Not evil, but becoming an empire
Red Sox, tarnished for so long, now baseball's gold standard
DENVER -- The Boston Red Sox stand atop the baseball world now. In fact, they are perilously close to towering over the rest of the baseball world.
For the citizens of Red Sox Nation who made "long-suffering" a way of life, this is going to require some serious adjustment. You are now what the Yankees always thought that they should be, all arrogance aside.
The Boston Red Sox are the first team to win two World Series in the new millennium. They have won two World Series in the last four Octobers. And they currently possess an eight-game World Series winning streak. For baseball in the era of increased parity, this is about as close as the law allows one franchise to come to dominance.
(True, the Yankees once had a 14-game World Series winning streak. But that was long ago, in a baseball galaxy far, far away. Or at least the streak ended in the year 2000 in Queens.)
After waiting 86 years between World Series championships, the Red Sox are practically mass-producing them now. And this one had some real parallels to the 2004 model; a big comeback from way back in the American League Championship Series, and then, absolute dominance in the World Series.
Nothing will ever duplicate the epic, breakthrough character of the 2004 championship. But from the purists' perspective, this World Series championship, the four-game sweep over the Colorado Rockies, might have been even more splendid than that, because the Red Sox can pitch better now than they did then.
"When our organization started adding pitching, the curse kind of went away" was manager Terry Francona's historical view.
In this 2007 World Series, the Red Sox took a team that apparently could not be stopped and simply stopped it. You know the story on the Colorado Rockies: 10 straight victories coming in, 21 of the last 22 on the plus side. But the thing was, none of those games had been against the Boston Red Sox.
There will be those who will belittle this Series. Maybe there are four teams in the American League better than any team in the National League. Maybe it is too bad the National League no longer has a president, because if it had a president, he could write a letter apologizing for not being able to find somebody better to send to the Fall Classic.
No. This glass is not half full, it is full to the brim. It is not the fault of the Red Sox that they were the representatives of the better league. They won 96 games in the regular season, more than any team but Cleveland. And then they cleared up that tie with the magnificent comeback in the ALCS against the Indians. And then look what they did here.
Every single Red Sox starting pitcher was somewhere between dominant and exceptional. Against a team that had a record of being offensively capable, in a Series contested in two hitter-friendly ballparks, the Red Sox limited Colorado to 10 runs. The only negative factor in the sweep was that it prevented Josh Beckett from taking his turn in Game 5, and thus etching himself even more deeply into the ranks of postseason pitching greats.
Beckett, Curt Schilling, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and finally Jon Lester, were a foursome fully worthy of the pitching-rich tradition of winning October baseball. Lester's 5 2/3 shutout innings in the clincher on Sunday night were, given everything that he has endured, nothing less than the stuff of legend. The fact that Lester is a cancer survivor and Rockies starter Aaron Cook once had a life-threatening blood clot in his lungs tended to put a larger perspective around the entire event.
There were some dicey moments among the secondary Boston relief pitchers, but then there was always Jonathan Papelbon at the back of the Red Sox bullpen to get as many outs as they needed. That turned out to be 13 outs in the three games in which his services were required. That's a heavy workload for a closer in this era, but Papelbon was up to the task. Third baseman Mike Lowell was named the Series Most Valuable Player, and he was an obviously worthy choice. But it was difficult to imagine how anybody could have been much more valuable than Papelbon.
|The Boston Red Sox are the first team to win two World Series in the new millennium. They have won two World Series in the last four Octobers. For baseball in the era of increased parity, this is about as close as the law allows one franchise to come to dominance.|
And on the other side, the Boston offense was relentless. It was a fully diversified effort that happily introduced Jacoby Ellsbury to the baseball world. His stardom seems a matter of when, not if. But in addition to the usual staples of the Red Sox attack in the 4-3 victory on Sunday night you get a role player, Bobby Kielty, supplying the deciding run with a pinch-hit homer in the eighth inning.
First-pitch fastball, Bobby? "Absolutely," Kielty said with a smile. "I was selling out like no other. I just thought: 'Dead red, dead red.'
"This is unbelievable. It's a feeling I will remember the rest of my life."
In the visitors' clubhouse at Coors Field, the Red Sox sprayed champagne, more than they drank champagne, it appeared. Shortstop Julio Lugo, wearing goggles to protect his own eyes, was particularly prolific in this regard. For perspective, people were asking Schilling, a living postseason legend, how this compared to the championship in 2004, or the one with Arizona in 2001, for that matter.
"We're only about 10 minutes in, man," Schilling said. "But I'm going to steal a quote from Clint Hurdle: 'This game had God's fingerprints all over it,' with everything that Jon and Aaron have gone through just to get here. And Jon pitched the clutchest game I've ever seen."
Lester's story, on its own, is terrific. And the story of the Red Sox has not only turned the page but has moved into an entirely new volume. After the game, the Rockies fans went home, but thousands of Red Sox fans lingered in the stands on the third-base side, cheering for any Boston player who appeared on the field, and engaging in chants. "Re-sign Lowell!" was a particular favorite.
You had to be struck by the fact that just a few years ago, these same folks were starved for October victory. Now, they were happily demanding specific personnel moves. You only hope that they can remain humble in the face of repeated success.
For so long, the Red Sox were masters of the near-thing. Now, they are masters, period. Up to the minute, the best team, the best organization, the best franchise of the 21st century; two World Series championships to prove it. The new era Boston Red Sox, with the ultimate baseball victory as a regular companion.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.