09/28/08 11:50 PM ET
Sox certainly have what it takes
Boston's recent playoff track record creates confidence
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
That all seems so long ago. Entering the American League Division Series opener against the Angels in Anaheim on Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on TBS, the Red Sox are now the team known for having the guts, talent and heart to survive and advance this time of year.
Wild Card? That's a bit of a misnomer. The Red Sox can't be viewed as any type of lovable underdog this time around. Not when they've won the World Series twice in the last four years. And not when two of their most important players -- third baseman Mike Lowell and ace Josh Beckett -- were part of another championship team, those 2003 Marlins.
The Red Sox -- trying to become baseball's first repeat champion since the 2000 Yankees -- enter their matchup against the Angels with the comfort of their recent success in the postseason.
"We won the World Series last year; we did it in 2004," said David Ortiz, Boston's star slugger. "We know how to handle things in the playoffs. We've been bothered by a lot of injuries but hopefully those players will come back in like I did. I was out for two months. In October, you know how it is. Whoever hits first, that's who is going to be there all the way at the end."
Of course, the Red Sox aren't going to win another World Series based on their past laurels. This team will have to establish its own championship identity.
In a way, the Red Sox enter this postseason more battle-tested then their 2004 and 2007 predecessors.
There were injuries, injuries and more injuries. From Curt Schilling being lost for the year to Ortiz missing seven weeks with a left wrist ailment to Lowell serving multiple stints on the disabled list to J.D. Drew missing over a month with back problems, manager Terry Francona has had to spend as much time talking to his training staff as his players.
There was also the whole Manny Ramirez thing. The slugger became so disenchanted that the clubhouse took on an unstable environment for a couple of weeks in July. General manager Theo Epstein then took the bold step of trading the future Hall of Fame slugger to the Dodgers in a three-team swap that brought productive -- and even-keeled -- left fielder Jason Bay to the Red Sox.
After the trade, the Red Sox became a different team, showing more togetherness both on and off the field.
"At the end of July, the way things were going, getting off to a good start in August was pretty big," said Epstein. "I thought we came together as a team. The playoffs were not exactly secured at that time and our guys played really good baseball."
In a sense, the Red Sox come into this postseason with a sense of accomplishment, knowing what they had to overcome to get to this point. True, they lost eight of nine to the Angels during head-to-head competition. But six of those eight losses came during the nadir of the Ramirez saga, and before the culture of the team changed.
"It was real special this year because of all the injuries, the trials and tribulations to get to where we're at," said closer Jonathan Papelbon. "All that matters is that you get in. I like our chances now that we're in."
And now that they're in, the Red Sox seem reasonably healthy. The two question marks are Lowell and Drew.
Lowell will be playing through a partial tear in the labrum of his right hip. Drew's back has become more unpredictable than the New England weather.
Then again, the Red Sox have dealt with this type of thing all year. It has become part of who they are.
"That tells you how good this team is," said Ortiz. "Even having everyday players inured, we still survived and got to the playoffs."
At this point, the resolve of the 2008 Red Sox can't be questioned.
"We have a lot of tough guys who are going to go out and play hard every day and do whatever it takes to get on the field and play through injuries," said first baseman Kevin Youkilis, who had a breakout year with the bat.
Now, it's time for the fun time of year. The time that Sean Casey thought of when he chose to sign with the Red Sox, even with a reduced role. The time that Lowell thought of when he was a free agent last November.
"The bottom line is, this is my 11th year in the big leagues. I knew when I came here to Boston, this organization is about winning and about getting to the playoffs and winning championships," said Casey. "This has been one of the best career moves I've ever made."
"You've got some guys here with some experience," said Drew. "When you win a World Series, that kind of carries over. You realize what it takes to make it to that point. I think that all plays into it. Anything can happen in the playoffs, we all realize that."
For the third time in the last five years, the Red Sox will try to establish themselves as the October team.
"Our whole goal every year is to get to the playoffs and a win a World Series," said Youkilis. "Now we have the opportunity to do that."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.