Title Wave Boston’s texting, tight-knit tough guys are on a quest to win back-to-back World Series.

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Photo Credit: Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox

After two months of spring training, a six-month season and a month long march through the playoffs that culminated in the Red Sox’s first World Series coronation on Fenway Park soil in 95 years, Kristi Gomes figured she had finally regained her husband’s undivided attention.

If only she could pry the phone from his hands.

The first text messages began flying almost from the moment the duck boats were sheltered after the championship parade. The players had scattered, like birds migrating south for the winter, but nearly three-quarters of the Sox’s roster was engaged in daily dialogue via a chain of texts that everyone agrees was likely instigated by Jonny Gomes, the outfielder who might as well have a Ph.D. in team chemistry. The chatter, most of which is not fit for print, ranged from workout advice and encouragement to hot-stove gossip and trash talk.

Gomes shared pictures of the new tattoo that branded the right side of his torso and served as his most permanent memento from the 2013 season. A few days after Christmas, motor-mouthed second baseman Dustin Pedroia urged, “OK, go run it off! Keep working!” And everyone begged slugging first baseman Mike Napoli to simply sign a new contract already and end the suspense of his free agency.

“It was every f—-ing day, all day,” Jonny Gomes says of the texts. “Any time some guy signed somewhere else, any time someone got traded, advice, invites here and there, checking in with each other, wishing ‘Merry Christmas,’ ‘Happy New Year,’ it was like a friggin’ frat house. I mean, I don’t think there’s one person’s wife who wasn’t sick of it.”

And if there are a few reasons to believe the Red Sox can become the first team this century to win back-to-back World Series, those messages—and what they represent—might be the biggest.

It doesn’t sound like much, teammates staying in touch during the offseason, but Gomes had never seen anything like it.

A veteran of 11 big league seasons spent with five teams, Gomes has hundreds of former teammates and friends in the game, many of whom work out at the same training facility in Scottsdale, Ariz. In baseball, everyone knows everyone, so much so that journeyman infielder Brent Lillibridge (briefly a member of the Red Sox in 2012) once memorably dubbed the majors “a sorority of guys.” Loyalties can be fleeting, especially with mercenary free agents hopping from team to team, but Gomes still shakes his head whenever he bumps into a player who doesn’t have the first clue what any of his teammates are up to.

“I’ll talk to a guy and be like, ‘Hey, how’s so-and-so?’ ” Gomes says. “And they’re like, ‘I don’t know.’ I’m like, ‘You don’t know? That’s the guy who hits behind you. You’ve got no idea?’ It happens all the time. But we were like, literally, 15 guys deep [on the text chain]. I wrote a few times, ‘Don’t take this for granted. This s—- does NOT happen.’ ”

Gomes was referring to the bond that has developed in the Red Sox’s clubhouse during the past year. After the beer-and-chicken flap that symbolized the historic collapse of September 2011 and ushered in a miserable 2012 season—one that featured a disconnect between ownership and the front office, as well as a player mutiny against out-of-touch manager Bobby Valentine—the team needed an attitude adjustment. The Sox hired even-keeled manager John Farrell and signed free agents Gomes, Napoli, catcher David Ross, pitcher Ryan Dempster and right fielder Shane Victorino, all of whom are known for their character and baseball IQ as much as their physical talent.   

In a matter of months, the Sox morphed from Animal House into Band of Brothers. They grew bushy, runaway beards to mimic Gomes, wore American-flag boxer shorts in the locker room and organized team meals on the road, a routine that began on the night of April 15, when two dozen players showed up for an impromptu steak dinner at Morton’s in Cleveland to discuss how they could help after the Boston Marathon bombings.

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Photo Credit: Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox

Although the bombings may have accelerated the bonding process, these Red Sox didn’t need an overwhelming sense of civic duty as an excuse to grow close. They liked talking baseball almost as much as they enjoyed one another’s company. So as Farrell and his coaching staff focused on each day’s game and stressed attention to detail in compiling scouting reports that were thicker than War and Peace, the players lapped it up, spending hours scanning video or talking shop in the batting cage. There was a pervading sense of accountability; nobody wanted to let his teammates down.

