Make no mistake. This is not 2004.
This is no scruffy, scrappy team of underdogs, shrugging off decades of heartbreak to become the lovable darlings of the baseball world as they swept to a World Championship. After all, you can only break an 86-year string of misery once every 86 years.
The 2007 version of the Boston Red Sox — with just 28 percent of the team held over from three years ago — may be scrappy, and they might be a tad scruffy, but they’re not underdogs. Not with that payroll, not with that record, and most certainly not with that air of confidence we saw on display the last three games.
And perhaps because this is not 2004, the Sox’ seven-game dispatch of
the Cleveland Indians to become American League champions for the 12th
time was much more enjoyable. There was no first-time-ever comeback to
produce, as if by magic, from the lips of Kevin Millar and the bat of
David Ortiz. No back-to-back record-setting extra-inning games that
left a nation of fans weary and exhausted before Curt Schilling ever
took the mound on an ankle held together by sutures.
No, none of that. There was a comeback, of course — a fitting way to
dismiss the critics once and for all who had criticized this club for
not coming back enough during the regular season. But instead of a
motley collection of irreverant adults who maybe hadn’t quite realized
their respective ages yet, this club has been infused with a dose of
workmanlike professionalism, perhaps borne solely from the feeling that
the Boston Red Sox have indeed been here before — and succeeded.
Consider that no team has ever come back from a 3-1 or worse deficit in
a best-of-seven series more than once in baseball history. The Boston
Red Sox have done it now three times — and twice in four years. In the
clubhouse, an old hand in Jason Varitek and a new face in Mike Lowell
kept the club on an even keel. On the field, the heroes were many —
from Curt Schilling’s Game 6 mastery when we had just begun to doubt
his postseason abilities to J.D. Drew’s series-changing grand slam in
that same game long after nearly everyone had given up hope on him.
Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis turned it on for the final three
games, providing the spark after David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez began to
return to earth.
It all starts and ends, of course, with Josh Beckett, who outpitched Cy
Young rival C.C. Sabathia twice and took home the series MVP. He was
masterful, he was dominant. He has provided a postseason thus far
unseen in the annals of Red Sox history. His Game 5 silencing of the
Cleveland bats brought the series to Boston, where Fenway’s crowds
might yet convince sabermetricians that homefield advantage can indeed
be a valuable tool.
The Sox were not nearly as close to elimination this year as they were
in 2004 — when they were three outs away against the greatest closer
in the history of the sport. Down three games to one in 2007, the Sox trailed
1-0 in the top of the first in Game 5. It was the last time all series
they would face a deficit on the scoreboard.
Perhaps the biggest change is simply the attitude among Boston’s ever-expanding fanbase. I think that’s
something to regret. Three years ago, a World Series title was an
elusive dream. Now it’s a realistic expectation. The innocence, the
unblemished joy is gone, replaced by the knowledge that the unreachable
is no longer so.
Yet who would rather it be different?
More games must still be played. There is time yet to dissect the
Colorado Rockies. For now, the Boston Red Sox are simply American
League champions. Just like — yet so different from — three years ago.