BOSTON Stephen Drew said he knew in February the Red Sox were going to be something special.
Larry Lucchino said it took him a little longer, though not much April.
Boston completed a worst-to-first transformation late Saturday night with a 5-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers that sent it to the World Series for the 13th time.
And just about everyone involved says that transformation won't be truly complete unless the Red Sox beat the Cardinals in the Series, which starts Wednesday night at Fenway Park.
"We're going to enjoy this one and then get ready for St. Louis," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said.
Still, there was plenty of soaking in what had been accomplished this season shaking off not only the 69-victory stench of the failed Bobby Valentine experiment of 2012, but the collapse of September 2011 that cost manager Terry Francona his job and altered the perception of the franchise.
"We just wanted to take a big step in the right direction," said Lucchino, the club's president and CEO. "We didn't know we could step this far this fast."
Expectations weren't high entering the season for the Red Sox, who were breaking in new manager John Farrell, previously of the Toronto Blue Jays, and a slew of veteran players such as Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara and Drew.
But the club surprised many, going an American League-best 97-65.
Victorino, of course, hit the shot heard 'round Boston, a seventh-inning grand slam Saturday that turned a 2-1 deficit into a 5-2 lead. Uehara shined in the closer role after Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey were lost for the season to injuries and earned American League Championship Series MVP honors by recording three saves.
"We've got so many MVPs on this team," Saltalamacchia said. "The pitching staff, the bullpen, a different guy in the lineup every night."
Farrell, who left the Blue Jays' managerial post to come back to Boston, where he served as Francona's pitching coach from 2007 to 2010, said this year's success can "sustain."
"It's the type of people that are here," Farrell said. "We feel like this has got a chance to continue on. And again it goes back to targeting the right people that can play here in Boston."
Drew had an overwhelmingly positive feeling when the team reported to Fort Myers, Fla., in February.
"We knew we had something special when we got to spring training," said Drew, who has hit horribly this postseason but played standout defense. "You don't know how team chemistry is going to work until you get there, and there was something about it. The clubhouse is always loose, we have a lot of fun, and everyone has confidence in each other."
Lucchino wasn't as sure, but the team's fast start 18-8 in April convinced him that shedding the stigma of 2011 and 2012 could be done this year.
"When we got off to a good start, even the first game (an 8-2 victory over the Yankees) was kind of a harbinger in many ways for the rest of the season," said Lucchino, who later used the phrase "scrappy and underrated and underappreciated" to describe the Red Sox. "We saw in April a team that had a lot of potential and possibilities because we saw how well they played. By the end of April, we had a pretty good feeling this was going to be a good team."
Lucchino paused and smiled.
"But I don't know that anybody, none of us were smart enough to say we were going to win 97 games and the American League pennant," he said. "I wish I could say our business plan called for it."
Uehara, 38, inherited the ninth-inning role in late June.
"All I can say that I'm extremely, extremely happy right now," he said after the Red Sox won the A.L. pennant for the third time in 10 years.
After converting 21 of 24 save opportunities in the regular season with a 1.09 ERA, he is five of five while allowing one run in nine innings in the playoffs.
And he's not done yet.
The Red Sox will play the Cardinals in a rematch of the 1946, 1967 and 2004 Series. Uehara is a big reason, anchoring a bullpen that allowed the Tigers just one run in 21 innings of relief.
"I think coming to the postseason, there were a lot of questions circling around our guys to bridge it to Koji," said Farrell, praising setup men Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow, who along with Brandon Workman pitched four scoreless innings after the Red Sox fell behind 2-1 Saturday. "They couldn't have pitched anymore consistently, more effectively."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.