BOSTON -- It was party time from the very beginning. From the signs on Newbury St. on a drizzly Wednesday morning ("Paint the Town Red Sox") to the horde of folks packing Yawkey Way outside Fenway Park by midafternoon (five hours before game time) to the Dropkick Murphys rocking the joint with their signature I'm Shipping Up to Boston right after the national anthem.
The Red Sox were shipping home for the final game -- or, at worst, two games -- of 2013. And what is incredibly striking about the modern-day Red Sox is how nearly every single thing they've touched since that rousing October comeback in 2004 against the Yankees has turned to gold. Everything this side of chicken, beer and Bobby Valentine, and you can bury those things in the same graveyard as the Curse of the Bambino was laid to rest. Start digging on Halloween. Perfect.
Crown them. Boston won its third World Series title in 10 years, blitzing the Cardinals 6-1 in a definitive Game 6 statement as the final pieces of another New England summer turned golden with the leaves. John Lackey was aces and World Series Most Valuable Player David Ortiz scored twice, representing the Old Guard, and Shane Victorino's three-run double against Michael Wacha in the third essentially broke this one open. Score first blood on this night for the New Guard.
What a decade to be a Red Sox fan. Even the big digs of last summer's 93-loss train wreck melted away in one perfect offseason for general manager Ben Cherington. Five of the seven free agents he signed last winter were in Wednesday's lineup: Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew and David Ross.
"We have a lot of players with heart," Ortiz said as Boston kicked into what surely was going to be an all-night party. "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."
So charmed and skilled are these modern-day Red Sox that they won this title in Boston, something that they hadn't done in 95 years.
Last time they won a World Series in Fenway Park it was 1918, Babe Ruth was wearing the Red Sox flannels, World War I was wrapping up and -- true story -- in the decisive Game 6, they dispatched the score via carrier pigeons to the boys at Fort Devens, a major United States Army base at that time and some 50 miles from Boston (as the pigeon flies) near the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border.
"Every inning," said Dick Bresciani, the former Red Sox public relations director who now is vice-president of archives and history. "It might have even been every half-inning. From the old press box to Fort Devens."
No small part of the reason Lackey follows Carl Mays in the lineage of starting pitchers to win World Series clinch games at Fenway is because Cherington and club president Larry Lucchino were able to arrange last August's in-the-shadow-of-the-Green Monster deal with the Dodgers, sending Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford the way of the carrier pigeons in Boston.
With that savings of roughly $265 million, the Red Sox seeded their 2013 roster with seven players -- the aforementioned five, plus closer Koji Uehara and starting pitcher Ryan Dempster. No more than $39 million was committed to one player (Victorino), and the seven signed for a total of 12 years and $100.45 million.
The Sox also hired John Farrell away from Toronto to replace Valentine.
The moves completely changed the clubhouse chemistry, the look of the roster and and entire relationship between the team and the city. When September 2011 began, the Sox owned the best record in the majors. Then came the collapse that spawned a zillion chicken and beer jokes, followed by the lost summer of 2012.
"Once we got into the season, you don't know what the outcome is going to be, but you felt like this was a different group of people," Cherington said on the Fenway lawn following the trophy presentation, with the crowd at full roar and the love-in underway. "The way they were coming together, the way they were giving it up for each other, completely selfless.
"To have this many talented players be as selfless as they were, just a lot of fun to be around ... it'll probably sink in a few weeks from now."
Lackey, back from Tommy John surgery, reinvented himself. He dropped 25 pounds and totally reshaped his body and recommitted himself. And Ortiz, coming off of an injury-wrecked season (Achilles problems) in 2012, returned to form at 37.
Ortiz terrorized St. Louis pitching throughout this World Series whenever the Cardinals threw anything near the strike zone. He rounded up the Red Sox troops for a memorable dugout motivational speech in Game 4 in St. Louis. He reached base in an astounding 19 of 25 plate appearances in this World Series, completely changing the complexion of it.
He wound up batting .688 (11 for 16), with a 1.188 slugging percentage. The Cardinals are going to see Big Papi right there with their visions of sugar plums on Christmas Eve. He was the oven, they were the Thanksgiving birds. Wow.
"I take my hat off to him," Red Sox batting coach Greg Colbrunn said amid the champagne. "Especially the way he goes about his business, he's a great professional, he embraces this city and being a superstar.
"I've never seen anything like it."