“Guys would be like, ‘Hey, let’s go meet in so-and-so’s room tonight. We’ll hang out and talk baseball,’ ” Victorino says. “It’s just a bunch of guys that love the game. That’s the culture of this team.”

Owner John Henry’s internal projections suggested a win total in the 80s, but the players were more ambitious. On their first day as teammates in spring training, Dempster casually asked Gomes how he was doing. “Just another day closer to the parade,” Gomes said, and he wasn’t kidding. The rejoinder became popular among teammates en route to 97 regular-season wins, an AL East title and, sure enough, the Red Sox’s third World Series championship in 10 years.

Perhaps the best measure of the Sox’s astounding consistency: They never lost more than three games in a row.

Jake Peavy saw it right away. The veteran pitcher was acquired in a July 30 trade with the Chicago White Sox; a few weeks later, Gomes saw a picture of Peavy’s 5,000-acre ranch, “Southern Falls,” along the Alabama River. “When we win the World Series,” Gomes said, “you’ve got to buy the duck boat you rode on and bring it [home] with you.”

“He’s talking about a World Series parade. They all were,” Peavy says. “It’s August, and they’re talking about it like it’s going to happen. It was crazy. To be traded into that atmosphere and have a chance to play with those guys, and such a special group, it was a dream come true. It doesn’t happen very often.”

It’s equally rare for teams to win back-to-back championships.

It used to happen all the time. The New York Yankees won five World Series in a row from 1949 to ’53, and even in the decade after expansion, the Oakland Athletics captured three straight from 1972 to ’74, Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” won in 1975 and ’76, and the Yankees overcame their “Bronx Zoo” infighting to win in 1977 and ’78.

But since then there have been only two championship streaks. The Toronto Blue Jays won back-to-back crowns in 1992 and ’93, and the Joe Torre-guided Yankees reached dynastic heights with four World Series titles in five seasons, including three in a row from 1998 to 2000. In the past 20 years, the only other organizations to even reach the World Series in back-to-back years were the 1995-96 Atlanta Braves, the 2008-09 Philadelphia Phillies and the 2010-11 Texas Rangers. Six of the past 11 World Series champs missed the playoffs entirely, one season after popping champagne. It’s no wonder Pedroia calls repeating “the toughest thing to do in sports.”

The odds are stacked against the 2014 Red Sox before they even play a game.

The Sox came tantalizingly close to back-to-back World Series appearances a few years ago. After sweeping the Colorado Rockies to win the 2007 World Series, they returned to the AL Championship Series in 2008 and took the Tampa Bay Rays to a do-or-die Game 7 before dropping a 3-1 nail-biter that Pedroia still recalls as “a huge letdown.”

“Shoot, I think we were four, five innings away, winning in the fourth or fifth,” says Pedroia, the Sox’s de facto captain. “You don’t want that feeling. Once you win, you want to stay there and be on top all the time.”

The era of free agency, which began in the mid-1970s, has only increased the challenge of defending a title, and with shortstop Stephen Drew, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and, most significantly, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury not returning from the championship roster, the Red Sox aren’t immune to that reality.

Although there’s confidence from the organization that young third baseman Will Middlebrooks and prized 21-year-old shortstop Xander Bogaerts will be able to pick up some of the offensive slack, Ellsbury’s defection to the rival Yankees leaves a void atop the batting order and uncertainty as to whether rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. or injury reclamation project Grady Sizemore will succeed in center field.

But while the Red Sox don’t look as good on paper as they did six months ago, they prefer to read from their phones anyway. And whenever a player on the offseason text chain brought up last year’s success, he was inundated with an off-color rallying cry that caught on so fast that Gomes had it printed on the front of T-shirts that were worn in the locker room during spring training: “Turn the f—-in’ page.”

