. East
- Chris Sale: Enjoying this about as much as anybody
- Red Sox finish first in consecutive seasons for third time in their history
- Dombrowski: Great to get it done... now we focus on Thursday
You never banked on this: John Farrell is the first manager in team history to win three American League East titles. His Red Sox have also captured the East twice in a row, another first in Sox history.
But this year’s team stands apart from Farrell’s previous division winners.
In 2013 and 2016, the Sox were coming off last-place finishes. The '13 club took the division lead comfortably before the final weekend, propelled by a recovering city in the wake of the Boston Marathon. Last year’s team was an offensive juggernaut, anchored by the mostly unstoppable David Ortiz.
This year’s group drove full speed over potholes with a damaged suspension for six months and somehow never broke down. It can't be said that everything was handled perfectly or well, but in the aggregate, it was handled well enough.
"I think [Farrell has] done a great job," Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. "It’s a tough job. Managing is a tough job, period. I think it’s a tougher job here than maybe anywhere else. The scrutiny you receive. Being in the game as long as I’ve been in the game, I’m amazed somewhat at the scrutiny aspect of it.
"And then when I look at the names behind his desk, the number of pictures and how few guys have stayed a long time. It just shows you it’s a tough job. He’s done a great job. He’s a tough guy. He’s a smart baseball man. He’s got a good staff around him, too."
In Ortiz’s absence, there is one player who fits that mostly unstoppable mold: Chris Sale. In his eighth season in the majors and first Boston, the Sox ace is going to the postseason for the first time.
"I'm 28 years old, so about 23 years,” a champagne-drenched Sale said of how long he envisioned being a part of a celebration like Saturday’s. “This has been a long time coming. I'm enjoying this about as much as anybody. A lot of hard work went into this. It's a long season. We had a lot of guys put everything they had on the field the entire season. To have this right here, it's the best.”
But little else about the Sox qualified as unstoppable, or constant, outside of Sale and Craig Kimbrel.
The personnel in the bullpen evolved over time, yet the performance was consistent throughout. David Price went down, Doug Fister arrived. The home runs left, Eduardo Nunez and Rafael Devers arrived, and enough offense came through to power the Sox to 93 wins, matching last year’s total. That’s borderline stunning, given the drop in offense.
Now Price is re-emerging from two significant injury layoffs in grand fashion. He had a pair of gigantic seventh-inning strikeouts Saturday, including a threat-ending punchout of George Springer with the bases loaded and the Sox ahead 5-2.
“It was a turbulent year, but he is one hell of a pitcher,” Sox owner John Henry said of Price. “It was 2008 when he came in and shut us down from the bullpen [with the Rays in the postseason]. Maybe we'll see that again this year. I think we will.”
Henry said he was never really worried about this year’s group losing the division down the stretch. There's a more confident man than many in Boston.
“We would really have to blow it," Henry said, "and I didn't think we would.”
But the Yankees’ run at the end was just another in a long list of troubles the Sox endured.
How Farrell handled Price, how Farrell and Dustin Pedroia handled the dust-up with the Orioles at the start of the year -- all that gives way now to thoughts of Pedroia playing through pain, and Farrell, Manager John himself, taking a place in the Sox’ record books.
“You know what, I haven’t really given it a whole lot of thought where [this year] stacks up with others, and I don’t really pay a whole lot of attention to it,” Farrell said.
Farrell was being duly modest, deferring to his players. But, there really hasn’t been too much time to give it any thought. There's been much too trouble along the way.