Defending champs back in ring
For third straight year, Red Sox win Wild Card berth
BOSTON -- Well, the Red Sox sure sent the Yankees packing.They've got that. By virtue of their understandably one-sided victory here, and one by the Angels in Texas, the Red Sox told the Bombers, "Go West, old men." Oh, the Red Sox do have one other thing: A Wild Card ticket into the postseason. For three years running, that's been the winning lottery ticket in baseball's sweepstakes. Presumably, the Red Sox won't have to use MapQuest to find the road to the World Series. They can just retrace their own footsteps. Johnny Damon, who on the eve of the 2004 Division Series came up with that idiots tag, had the 2005 slogan all ready. "Eleven more wins," he said. "That's what we're shooting for. That's the bottom line." BoSox's Eleven, opening Tuesday afternoon in Chicago. However, for the first time in their storied and habitually-agonizing history, the Red Sox are in the postseason for the third year in a row. "Our goal as an organization is to be in the playoffs every single year," said Theo Epstein, the Boston general manager. "Now we've done it three years in a row." Getting in is the hard, draining and foreboding part. Once you get in, you can get hot, you can get lucky and you can get crowned. "It's not necessarily the best team that wins the World Series, but the one that gets hot at the right time," said Tim Wakefield, trying to explain why Wild Card entrants have won the last three World Series. "I hope what we did today carries into the rest of the postseason." What the Red Sox did at Fenway Park was spank the emotionally-bankrupt Yankees, 10-1, to set up numerous scenarios, most of them daffy. For openers, it brought the two teams across the wire with identical 95-67 records. That could have had the Red Sox bemoaning lost opportunities, because the title of American League East champion rests forever with the Yankees, by virtue of one extra win in the season series between them. It had to end this way, of course, with their annual face-off being decided by what had happened on Opening Night (a 9-2 Yankees win in the Bronx, Randy Johnson over David Wells). But there was no such "if only" in the drenched Boston clubhouse. "Sure, it's important," Epstein said of winding up with the same record as New York. "It's something we can be proud of. But the most important thing about it is, it brought a postseason berth." "It's the opportunity ... that's a big relief," said Jason Varitek, the Boston catcher and captain.
Then, the Yankees' pockets were picked of the Division Series home-field advantage, now held by the Angels in the 2-2-1 format.But the craziest development was the Red Sox celebrating on the same field on which the Yankees had whooped it up the day before, when they clinched the division title. "No, I don't think that has ever happened before," Epstein concurred. That's the job of the New York-Boston rivalry. Set precedents. Not only was the shoe now on the other foot, the same hats were on different heads. The Red Sox partied under similar "2005 Division Series" gray caps to those the Yankees had received the day before. And both knew better than to spray the really good stuff. In the interest of thorough reporting, the Red Sox popped corks on Korbel, while the Yankees had bottles of Great Western as their weapons of choice. Not a single magnum of Don Perignon in the bunch. But it was properly chilled by the time the Red Sox got to it. They were only midway through their game when the final score from Cleveland punched their ticket -- and ruined their big moment. "Unfortunately, that score showed up before our game was over," said Varitek, whose club already led, 6-0, and could anticipate cutting loose on the last out. If nothing else, the four obligatory innings remaining afforded the Boston people -- players, front office officials, owners and fans -- plenty of time to reflect on all the obstacles overcome on the way to October. "We dealt with a lot of difficult situations," Varitek noted. "With our starter [Curt Schilling], our closer [Keith Foulke], and so on. "It's a testament to the club, to the organization, that we came through it." Now it becomes a matter of running a shorter race well. "Execution. It comes down to execution," Varitek said. "Our goal is to win the division. Once we couldn't do that, our next best aim is to get in the playoffs," manager Terry Francona said. "[Now] we move on and it's all new. Our goal is still in sight. It doesn't alter that one bit." Eleven more wins. "Once you get there, everyone has an opportunity to win," Damon said. "And we have experience on our side." The experience of winning a World Series. For the first time since 2001, the defending champ is stepping back into the ring. "I think that helps the game of baseball. It's real tough when the champion can't defend its title," Damon continued. "We have a good enough team to win again. We just need to be on." When they return later this week, the big board behind the center-field stands will still be able to flash "Welcome to Fenway Park. The home of the World Champion Red Sox." So the celebration raged on in the Red Sox clubhouse. Bronson Arroyo warned, "Here comes Papi!" By the time David Ortiz entered, a dozen guys had their shaken champagne bottles trained on him, chanting "MVP! MVP!" Interlopers in the madness either ducked to keep good clothes dry or stood tall in the converted baggies they wore. Music blared, echoing the sounds heard only a few hours earlier on the other side. And that was weird. But not nearly as odd as the old left-hander slinking out a side door, feeling like a party crasher. Mike Stanton, acquired in a Thursday deal from Washington, had come, had pitched one inning, had seen the Red Sox conquer. Now he was going home, ineligible for the postseason. "Every time you think you've seen it all, something else comes along," said Stanton, referring to his own strange cameo. That about summed up the weekend, too.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.