“That’s been a slogan of ours in the text messages we exchanged with the guys—hey, let’s turn the page; it’s a new year,” Peavy says. “It’s 2014. We haven’t done anything.”

Every season presents unique challenges. Save for the shoulder strain that sidelined pitcher Clay Buchholz for three months, and various maladies that ailed relief pitchers, the Red Sox stayed remarkably free of long-term injuries last year. They also avoided a potential crisis when Koji Uehara emerged from the bullpen ranks to become as dominant as any closer in history.

Odds are, they won’t be so lucky again.

But Victorino, the strong-armed right fielder from Hawaii, suggested the Sox have developed a winning culture that will help them overcome whatever adversity awaits. He came within two wins of repeating with a Phillies team that possessed similar clubhouse harmony centered on a core group of players who were in the prime of their careers. When he looks at Pedroia, David Ortiz, Buchholz and ace lefty Jon Lester, he sees 2008-09 Phillies cornerstones Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels.

“In Philly, no matter who we got—if it was a Cy Young winner, someone at the trade deadline—when they came into the clubhouse it was one idea, one identity,” Victorino says. “Same here. No matter if you’re Jake Peavy with 12 years in the big leagues or a rookie like Xander Bogaerts who’s a young phenom, we’re all checking that at the door. It’s easy to buy into what we’ve got here.

“There’s a lot that goes into [repeating]—injuries, keeping everybody healthy, guys doing exactly what they did the year before. But if there’s one team that I’m confident has the exact ingredient and the exact chemistry that you need to do it, it’s this team.”

And so, while the Red Sox turn the page, as their chain of texts demands, they must take care not to go too far. After all, if they’re going to achieve the rarity of the repeat, they will need to rely on their greatest resource—the chemistry forged last year. 

Scott Lauber covers the Red Sox for theBoston Herald.

Fielding Questions Everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask about the 2014 Red Sox.

Red Sox Preview

Like the blooming of the hydrangeas or the return of the red-bellied beer swiller to the sands of Wollaston Beach, spring wouldn’t be spring without some bizarre Red Sox drama. And, per usual, there’s been plenty. Consider catching prospect Jon Denney, who might make the lineup this year—a police lineup, that is. Denney kept the Sox’s spring training arrest streak alive by getting pulled over twice in the same night. The second encounter brought out the cuffs, at which point Denney informed the police how rich he is. Because cops love to hear that from a 19-year-old.

Moving on from Denney’s Moons Over My Hammy Jailhouse Breakfast, the Red Sox also had a swarm of bees delay a spring training game with the Yankees. New York first baseman Mark Teixeira
brought out two bottles of honey and suggested using it to lure the bees out to the parking lot. We strongly encourage all Red Sox fans to implement this information in a Teixeira chant, perhaps referencing Winnie the Pooh or Honey Boo Boo.

And don’t forget that Jake Peavy was injured when he slashed his finger with a giant knife while cutting the packaging on a pair of new fishing rods. Making matters worse, he then went fishing instead of to the doctor. As the saying goes: Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he’ll miss three days with a gnarly finger laceration.

So, an arrest, swarms of bees, a freak knife accident—it must be time for another Red Sox season! Let’s assess the good, the bad and the frankly unknowable by answering 10 important questions about the 2014 Boston Red Sox.

We won the World Series. Does that mean we’re the favorites?

Vegas doesn’t think so, with most bookies ranking the Sox’s chances behind those of the Dodgers, the Tigers, the Nationals and the Cardinals—and nearly even with the Yanks and the Rays. (The Yankees’ odds improved conspicuously when they signed Masahiro “Hopefully Not Dice-K Part II” Tanaka for $155 million.) This should come as good news for Boston fans, since an element of national skepticism seems essential to Red Sox fortunes. They may have clinched three titles in the past decade, but they still function better with an underdog mentality. And by the way, if you wagered a million dollars last spring on the 2013 Red Sox winning the World Series, you’d have won $35 million. Too bad you didn’t do that.

