Sox's new task at hand -- winning it all
Now that it's clinched, Boston can shift its focus to big prize
BOSTON -- Six months are in the books, and now the Red Sox get ready for the time of year they've been plotting for all along. Quite simply, October baseball is the expectation that has existed for Boston's storied franchise in recent years.
And with the Rangers losing to the Angels, 5-2, in a game that ended shortly before 1 a.m. ET on Wednesday, the Red Sox once again punched their ticket to the riveting stage known as Major League Baseball's postseason as the American League Wild Card entry.
"Not everybody gets prepared to be playing in October, but this ballclub gets prepared to be playing in October," said Red Sox slugger David Ortiz.
This will mark the sixth time in the past seven years, and 12th in the past 24, that the Red Sox have played meaningful games in October.
"We're excited," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "Any time you make the playoffs, it's a great accomplishment. It's a good season. Now we just have to go out there, play well and win a championship. It doesn't matter how you do it as long as you're in."
Their quest for a third World Series championship in the past six years officially begins next week, when the Red Sox take on the Angels in the AL Division Series.
Yes, the Red Sox are the Wild Card entry, just as they've been for five of their past six postseason berths. But they hardly feel like underdogs.
"I think a lot of guys on this team have been through it," said Pedroia. "When you get out there, you're nerves get going, but you just need to settle down and just play the game and have fun. Obviously, we're out for one goal, and that's to win."
Though the Red Sox pulled away in the Wild Card standings in mid-September, they were in a dogfight for most of the summer.
They struggled following the All-Star break, but general manager Theo Epstein helped fuel a late-season surge with three significant acquisitions.
The first and biggest was the deal that brought Victor Martinez over in a July 31 trade from the Indians. Martinez jolted the offense with his bat and provided inspiration in the clubhouse and dugout. Then, there was the Aug. 13 addition of Alex Gonzalez, who, in his second stint with the Red Sox, stabilized the infield with brilliant defense at short and some hits that were as unexpected as they were timely.
And finally, Epstein improved what was already the club's biggest strength, adding lefty reliever Billy Wagner in an Aug. 25 trade with the Mets.
"It's a different group of guys than what we started the year with," said Tim Wakefield, the knuckleballer who has been with the Red Sox since 1995. "That's what makes this special. The organization did a great job of picking up guys like Victor and Wags and putting pieces together when we were struggling for a little while, and we came through tonight to get in the postseason."
"I think we're a good team," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "We do have the flexibility financially to make moves when we think they're necessary. I think we've been able to, with our depth, even when guys have been injured, to keep playing good baseball. I think it was a matter of time before we really hit our stride."
From Aug. 10-Sept. 24, the Red Sox reeled off a 29-13 record, the best in baseball over that time. In recent days, Red Sox manager Terry Francona has tried to give every core player a rest, trying to create a fresh team come postseason.
The rotation has yet to be announced yet, but it has been speculated that Jon Lester will open the ALDS, followed by Josh Beckett in Game 2 and Clay Buchholz for Game 3.
Now, Francona will have a few more days to get things in order for the time of year that counts most.
"You want to kind of get your legs back under you, but at the same time, you don't want to get rusty, too," said Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay. "It's a fine line. I think, myself personally, hopefully maybe you can get a day or two off and just get some regular at-bats. The last thing you want to do is kind of go into the playoffs and have to flip the switch. You kind of want to just continue it. A day or two for everyone around here would definitely help. We also have a lot of days leading up to that series as well. So just a refresher, that works."
Does this Red Sox team have what it takes to win it all?
"I definitely think so," said Wagner. "We have good offense. Great starting pitching. Good defense and bullpen. We've got the ingredients. They've just got to be rolling at the right time to get that ring."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.