A new era dawns and it's twice as nice
DENVER - If you go to a high school graduation in New England in the Year 2026, you will hear a lot of Jacobys, Dustins, Jonathans, and Hidekis when they call the roll. And it will remind you of a special time when it seemed the beloved local baseball team simply could not lose.
Five thousand feet above sea level and 1,800 miles from Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox last night won their second World Series in four seasons, beating the Colorado Rockies, 4-3, to complete a four-game sweep of the 103d Fall Classic. Frustrated for the final eight decades of the 20th century, the Sox have emerged as hardball monsters of the new millennium.
Indomitable closer and nifty dancer Jonathan Papelbon fanned pinch hitter Seth Smith on a 94-mile-per-hour fastball at 12:05 a.m. (EDT) for the final out, then heaved his glove toward the heavens. Catcher Jason Varitek stuffed the precious baseball into his back pocket while he ran out to the mound to congratulate his teammate. Time to pop the corks.
As they did in 2004, Terry Francona's men shredded their National League rivals like so many cardboard cutouts, beating the Rockies by an aggregate 29-10 over four games. Once famous for autumnal folds, the Sox have won eight consecutive World Series games and finished the 2007 playoffs with seven straight wins.
In the last two weeks, Sox fans who worship Curt Schilling, David Ortiz, and the other curse-breaking veterans of 2004 discovered a new generation of October warriors; young men developed by the Theo Epstein administration . . . Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Papelbon, and Jon Lester.
It was Lester, one year removed from chemotherapy treatments for lymphoma, who won the clincher with 5 2/3 innings of shutout ball. Mike Low ell, who hit a home run and a double, was named World Series MVP, and Bobby Kielty's pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning proved to be the difference.
"I'm so proud of Jon Lester," said Francona. "I thought it was very appropriate that he got the win. It's hard to come up with the right words."
"It feels like a dream," said Sox chairman Tom Werner.
"Don't wake me up," added owner John W. Henry.
After the final out, thousands of Sox fans convened behind the third base dugout and lingered for more than an hour, standing, chanting, and saluting their champions. The first "Yankees suck" chorus broke out 22 minutes after the game ended.
"For us to come through and do what we thought we were capable of doing is unbelievable," said Lowell. "Our manager didn't panic, the players didn't panic, the coaches didn't panic. We knew if we just kept playing the baseball that we know we can play, we'll be all right."
The national pastime (past bedtime, actually) was played three years and one day after the champagne bath that cleansed 86 years of a region's pain in 2004. The home plate umpire was Chuck Meriwether, who also worked the dish in Game 4 in St. Louis, and the Sox shot out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning, just as they did in '04.
Ellsbury, the rookie of Navajo descent who started the season in Double A, hit the second pitch of the night into the left-field corner for a double and came around to score on a single by Big Papi. New generation meets old. Same result.
The Sox tacked on a second run in the fifth when Lowell doubled and scored on a single by Varitek. Lowell (.400 for the series) homered leading off the seventh to chase Rockies starter Aaron Cook, who hadn't pitched since Aug. 10.
The 23-year-old Lester hadn't started in the majors in over a month. He finished the season in the minor leagues and was not included on the Sox' 25-man roster for the Division Series against the Angels. And then he went out and won the clinching game of the World Series one year after his chemo treatments. Jake Gyllenhaal is already lined up to play the lead in "The Jon Lester Story," a major motion picture coming soon to theaters near you.
Lester gave up three hits and three walks. Manny Delcarmen finished the sixth, but gave up a homer to Brad Hawpe to start the seventh. When Delcarmen put another man on base, 41-year-old Mike Timlin - another holdover from '04 - came on and fanned two of the Rockies' best hitters.
There was stardust sprinkled all over the Sox dugout. Pinch hitting in the eighth, Kielty homered on the first pitch thrown by Brian Fuentes. It was Kielty's only appearance in the World Series.
In the eighth, a fatigued Hideki Okajima surrendered a two-run homer to Garrett Atkins and Papelbon was summoned for the five-out save. Papelbon pitched 10 2/3 postseason innings without giving up a run.
Francona, Boston's oft-maligned manager, is 8-0 lifetime as a World Series skipper. And his boss, Epstein - who walked away from the job for a few months in 2005 - has a second championship ring.
"What happened in '04 we'll never forget," said Francona. "But this is '07 and we said that from Day 1 and we accomplished our goal and it's not easy to do."
"Our goal is to get into the postseason as often as possible and win multiple World Series," said Epstein. "We used to say, 'Well, anyone can win one.' A lot of people worked hard to make this happen."
And so on the day the Patriots officially moved halfway to perfection and the Boston College footballers enjoyed another 24 hours as the No. 2 team in the nation, the Red Sox won their seventh World Series in franchise history. How do New England parents explain to children there was a time when local sports fans endured failure and collapse and actually waited for a rare championship season to unfold?
In October of 2007, the streets of Boston are paved with gold and this week those streets will be packed with the legions of Red Sox Nation, saluting the World Champion Boston Red Sox. Again.