BOSTON -- From top to bottom, the 2013 Boston Red Sox were built on a simple premise, one that was etched into the minds of the players from the start of spring training under the Fort Myers sun and echoed throughout the clubhouse at the end of each game, win or lose.
Focus on the game today, try to win the game today and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.
Even on the night his team of overachievers clinched its first division title since 2007, general manager Ben Cherington was still embracing that mantra.
"It's satisfying to be part of something that’s bigger and that’s good and that’s what we want to do, we want to be a part of something special," Cherington said, surrounded by reporters near the home dugout as the team he assembled continued to celebrate its victory from an hour previous. "This is a really important step toward hopefully something special."
Burdened with the responsibility of taking over a Red Sox team just a short time removed from one of the biggest collapses in the history of the sport, Cherington and Red Sox ownership made the bold decision to clean house late in 2012, trading Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett. Without that move, the Red Sox wouldn't be where they are today.
"I learned a lot [in 2012]," the 39-year-old Cherington said. "You go through the process as a new GM and you feel it out. Obviously a bit more confident going into a second year but ultimately it's the guys on the field that are playing. They’re executing, they’re winning games."
Given a blank canvas with which to start the 2013 season, Cherington began to put the pieces in place to build what would be a division-winning club. The list of newbies was long, none of which were the star players Red Sox fans had grown used to acquiring in free agencies past:
• Jonny Gomes, the team’s emotional leader and provider of many clutch moments throughout the summer.
• Mike Napoli, whose right-handed power bat and hot month of September has carried the Red Sox offense, primarily from the cleanup spot.
• Shane Victorino, the grit of the team who has played through a barrage of injuries since what seems like Day 1 of spring training.
• Ryan Dempster, who has provided a veteran presence and nearly 170 productive innings to the starting pitching staff.
• And then there’s the late spring training acquisition of Mike Carp from the Seattle Mariners for what seemed like next to nothing. There was Carp Friday night, lining an opposite-field, two-run single in the seventh inning that drove in what would stand as the game’s winning run.
"We tried to find guys that we felt were the right fit on the team for the roles we needed, the holes we had to fill," Cherington said. "We just wanted guys who wanted to be here and would be attracted to the opportunity, especially coming off a year like we had. There was a leap of faith by some of those guys and I think we all have gratitude and respect for the fact [that] some of those guys took a leap of faith."
The most important leap of faith from Cherington came in the form of John Farrell, who was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in October to manage this team. From day one, Farrell preached the one-day-at-a-time mantra, doing what Cherington described as a "terrific job."
"He talked so much in the winter and spring training about keeping the focus on the field, being prepared, doing this together," he said. "Those are easy things to say, harder to pull off but then he did pull it off. He's got coaches who respect him, players who respect him. He led this from the first day of spring training so he deserves a tremendous amount of credit and I feel fortunate to be able to work with him."
Likewise, Farrell praised Cherington amid the postgame celebration.
"There's a lot of good players here and Ben did a great job of adding to the core guys that returned, and we saw what hard work and a team concept can produce," Farrell said.
By now it's obvious that there is no self-praise from Cherington himself, though. Asked several times about how big a personal achievement the team's success this season was, the modest general manager deflected the achievements to the players and staff beneath him.
"[The team's] full of a lot of guys for whom baseball is really important, for whom baseball is important and winning is important," he said in regard to why the team has continued to succeed. "They take it personally and they understand that when you come together and prepare and win as a team, it's a feeling like nothing else. It's more than any personal accomplishment or any individual accomplishment. They lived by that all year and I know they’ll continue to live by that and that's been gratifying to see and fun to be around.
"The guys on the field, they're the ones who do it. Players win games -- they always have, they always will. This group decided in spring training they were going to win, so here we are."
Winning. It's what the team Cherington put together has done 94 times this season (so far) and it's what the GM hopes will continue to happen as his team enters October.
“We thought we had a chance to compete, we thought the division was flat and very competitive. We felt going into the season we had a chance to compete for postseason," Cherington said. "We're going to keep going and we'll see where it goes."
Wherever it goes, the team will be sure to get there in the same manner it has done so all season long -- one day at a time.