Red Sox a well-oiled playoff machine
With ALDS over, Boston tries to add another ring to its fold
ANAHEIM -- Well, these Green Monster-to-Green Monster Red Sox certainly appear destined to end Boston's two-year World Series curse.You're right: That doesn't sound as monumental as the 86-year curse that the Red Sox ended with their blitz to the 2004 World Series title. But this Big Red Sox Machine, after leading the American League East virtually wall-to-wall, is perfectly tuned to turn what had been a New England rarity into a new habit. Asked about that two-year "drought," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein grinned on the periphery of the bedlam in the clubhouse. "Exactly ... like breaking all those one-game losing streaks that are so troubling," Epstein said, sticking a needle into the Red Sox's national policy. Sunday's celebration actually was the third this season for the Sox. They had the group hug when they clinched a postseason berth, popped some more corks and cans when they eliminated the Yankees for their first AL East title since 1995 and now could rejoice over moving deeper into October. Epstein has assembled a marvelous baseball engine that manager Terry Francona has artfully guided to meet its appointed destiny. The Red Sox will also meet either the Indians or the Yankees in the AL Championship Series, but, given how they flattened a very good Angels club, Boston may have met its last match weeks ago, when its division lead was jeopardized. "We did get caught up too much in that," said a champagne-soaked Epstein, recalling when a 14-game lead had shrunk to a game and a half. "Certainly, it was troubling that [the Yankees] were so close to us, but we had a plan. "We'd played so well early to get that lead, and we thought we could continue to play at a level to win the division and get ready for the postseason at the same time. "We hoped to get our guys in a position to get on a good run, to play great in late September into October." Hope realized -- and how. Playing at the highest level imaginable, the Red Sox swept through the most one-sided Division Series on record. Counting their insignificant run in Sunday's bottom of the ninth inning, the Angels had two scoring innings out of 27. "We congratulate the Red Sox. They played a terrific series, and obviously they deserve to move on," said the Angels' gracious manager, Mike Scioscia. "We couldn't compete with them, a great club playing great ball." Boston is playing great ball on fire, which will now simmer for a few days until Friday's opener of the ALCS. As Curt Schilling's postgame T-shirt read, "The Season Begins Now." In that case, Boston's season was impressive, efficient and demoralizing to Cleveland or New York scouts on the prowl. It was perfect. In making the Angels fall in line with this three-and-out October, the Red Sox pitched stoutly, fielded cleanly, ran swiftly and lowered the boom mightily. Manny Ramirez accounted for as many runs with two swings as the Angels collectively did with hundreds, and he and David Ortiz accounted for four of the five series homers (Kevin Youkilis had the other). "In big games, you rely on the big guys to come through. They do time and again," said Boston third baseman Mike Lowell. "But [the dominant series] speaks of our balance. "The job the guys surrounding David and Manny did was the key to our success. And it all starts with the pitching." Catcher Jason Varitek, the team captain and one of the holdovers from the 2004 championship team, declined to compare then and now. "Completely different teams," Varitek said.
It's reasonable to argue that the two editions' power supply is similar. But the current version is superior in fundamentals -- defense, speed and, most importantly, pitching.Consider that Boston made quick work of Los Angeles without its second-biggest winner -- 17-game winner Tim Wakefield, shelved by a bum back in the ALDS but expected to be ready for the next stage. But if you're looking for the next level, there may not be one. "In a way, consistency already marked this club," said Epstein, pointing out that it neither lost more than four straight or won more than five in a row in 2007. "But the consistency really showed up in this series, pitch to pitch. "We played at a high level. You always hope your team plays its best ball at the most important time, and that doesn't happen by accident. We've got a lot of gamers, and [Francona] did a great job putting them in a position to succeed. "We went out and executed at the highest level at the most important time." They certainly played above the Angels' heads. With the best possible alibi at his disposal -- the impairment of his entire outfield of Garret Anderson, Gary Matthews and Vladimir Guerrero -- Scioscia would have none of it. "We didn't lose to injuries," Scioscia said. "They beat us. It wasn't because of our health. Those guys went out and beat us, and that's the bottom line." Crying about injuries is like looking for yesterday. It doesn't have a place in the equation. "They're not going to let us call them in a month," Scioscia said, "and say, 'Hey, we got everybody healthy, let's play again.'" In a month, Boston will be busy anyway, perhaps cleaning up from another World Series-celebrating Rolling Rally. Duck Boats again trump Donald Duck.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.