They have assumed their place as America's Team, favorites to win the World Series, and the only legitimate television draw still active in baseball's Octoberfest.
Gone is the agita that walked hand in hand with the Red Sox in their 86-year quest to win a World Series. There's a sense of inevitability about their 2007 playoff march, demonstrated again last night in a methodical 10-3 victory over the Cleveland Indians in the first game of the American League Championship Series. Josh Beckett picked up the win with six innings of four-hit pitching and the Sox chased 19-game winner C.C. Sabathia (eight earned runs) in the fifth.
Like their brawny brothers in Foxborough, these Red Sox have a way of sucking the drama out of games before many fans settle into their seats. The Sox have won four consecutive playoff games by an aggregate count of 29-7.
Sox sluggers Manny Ramírez and David Ortiz look like high school seniors playing in the Little League World Series. The Dominican duo hit .533 with four homers and seven RBIs while reaching base 19 times in three games against the Angels in the AL Division Series. Last night they reached base 10 times in 10 plate appearances.
Ruth and Gehrig? Mays and McCovey? It's doubtful any duo ever reached base with more regularity (29 times in 36 combined postseason plate appearances). Ortiz and Ramírez are playing in a higher league.
"I've never seen anything like it," said third baseman Mike Lowell. "They're just both putting together tremendous at-bats. For them to get on base like they did today is a little bit ridiculous."
Going back to his last four games of the regular season, Ortiz over an eight-game stretch has reached base 29 times in 35 plate appearances. That means he has made only six outs in eight games. Ramírez in the playoffs has reached base 13 times in 18 trips to the plate.
"We are aware of it," Ortiz said when asked about the astronomical numbers. "We're seeing the ball good and we've got to keep it that way, especially in the playoffs."
Meanwhile, Beckett, emerging as a modern-day Bob Gibson, smothered the Tribe, striking out seven, walking none, and allowing two earned runs in a rocking-chair start. He allowed only one base runner in the first four innings.
"They got a lineup full of guys that can hit," allowed Beckett. "I'm just out there trying to execute pitches."
"He gave us just what we needed," said manager Terry Francona. "When you're facing a guy like C.C., you better have someone you believe in, and we do."
The Sox' lineup battered Sabathia, scoring five times in the first three innings as 36,986 shivered on the first cool night of autumn. It was 8-1 after Sabathia was driven from the mound in the fifth.
"He didn't have it tonight." Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said. "It was just one of those nights for C.C. He just wasn't able to get untracked. Sometimes his heart gets in the way and he tries to do a little too much."
The Sox hadn't played since last Sunday's champagne-soaked, 9-1 Division Series clincher in Orange County, Calif., but showed no signs of rust as they ran out to another early lead in the matchup of Cy Young candidates.
Seventeen-year-old Danny Vinik was accorded the honor of tossing out the first pitch (Carl Yastrzemski and Carlton Fisk must have been busy) before the game was turned over to Beckett. Son of a Red Sox limited partner (Jeffrey Vinik), Danny is the young man who snatched a Ramírez foul pop that would have been caught by Angels catcher Jeff Mathis in the dramatic second game of the ALDS eight days ago. At least one major league official expressed dismay with the Sox' selection of Vinik, and they should now be prepared for all future forms of fan participation.
It was 54 degrees with 21-mile-per-hour winds from the northwest when Beckett threw his first pitch. Cleveland designated hitter Travis Hafner took advantage of the gales of October, launching a wind-aided, solo homer over the visitors' bullpen wall to give the Tribe a 1-0 lead. The homer also snapped Beckett's postseason string of 18 scoreless innings, dating to Game 6 of the 2003 World Series.
The Sox got the run back almost immediately, cracking three straight singles to center off Sabathia in the bottom of the first. Kevin Youkilis strolled home on Ramírez's hard single to make it 1-1. Manny further endeared himself to the masses with a nice running catch of a Kenny Lofton liner in the second. He made another clutch catch in the eighth.
Fenway fans figured it was only a matter of time before the Sox broke it open, and their faith was rewarded in the third when the Sox batted around and scored four times to take a 5-1 lead. Ramírez drove home the first run with a bases-loaded walk (after Sabathia was ahead, 0 and 2), then Lowell hit a ground-rule double to right, scoring two. When Jason Varitek grounded to third to score Manny, the Red Sox led, 5-1.
Beckett, the only 20-game winner in the majors in the last two seasons, was not about to squander a four-run lead. The big righthander, who blanked the Angels in Game 1 of the ALDS, was never threatened. After throwing only 80 pitches, he turned the ball over to Mike Timlin in the seventh. Beckett has 15 strikeouts and zero walks in his two postseason games this year.
Curt Schilling, 9-2 in 16 career postseason starts, gets the ball for the Red Sox tonight. The Indians turn their sad eyes to Fausto Carmona, a 23-year-old righty who won 19 games this year.
Ortiz was asked if the Sox could play any better than they are right now.
"Come on, better than that?" he asked, smiling.
After a slight pause, he added, "Probably."
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at email@example.com.