But why would anyone doubt our awesomeness?

Well, losing Jacoby Ellsbury might have something to do with it. Last December, I was walking through Kenmore Square when a Fox 25 cameraman stopped me on the sidewalk to ask what I thought about Ellsbury going to the Yankees. I said something about the precedent from 2012 to 2013—losing three big names and subsequently winning the World Series—and how history shows the Sox don’t need to get overly invested in a single player. And while I genuinely believe my own sound bite, it still hurts to lose Ellsbury. The upshot, I suppose, is that given his propensity for injury, the Sox are already accustomed to playing without him.

So who’s playing center?

The happy surprise in this dilemma is the unexpectedly wonderful play from Grady Sizemore, whom we expected to be about as relevant as Grady Little (or Tom Sizemore). But clearly, the center field duties will be handled exclusively by hot young star Jackie Bradley Jr. That is, unless Sizemore somehow locks it up and Bradley is sent to Pawtucket. Of course, the two of them could also platoon, with the Sox grooming Bradley while moderating Sizemore’s day-to-day workload. One of those options will almost definitely play out—of this we are certain. But the Sizemore situation just goes to show that taking a flier on an injury-prone old guy can work out really well. Which brings us to…

How about that John Lackey and the rest of the starting rotation?

Returning from Tommy John surgery is a fraught process—some guys regain their form, but many others never manage to revive their careers. John Lackey turned out to belong to the former group, as underscored by his masterful outdueling of Justin Verlander in the Sox’s crucial 1-0 win in Game 3 of the ALCS. Even finer for Lackey, some folks think the second year after the surgery can go even better than the first (this, apparently, is the word on the Tommy John street).

The rest of the news on the Red Sox rotation is that there isn’t much news. And that’s great. There have been years when the team might know the first two starters and everything else is up for grabs, which can lead to uneven performances—starters seem to thrive on routine. This year, the rotation looks like Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Lackey, Peavy and Felix Doubront. Given Ryan Dempster’s unexpected retirement, it’s possible that Chris Capuano could get in the mix for the five-spot, but for the most part there’s a dearth of controversy.

And for that, we can at least partially thank Dr. Frank Jobe, who brought Tommy John surgery to baseball and just died this spring. We hereby propose an Official Salute to Frank Jobe at Fenway. Capuano can celebrate it on consecutive days—he’s had Tommy John surgery twice.

Who’s behind the plate?

While the starters on the mound seem all but locked in, there might be a varied cast on the other side of those pitches, as there’s no shoo-in to preside over hallowed ground once owned by the A-Rod-smashing mitt of Jason Varitek. We’ve got A.J. Pierzynski, who fits nicely in the Varitek model of catchers who are not afraid to incorporate their fists and/or faces in on-field disputes. (During his time with the White Sox, the team created an All-Star promotion encouraging fans to “Punch A.J.”) There’s David Ross, Ryan Lavarnway, Christian Vazquez and Dan Butler. Who emerges as the most popular day-to-day option might depend more on rapport with pitchers and the nebulous concept of game management than on offensive stats. We’ll miss Salty, but backstop is one position where the Red Sox have a lot of good options.

Can Papi remain Papi?

To anyone who hates the concept of the designated hitter, we challenge you to look at David Ortiz and tell him he can’t play. Just look him right in the eye and tell him he has to either field a position or retire. You can’t do it, can you? Thanks to the DH, the Red Sox still have their 2004-era title talisman, their mascot, their fearsome power-hitting clubhouse glue. He may slump, for sure—he’s had a horrible spring training while angling for a contract extension he finally got—but given Ortiz’s track record, you know he’s always going to come back around. He’s still the guy other teams shudder to see striding to the plate in crucial situations, waggling his bat and taking those massive cuts that have a way of lasering the pitch back into the bullpen. You know the phrase “Act like you’ve been there”? Well, Papi’s been there, he acts like it and he’s a key reason the 2014 Red Sox have an excellent chance of playing baseball in October.

