The remade Red Sox win, but the biggest stars aren't new

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

BOSTON -- The changeover was complete.

You could see it. You could feel it. And you certainly could hear it, in the seventh inning Wednesday night at Fenway Park.

"Lac-key! Lac-key! Lac-key!"

They love their new heroes around here. Even if not all of them are new.

The Red Sox went from 93 losses to World Series champions, from embarrassment to the embrace of all of New England.

They did it with new players. But they also did it with new versions of players they already had.

A healthy David Ortiz. A revitalized Jon Lester. And a guy named John Lackey.

As the Red Sox won 97 games, Lester and Lackey and Clay Buchholz (another guy already here) led the rotation. Ortiz was the lineup's biggest threat.

And as the Red Sox topped the Cardinals in the World Series, look who led them:

-- Ortiz was the guy the Cardinals couldn't get out, the easy choice as Most Valuable Player.

-- Lester was the pitcher the Cardinals couldn't beat, giving the Red Sox two of their four wins even though he was matched up both times with Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright. If not for Ortiz, he would have been an easy choice as MVP.

-- And at the end there was Lackey, the guy who finally won over all the Red Sox fans, as he was winning a World Series clincher for the second time in his career.

He won with the Angels in 2002, but he was mostly hated here, after coming to the Red Sox as a free agent four winters ago. He seemed to be the very symbol of the September 2011 collapse, even though others were more responsible and even though Lackey was pitching with an elbow that would soon require Tommy John surgery.

He missed all of last season recovering from the surgery, and then he came to spring training revitalized, just as all the Red Sox seemed to be revitalized. And just as the Red Sox proved themselves anew this season, so did Lackey.

And just as the fans grew to love this team, they even grew to love John Lackey. They chanted his name as the seventh inning went on, chanted it again and again and cheered as loud for him as they did for anyone when he walked off the mound with the clinching game in hand.

As he did, Lackey tipped his cap, something he had never been willing to do before at Fenway.

"It was my appreciation back to them," he said, as his teammates sprayed champagne all over the Red Sox clubhouse. "That was pretty dang special. I mean, Fenway Park, the World Series, it doesn't get much better than that."

Lester and Ortiz know that. They were both part of the 2007 Red Sox championship team, and Ortiz was here for the 2004 curse-busting October, as well. They were part of last season, too, part of the Bobby Valentine disaster.

Lester had easily his worst season in 2012. Of the 88 starting pitchers in the major leagues with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, Lester ranked 79th, at 4.82.

"For me, the biggest thing was the embarrassment of not being me," Lester said this spring.

There was no embarrassment this year. Lester was back to being Lester, and the Red Sox were back to being champions.

But there's no way they do it without Ortiz being Ortiz.

He wasn't bad last year, not like Lester. And he didn't miss the entire season, as Lackey did.

Ortiz just missed the entire second half -- the second half in which the Red Sox went from so-so to embarrassingly bad.

It gets overlooked sometimes that on July 16, the last day Ortiz was in the 2012 Red Sox regular lineup, the Sox were 46-44. They were just a half-game behind the Orioles, who were headed to the playoffs.

From that point on, with Ortiz playing in only one game, the Red Sox collapsed to a 23-49 finish.

Ortiz was still recovering this spring, still not ready to play when the Red Sox opened the season. But by then, they believed he'd be back, and they believed he'd be back to being himself.

"We all knew that if we could just have a good first 15 days, David was going to be there for us," bench coach Torey Lovullo said.

By midseason, rival scouts were saying that Ortiz was once again one of the most feared hitters in the American League. In this World Series, there was no one like him.

He took over with his bat, with his mouth, and with his presence. He reached base in 18 of his first 23 plate appearances. The Cardinals tried pitching to him, and they tried walking him.

Nothing worked.

By Game 6, the Cardinals basically gave up trying to get him out. Starter Michael Wacha walked him once unintentionally and then twice intentionally, but all that did was make sure that Ortiz scored runs in both the three-run third inning and the three-run fourth.

He had an incredible World Series, one that fully justified his clubhouse nickname of "Cooperstown." He even rallied the Red Sox with an impromtu dugout speech, when they needed it the most in the middle of Game 4.

"Let's get back to playing our brand of baseball," Ortiz told his teammates, as they gathered around him.

At that point, the Cardinals led the World Series two games to one, and Game 4 was tied at 1-1 in the fifth. From that point on, the Cardinals didn't win a game, and the Red Sox outscored them, 12-3.

They played a lot like the Red Sox who swept World Series in 2004 and 2007, two teams Ortiz was a big part of. Lester was on that 2007 team, too, pitching 5 2/3 shutout innings in the clinching game in Colorado.

Things would get worse, much worse, before they got better again. Changes would be made. The Red Sox would try first with guys like Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, and then replace them with guys like Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino.

But in this comeback season, and especially in this triumphant World Series, some of the biggest names belonged to guys who were already here.

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