Chris Williams paints the World Series logo on the field during media day the day before game one of the 2013 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals at Fenway Park. (USA TODAY Sports: Robert Deutsch)
BOSTON — An unusual makeover moved the Boston Red Sox from the cellar to the penthouse of Major League Baseball and made cozy, antique Fenway Park the site of Wednesday’s opener of the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Rather than pour in money to spiff up the roster, the Red Sox practiced addition by crafty subtraction as they dumped some high salaries and hand-picked playoff tested veterans such as Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes to revive the team.
General manager Ben Cherington was chided in some circles for replacing such big-money players as Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and pitcher Josh Beckett with lesser luminaries, but the mixture took hold and became a cohesive, winning bunch under new manager John Farrell.
Boston went from an embarrassing 69-73 in 2012, their worst record in 47 years, to 97-65 for the best record in the American League this season.
They also looked like they were having the most fun, joining hands in ditching their razors to let their beards grow long and bushy in a symbol of togetherness.
The Red Sox renovation began after a September 2011 swoon in which they squandered a nine-game lead and missed the playoffs.
What made matters worse was the revelation that discipline and team spirit had sunk so low that certain Boston pitchers were feasting on fried chicken and beer and playing video games in the clubhouse during games.
Farrell, who years ago helped supervise the Cleveland Indians minor league system at the same time as Cherington held that role in Boston, said he got to know him in those days and that they valued the same attributes in players.
“How they respected the game, how they respected the name on the front of the jersey more than the name on the back,” said Farrell. “Those are ingredients into the type of player that we were attracted to and the reputations that those individuals (we acquired) had.”
The team also bonded tightly with the city in a time of crisis, in the days following the bombing attacks that killed three people and wounded more than 260 people near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in April.
After the club returned from a brief road trip three days later, the players divided themselves into groups of five and visited hospitals to lift the spirits of bombing victims.
The team staged an emotional pre-game ceremony honoring first responders and victims of the blasts at the first Fenway game, five days after the April 15 tragedy.
David “Big Papi” Ortiz, the senior member of the club, grabbed the microphone at the end of the moving ceremony.
“This is our (expletive) city, and nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong,” the beloved slugger said, further endearing himself to Red Sox Nation.
The team maintains its connection, with a “B Strong” logo on the Green Monster wall in left field, one on their uniforms and another etched into the Fenway grass in centerfield.
“It was a moment and time that enabled us to galvanize in a certain way,” Farrell said. “It was an opportunity for our players to understand their importance to the city and what the Red Sox players mean to this region.”
The clash with the Cardinals is a rematch of the 2004 World Series, which the Red Sox won in a sweep to end an 86-year title drought after making MLB’s first ever comeback from a 3-0 series deficit to beat bitter rivals the Yankees for the AL pennant.
Three years later Boston swept to victory again in four games over the Colorado Rockies for the 2007 World Series crown.
With the so-called curse well behind them, the Red Sox have now returned to the World Series for the third time in a decade.
“You’ve got to remember the four people that aren’t able to come to a game again and their families and their legends they left behind,” said Gomes, including the university police officer shot and killed during the apprehension of the bombers.
“We know that in the back of our head there’s four angels up above pulling for us.”