2013 was a triumph. In retrospect, 2004 is bright and shiny for its historical implications, but I cannot remember a year in Red Sox history quite so filled with joy as 2013 was.
Looking back to 2004 before it was the year, there was still the pall of the World Series drought hanging over this city. Every single game was, to some extent, played with an asterisk. *This contest contributing to another Red Sox tragedy. Going down 3-0 to the Yankees in the ALCS was hardly unexpected. It was just the terrible disaster some part of every one of us had predicted before the season even began. The next eight games were incredible, granted, but hindsight only goes so far. It changes the memory, but not the tone of the season as it was played.
2013 was something different. Context is once again the culprit here. There was no World Series drought to weigh us down, of course. First 2004, and then 2007 had seen to that. But even beyond that there was a new sort of freedom in 2013. The Red Sox of 2011 had been all-in. When they failed in such spectacular fashion, it came with the understanding that there was no easy fix. The contracts had been signed--there was simply nowhere to go from there. Not until the Dodgers showed up, at least.
2013, however, was almost a freeroll. We entered with hopes but not expectations. If they went 75-87, well, the farm system was still ready to produce big names in short time. If they made the playoffs, it was just so much upside. In a way, Opening Day was the first game in a very long time that had been simply enjoyable, uncomplicated by the latent desperation of years past.
Of course, it didn't hurt that they won. 8-2 against the Yankees. That's one of those scores you don't have to look up. I expect it will stay that way for years to come. And it just got better. The 5-2 Red Sox. 18-8 after the first month. Yeah, there was a scare in May when things didn't go so well, but even then the stakes were low. The most we could lose was the unexpected gift of a year that 2013 was becoming. And when they finished June a full 16 games above .500 with a 2.5 game lead in the East, it seemed clear that not even 2013 was going to be snatched from us.
At some point along the way, expectations changed. For all that this year didn't inspire desperation for success, missing out on the playoffs after entering the All-Star Break in such a strong position would have been hugely disappointing. Then on September 19th, with a full eight games remaining in the season, they clinched a postseason spot. The very next day the East was theirs.
For once, though, that didn't move the goalposts. At the beginning of the season, clinching the East so early--clinching the East at all!--would have seemed like some kind of miracle. The Red Sox have long had to deal with one of the most demanding fanbases and vicious media environments in sports, but the message in the days leading up to October...It was stunning. There was little in the way of "have to win" or "expected to win" comments. There was relatively little dread of upcoming disaster, just appreciation of what we'd been able to enjoy during the regular season. If the Red Sox didn't win--if they came up short of even seeing the World Series--that was alright. Perhaps it was the shock of 2012, but somewhere along the line the "championship or bust" mentality had been wiped away.
Were the playoffs tense? Absolutely. They always will be. But not in quite the same soul-crushing way as in so many other years. When Shane Victorino stepped to the plate, and Fenway joined in the chorus of "Three Little Birds," we honestly meant it.
Still, none of that is to diminish the impact of winning it all. It's a rare baseball team that comes without either a World Series title or an expiration date. The World Series changes the 2013 Red Sox from a fun team to part of history. Every small quirk and detail about this team from Koji Uehara's dominance to Shane Victorino's ball-magnet nature to Mike Carp and Daniel Nava bouncing around like kids is here to stay. Lester vs. Scherzer in the regular season, the huge comeback against the Mariners, the revival of John Lackey, and a thousand other things big and small are now permanently stamped on Red Sox history.
In four days, 2013 will come to an end. And, sadly, the 2013 team is never going to play baseball again, even if most of them are back for 2014. At the moment, though, 2013 looks like the year that's set to keep on giving. Even forgetting the state of Boston's farm system and how much promise it provides for the future, 2013 has brought joy back to baseball in Fenway Park. Hell, on some level it's actually introduced it in a way that this town hasn't seen in living memory.
It won't last forever. Every team has bad years. And those that go without for a long time get so wrapped up in expectations that it can be hard to simply enjoy a season for what it is. But hopefully 2013 can be the start of something. Not necessarily a Red Sox dynasty. Just a period of calm for us fans to really get back to enjoying baseball without all the baggage attached.