Nobody has. Nobody with as many at-bats has ever produced a batting average and on-base percentage as high as Ortiz in World Series history. As a player, Colbrunn was on teams with Luis Gonzalez, Matt Williams, Steve Finley and Jay Bell (Diamondbacks), Gary Sheffield (Marlins) and Edgar Martinez and Ichiro Suzuki (Mariners) and, as the man said, still never saw anything like it.
"David's unbelievable," Colbrunn said.
As he sat at home in Maryland watching his old pupil train this World Series to sit, heel and play dead like a puppy, Terry Crowley, Ortiz's first major-league hitting coach with the Twins in 1997, was thinking back to those early days.
"He worked as hard as any player I ever had," said Crowley, the longtime hitting coach in Minnesota and Baltimore. "There were some discouraging days, some spots in the strike zone he had trouble with.
"I do some card tricks, and David loved card tricks. I'd tell him, 'David, go give me the best at-bat you can, and I'll show you a really good card trick.'"
Taking batting practice before Game 6 with a game face locked into off-the-charts focus, Ortiz smiled at the memory of then, and now.
"He had some great card tricks," Ortiz said.
Then he went back into the cage, a beast pawing at the gate with a world championship awaiting on the other side of his evening. This is a man who now produces magic without the aid of a deck of cards.
Outside Fenway, the Internet and StubHub had firmly replaced those carrier pigeons of 1918, with fans paying thousands for a box seat and even for standing-room only tickets.
The Red Sox scored three times in the third on Victorino's double and three more in the fourth on Drew's home run and singles from Napoli and Victorino. Their ambush of Wacha was quick, decisive and thorough.
"As the outs got less and less, as things got on our side for the better, whatever you were feeling, magnify that by 10, or whatever number you want," Victorino said. "To be standing out there [in the field]. ..."
The end of their season could not have been more fitting, completing the circle right back to the warm spring days in Fort Myers, Fla., at the beginning: After Ortiz carried the Sox to the brink, every Game 6 RBI came from one of the free agents the Red Sox added over the winter. And then Uehara arrived to close it out.
From the moment starter Jake Peavy arrived on Aug. 1 in the July deadline trade with the White Sox, he felt the bond that had developed. He heard over and over again how Dustin Pedroia told everyone this spring that the Red Sox could win, but it was "going to have to happen as a unit." There were both inward signs and, yes, outward symbols as well.
"I have a beard on my face I've never had, and I'm 32 years old," Peavy said.
Gomes and Jarrod Saltalamacchia were the first two greet him in the clubhouse when he arrived, and they both eagerly delivered the same message.
"Both of them, their first words spoken to me were, 'We're going to win the World Series,'" Peavy said. "Both of those guys, the first words out of their mouths.
All of them did. Through their turnaround from 93 losses last year to 97 wins this year. Through the division series against the Rays, the American League Championship Series against the Tigers and, finally, through the World Series against the Cardinals. Even when they fell behind 2 games to 1, come hell, high water or even obstruction calls.
And then, there was the city, the bombing the day of the Boston Marathon and the raw emotions that spilled out of that. And the ongoing, pure, unadulterated love for its baseball team. Especially this baseball team. The Beckett Gang finally did what few others in Red Sox history could do, and that was to turn off a large segment of the fan base where, like the old TV theme song goes, everybody knows their names.
"This city is so passionate," Ross said. "It is such a passionate group, and you don't want to let them down.
"When you're able to go this far, you don't want to let them down."
You bet the fans were a part of this.
"They share in it," Farrell said. "They deservedly share in it. Everything that we've gone through here in this city this year, it's fitting that not only are they here to witness it, but that John Lackey was on the mound, given all that he's been through as well."
No way was Lackey going to lose this game.
"I was pretty daggone determined," he said. "They were going to have to do something special tonight to beat me."
No way did these players want to let each other down.
"It's a hard group not to like," Ross said. "This is a fun group."
Crown them. It is a fitting achievement for a franchise at the top of its game, a fitting moment for a Big Papi at the summit of the mountain.
There's no telling what the people filling Fenway 95 years from now will say as they look back on Ortiz's incredible series, not even with the help of carrier pigeons or the World Wide Web.
"I sure as hell won't know," Farrell said, chuckling. "I won't be here. You know what? This organization's had a lot of success in the past eight, 10 years. And to share it with the people here, this is an incredible place to come play every single night.
"And thankfully we've been able to give something back to them."