Instead, Victorino excelled in all three outfield positions, got on base constantly and symbolized the slew of Red Sox who produced more than anticipated — in victories, in facial hair and in almost too much joy in Fenway Park.
The veteran Victorino, one of many Red Sox trying to revive careers, redefine themselves or blossom, actually abandoned the switch-hitting style that helped define his whole Flyin’ Hawaiian career. A groin injury curtailed his hitting left-handed for much of the second half of the season.
On Saturday night in Fenway Park, Victorino batted right-handed against right-hander Jose Veras of the Detroit Tigers. No one in this town will forget that right-handed swing, his finger-pointing prance toward first base or the chest pounding of his fist as he watched a hit for history clear the Green Monster.
As the delightful perversity of great unexpected seasons seemed to ordain, Victorino was the Red Sox whose seventh-inning grand slam home run won Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, 5-2. Thus were the Red Sox delivered unto a World Series that they barely planned.
In the kind of merciless twist that pressure games apply, Victorino’s high fly on a big Veras curveball was preceded by an error by Tiger shortstop Jose Iglesias
, who began the year in Boston. Iglesias had a torrid spring to help Boston to a fast start, then slumped and was traded. Boston got the best of him and, on a grounder up the middle by Jacoby Ellsbury, an unlikely inning-ending double play but, still a possibility, the Tigers got the worst.
Perhaps the most beloved saga in baseball is the mocked losing team that makes trades, gets a new manager, finds a hot rookie, inks a free agent, gives itself a nickname, finds a castoff vet, milks unlikely career years, calls itself “Idiots,” surpasses expectations in spring, refuses to collapse in summer, reaches autumn brim with confidence and ends up in the World Series.
You’d think this kind of crazy confluence of improbabilities would be rare, something for B-list sports movies, an experience that most towns have never enjoyed. But you’d be wrong. The joyride on which the hairy Red Sox, the bearded Bostonians have taken their shocked fans this season is a wonderful and repetitive recurring trait of the game. Since 1987, 30 percent of all pennant winners were losers the previous season.
Look at the various Red Sox faces of Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, David Ross, Clay Buchholz, Dustin Pedroia, Will Middlebrooks, Victorino, David Ortiz — well, what you can see of them under their undisciplined facial follicles — and you see the expression of amazed joy that has landed on the mugs of 32 different losing teams that suddenly found themselves in a World Series the next year. It’s happened to 18 of MLB’s 30 franchises. And it’s been the ecstatic trek of 16 pennant winners since 1987.