BOSTON — Red Sox manager Alex Cora used the word, and not for the last time, in his full-squad meeting in spring training.
“A.C. told us before the season even started, this is a special group,” Mookie Betts said Monday. “And we believed him.”
The Red Sox then went a franchise-best 108-54 and made the AL East race a runaway — winning the division title by eight games — before going 7-2 while beating the Yankees and Astros in the playoffs.
Boston enters the 114th World Series against the Dodgers, which starts Tuesday night at Fenway Park, as the favorite, which is not unexpected for a club that won that many games.
What is unexpected is that they’re overwhelmingly considered the favorite after being thought of, in quite a few circles, as underdogs in the ALDS against the Yankees and in the ALCS against the defending champion Astros.
The last part was something that amused Red Sox players more than anything as the playoffs got underway.
“We turn on the TV before the playoffs start and it seemed like everybody was picking us to lose,” Andrew Benintendi said Monday before his club’s workout at Fenway. “But what I think is special about this team is we just kept our head down and kept going. We didn’t listen to it. We know who we are as a team and what we were capable of.”
Reliever Ryan Brasier, who started the season with Triple-A Pawtucket and posted a 1.60 ERA in 34 games after his contract was purchased by the Red Sox on July 8, said he was surprised to hear pundits focus on the attributes of Boston’s opponents.
“We were picked to lose both series, but you don’t win 108 games [by accident],” Brasier said. “We knew what we had. Everybody talked about the Astros’ starting pitching and the Yankees’ hitters; pretty much everything that they had that they thought we didn’t have. We had [all that], too.”
Which showed pretty much all season. The Red Sox started 17-2 and never had a losing streak longer than three games. During the Grapefruit League season in Florida, when the Sox went 22-9, they believed there was talent across the board, but many a team and fan base have been fooled by spring training results.
“I think when we went on that 17-2 run to start the year, I think that was when it kind of hit us that ‘dang, we can be really good,’ ” Benintendi said. “Throughout the year, we really never had too many streaks where we were really struggling. We were so versatile. Cora did say we were special right from the beginning, and we believed it.”
Utilityman Brock Holt said breaking the franchise record for victories in the regular season wasn’t a goal in spring training but became one when the team came within reach (the World Series-winning 1912 Red Sox had gone 105-47).
“It’s hard to be in spring training and look at your team and expect to win 108 games,” Holt said. “The Red Sox have been around for [a long time] and no team had won that many games. So it’s hard to put a number on how good you think you’re going to be, but I think everyone on the team knew we had a chance to be special. We didn’t know how special.
“Once we won 100 games, we wanted to win the 106th game so we could say we were the team that has won the most games in the regular season. To be where we’re at now I think proves just how special we can be. Hopefully we can finish this thing off and we can call ourselves one of the best Red Sox teams ever.”
Erik Boland Red Sox in 5
David Lennon Red Sox in 5
Tim Healey Red Sox in 6
Mark Herrmann Red Sox in 6
Steven Marcus Red Sox in 6
Anthony Rieber Dodgers in 5
Laura Albanese Dodgers in 7