BOSTON -- It's a message that can't be missed at Fenway Park. It's rolled into the grass in center field, it's emblazoned on the Green Monster in left field. It's on flags that are paraded around the field after wins, it's even on paper cups at concession stands.
The B in this case stands for Boston, and it's the slogan that rose in the wake of the bombings at the Boston Marathon in April as the city pulled together. The Red Sox saw themselves as part of the healing process, part of getting the city back to normal.
The Red Sox gave the biggest gift they could on Wednesday, winning Game 6 of the World Series to take the city's third World Series title in 10 years. It was also the first time the team had clinched the World Series at home in 95 years, unleashing a cathartic roar throughout the town. At the end of the game, according to Fox, 86 percent of the television sets that were on in Boston were tuned to the game.
"It's a moment in time we'll never forget and should never forget," Red Sox manager John Farrell said of the bombings. "There are people that have lost their lives and you think of so many people that contributed, the first responders, everyone involved. I think our players really understood it was their opportunity to try to reach out and try to help the city heal, and hopefully along the way we've been able to do that here in Fenway."
The Red Sox honored first responders and bombing victims during the Series, and during the season, those people made their way to the ballpark while players made their way to hospitals for visits. This was not something that affected the team in theory. They saw people impacted by the bombing up close. (You could also find bomb-sniffing dogs moving through the stadium, including on the field and in the dugouts, before and during games.)
"I don't think a won-loss record sums up how we care about the city," left fielder Jonny Gomes said amid the on-field celebration on Wednesday night. "I'll tell you what. I don't think we put Boston on our back, I think we jumped on their back. They wouldn't let us quit."
The man who spoke most emphatically for the team and the city was designated hitter David Ortiz, already a local icon by playing on Red Sox world championship teams in 2004 and 2007. He cemented his place in Boston lore, maybe more so than for anything he did on the field, when he took the microphone during a pregame ceremony to honor people involved in bombing on April 20 and gave the words that summed up how many in Boston felt.
"This is our ... city, and nobody is going to dictate our freedom," he said. "Stay strong."
That made it only fitting that in Boston's crowning moment on Wednesday night, when they beat the Cardinals 6-1, it was Ortiz who was the star. This World Series belonged to him in a way that few World Series ever have. In as deep a sign of respect as one team could offer another, the Cardinals intentionally walked Ortiz three times in Game 6 (and unintentionally another time though they were clearly pitching around him). Ortiz went 11 for 16 for a .688 batting average in the series and had an on-base percentage of .760, both the second-best ever. At one point, he reached base nine straight times. In his career, he's now hitting .454 in the World Series and he's the first Red Sox player since 1918 to win three championships.
"Winning this World Series is special," he said after the game. "I think it might be the most special out of all the World Series that I have been part of, to be honest."
Asked to elaborate, Ortiz said, "We have a lot of players with heart. We probably don't have the talent that we had in '07 and '04, but we have guys that are capable to stay focused and do the little things. And when you win with a ballclub like that, that's special.
"In 2007, we had a lot of bangers. I wasn't supposed to be the guy. 2004, same thing. The nine-hole hitter (Bill Mueller) won the batting title in 2004. So yes, I put up the numbers but we had a lot of guys putting up good numbers. I know the city had 86 years without winning a World Series, but I wasn't the guy who did it all. We have a lot of guys that it was on them too."
Ortiz was asked if there was a message he was sending to the city after what it went through.
"I have to say is that God never left his kids alone," he said. "This is a city that we've been through a lot of situations. Even when people were trying to do the right thing to some others, it looked like it was the wrong thing to do. And the unexpected shows up. And sometimes bad things got to happen for us to get the message. And we got the message. Everybody stayed together. And it showed the whole world that this is the best country of every place."
While the Red Sox became just the second team to go from last place one year to World Series champions the next, and a team that went from 69 wins under manager Bobby Valentine to 97 under Farrell and stood out for their grit and beards, you can take the Cinderella angle only so far. The Red Sox had a payroll of $157 million, the fourth-highest in baseball behind the Yankees, Dodgers and Phillies. And in Farrell, they found the right manager after the disaster that was Valentine.
"Like I said since Day One," Ortiz said, "a body can't function without having a good head. And our manager is outstanding. He showed us since Day One that he was the masterpiece that we need to get to this level."
They got to the level and lifted a city along with them. To the very end, the Red Sox were strong.
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