Koji Uehara is a miracle. As a rookie in 1999, he led Nippon Professional Baseball in wins, strikeouts, and ERA. He won Rookie of the Year and the Eiji Sawamura Award, Japan’s version of the Cy Young. In an exhibition in 2002, he struck out Barry Bonds three straight times. While he didn’t again put up the numbers seen his rookie year, he was an all-star eight times in his ten seasons in Japan. In 2009, he left his homeland to pitch in the Major Leagues. This year, at the age of 38, he came to the Boston Red Sox. He was not supposed to be the closer, but when injuries handed him that role, he proceeded to dominate. Including the playoffs, he struck out 117 batters and walked just nine. At one point, he retired 37 consecutive batters, more than a perfect game’s worth. He allowed fewer baserunners per inning this season than any pitcher (with a minimum of 50 innings) in the century-plus history of Major League Baseball. He doesn’t speak English, and he doesn’t throw much faster than 90 MPH, but he was unhittable this year. In 2011, the Texas Rangers left him off their World Series roster. In 2013, he got the final out.
Equally improbable is the story of Xander Bogaerts, the polyglot 21 year-old. He was born in Aruba, home to honkbal, and this March he played for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic. After the surprising run to the semi-finals, Bogaerts found himself in Portland, Maine. He played 56 games for the AA Sea Dogs this year, before moving on to Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and AAA. He only had 18 games for Boston before ending up on the playoff roster. He is the newest member of the team, but he already has a ring.
Shane Victorino is probably not the first person to have the nickname Flyin’ Hawaiian. But after his grand slam in the ALCS clincher, the title is his to keep around here. He didn’t hit it very far; a similar fly ball to right field may not have gone out. But Shane stopped hitting lefty in August, because a groin injury made it painful for him to swing from that side. He might never hit lefty again. When he was interviewed after that game, he described coming to Boston as “rejubilation.”
David Ortiz. De que planeta vienes, Papi? The sole remaining member of the 2004 championship team was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He signed in Seattle in 1992, debuted in Minnesota in 1997, and began writing his legend in Boston in 2003. He was hurt when this year began, and didn’t play until April 20th. That was the first game at Fenway after the bombs went off, after the manhunt was over. Ortiz, unannounced, grabbed the microphone at the end of the pre-game ceremonies and, after thanking the mayor, governor, and police, he proudly declared that “this is our fucking city.”
The beauty of baseball, nay, the beauty of sports, is that it brings together people from different backgrounds, and unites them for a single goal. Where else could guys like Uehara and Ortiz cross paths? I have experienced fewer Marathon Mondays, I assume, than most of the people who were in the Fenway crowd that Saturday when Ortiz dropped the F-bomb. But we all cheered the same way when Nava hit a home run to take the lead in the 8th.
The World Series was originally named after a newspaper. In 2013, its name feels very apt.