We have a closer! Right?

Well, probably. Last year Koji Uehara took over closing duties in June and subsequently emerged as the most lights-out finisher in the league. His WHIP stat (walks plus hits per inning pitched) was 0.57, which is the lowest in major league history. But closers are all about catching lightning in a bottle, and success one year is no guarantee of future performance. Fortunately, Uehara only had four months as the closer, so hopefully he can pick up where he left off. But if we get to August and Edward Mujica or Junichi Tazawa or Brandon Workman has emerged as the new go-to guy, don’t fret. As Uehara himself proves, sometimes the secret weapon is the best weapon of all.   

Are we strong at shortstop?

It looks like Xander Bogaerts could mature into a fantastic shortstop, but he’s still green. While we certainly hope that Bogaerts develops into the Sox’s first long-term shortstop since Nomar, in the meantime there’s still the distraction of the unsigned Stephen Drew. Luckily, we have a solution: First we tell Drew that his agent Scott Boras requested a meeting, and then we trick him into walking into an “office” that is really a shipping container on a cargo vessel bound for Japan. To thicken the plot, Manny Ramirez will be in there waiting for a meeting too. After a week at sea, Manny will remark, “Man, Nomar, this is a strange cruise ship.” None of this will resolve the situation, but it will be a great way to take the heat off Bogaerts if he has an early slump. 

Are the important beards back?

Winning a title is sweet enough, but the Red Sox get bonus points for doing it while rocking a look that George Steinbrenner would’ve hated. If nasty facial hair correlates to postseason success, then warm up the duck boats, because the Sox’s most hirsute bunch is back to win games, take names and make the Duck Dynasty guys look like Justin Bieber. Mike Napoli, Dustin Pedroia and Shane Victorino all return, providing a crucial thread of continuity with the championship crew. General manager Ben Cherington knows you can’t expect to bring back the exact team that won a title, but re-signing Napoli was a key move.

Is greatness the new normal?

We’d like to think so, but the post-2007 years spent wandering the wilderness prove how injuries and free-agent miscalculations can utterly torpedo a formerly competitive team. Freshly minted championship aside, it would be foolish to think that the Red Sox are suddenly immune to the forces that so very recently dropped them to last place. But the Cherington regime seems to embrace a certain philosophic adaptability that bodes well for long-term success—Cherington will blow up a team when necessary (see: Josh Beckett and friends), but he’ll also spend the money to keep the guys he deems crucial. He’s not playing Yankees-style acquisition by brute force, and he’s not exactly going the Moneyball route either. If anything, Cherington appears to embrace a Belichick-style gimlet eye toward his team’s needs and his available resources. That means practicing patience with younger players like Bogaerts and Bradley rather than gutting the farm system to grab the free agent du jour. And it means sometimes letting popular players like Ellsbury walk. It’s hard to know which signing—or lack of signing—will haunt you, but for 2014 Cherington basically adhered to the notion that you don’t mess with success. Was that the right call? Head on down to Yawkey Way, because we’re about to find out.

sithhappen:

Luke Skywalker + doing background faces (A New Hope)

1,508 notes

mrdisneylandman:

swiggityswagurfab:






This guy would survive a horror movie.

This guy would survive a horror movie.

Every single time this comes up on my dash it gets funnier. Like I just fell of of my bed from laughing so hard

He hit him with a lamp. 

I love his freedom pants.

im crying omg

His Fight or Flight survival instincts are in working order! haha

mrdisneylandman:

swiggityswagurfab:


This guy would survive a horror movie.

This guy would survive a horror movie.

Every single time this comes up on my dash it gets funnier. Like I just fell of of my bed from laughing so hard

He hit him with a lamp.

I love his freedom pants.

im crying omg

His Fight or Flight survival instincts are in working order! haha

1,107,001 notes