BOSTON — They had won their early game, beaten the Rays by a run, and were on the bus toward Logan Airport when the text messages began coming in. Something terrible had happened behind them, bombs had exploded near the finish line at the Marathon and when their police escort had to leave them they understood.
The next night, the Red Sox were hundreds of miles away from the carnage, anger and fear back home. They were in Cleveland, observing a moment of silence. Jonny Gomes, one of the many newcomers, hung a jersey with “Boston Strong” and area code 6-1-7 in the dugout, where it stayed all night.
“The one moment that stands out in my mind,” manager John Farrell said, “is during the moment of silence in Cleveland following the bombing here. It wasn’t so much about on-field performance. We had gotten off to a good start the first two or three weeks of the season, but we saw some things come out of the individuals that spoke to their understanding that they were in a special place, and showed some characteristics at a very difficult and unique time.
“Whether that was the galvanizing moment of this team, I can’t say, but it was a moment in time when guys showed a different side … that this was a special group. The total number of wins we’d achieve, we didn’t know. But character that showed through in that moment that was special.”
By then, April 16, the Red Sox already had an identity. Gomes’ full-beard look was catching on, and there were promising signs that, from the ashes and the chaos of two previous seasons, a new day for the Olde Towne Team had dawned. A fan base that had reason to feel betrayed two years ago could believe again that the players wearing ‘Boston’ on their uniforms cared as much as they do.
When the Red Sox returned to Fenway, David Ortiz gave that memorable speech, F-bomb and all, and a tone was set.
“There’s a lot more that we play for than between those lines,” Gomes said. “Obviously, you play for your manager, you play for the identity of the team and the city you represent. The professionals inside here, the guys with huge hearts and heavy bats, are willing to take that load. It’s not really the win-loss record that determines that ‘Boston strong,’ it’s a lifestyle, the way you go about things.”
Gomes’ shaved head and long beard is contemporary grunge. Others wear their beards neatly trimmed. Others, well, Mike Napoli looks as if he walked out of the 1888 U.S. Senate. Jarrod Saltalamacchia looks like he walked out of Woodstock in 1969. David Ortiz still just looks like David Ortiz. The beards, T-shirts extolling them — “Fear The Beard,” and “Blood, Sweat and Beards,” for instance — bring uniformity to an odd collections of ballplayers the Red Sox assembled with method, and not financial madness, last winter.
“We’re a bunch of guys that enjoy the game of baseball,” Saltalamacchia said. “We enjoy talking about baseball, enjoy being around baseball all the time. The beards, that’s this team, we’re all talking about things. That’s why we’re doing it, because we’re all together and we’re all talking. So it’s not where one or two guys are doing it, it’s everybody.”
The Red Sox took control of the AL East in midseason and never looked back, finishing first in a division in which, a year ago, they finished last. Their improvement of 28 games, from 69 to 97 wins, is one of the best one-year turnarounds in baseball history.
Back in the playoffs for the first time in four years, they begin the Division Series at home Friday against Tampa Bayat 3:07 p.m.
“Yeah, everyone loves each other — that’s it,” said Dustin Pedroia, who played on the 2007 championship team as well as the last-place team, and doesn’t seem to care why this is all working out. “Everyone has beards and we all love each other. We play for each other, and it’s been fun. We’re where we are because we’ve played well together.”