|LARRY LUCCHINO Hugs all around|
DENVER - The joyous sounds rolled down, if not from the snow-capped mountains themselves, then from the grandstands shorn of purple, as if a long velvet rope had been extended from one dugout to the other and only those wearing red were allowed inside.
"Thank You, Red Sox," they chanted.
"REE-Sign LOWWW-ell," they sang.
"Don't Sign AAAA-Rod," they implored.
Not a word of it, of course, meant anything to the smiling Japanese lady and her husband, the man wearing a full-length parka painted with a big Sox logo, who were standing quietly among the milling celebrants scattered across the patch of green where just a short time earlier, Jonathan Papelbon had flung his glove skyward, the starter's gun to a night of revelry that nearly 2,000 miles away was being duplicated on city blocks, town squares, and village greens throughout New England.
While Daisuke Matsuzaka, his hair glistening from champagne and a towel draped over his shoulders, raised his arms in salute to the fans calling his name, and posed happily for pictures with the Japanese reporters who had traveled in lockstep with him from the day he signed with the Sox last December, his mother, Yumiko, spoke softly to translator Masa Hoshino.
"I think wherever our boy goes, he has this ability or luck to find really good people and have really good teammates throughout his life," she said. "There is no way he could stand there on the mound, without them.
"He has always had high goals for himself, so we've been expecting him to leave us for a long time. So we didn't feel particularly lonely. As a matter of fact, his being here led to many more broadcasts of his games in Japan. To see him when he played in Japan, we had to go to the stadium. Now we can see him on TV. Even on days he doesn't pitch, I could see his face in the broadcasts."
Championship waresThe "B" on the cap glittered with rhinestones - Marie Mirabelli's idea, Stacy Wakefield said - and the T-shirts, the ones that sparkled with "Red Sox World Champs," those were Shonda Schilling's inspiration.
"The first one she had made, which I have on under this one, says, 'AL champs,' " said Stacey Wakefield, standing just to the side of the mound where her husband was to have pitched until his shoulder did not allow it, his place taken by Jon Lester in the reality-busting finale to a season already sprinkled with magic. "We kept them in our purses until they actually won. And then we were like, 'Yeah, put 'em on!' A few people had put them on beforehand, and I was like, 'You can't do that.' That was like 2003."
They had been in Yankee Stadium for Game 7 in '03, talking about what they would do for the World Series, when Aaron Boone of the Yankees had other ideas.
"Yeah, I was the one on the mound when you were talking about that," Tim Wakefield said with a mock grimace.
"That's why I said, 'Omigod, don't put that shirt on, you can't do that,' " Stacey Wakefield said.
The wives will have sweatshirts for the parade, and yes, she said, they had also worn scarves, Shonda's good-luck charm turned gantlet in '04 when Michelle Damon refused to wear hers, leading to near hand-to-hand combat between the two wives.
It was Tim Wakefield who had said, days before, that maybe there was a reason for him being hurt and unable to go. Maybe, he had said, it was Jonny Lester's turn to shine.
"This is just as good as the first one," Tim Wakefield said, "because you know how hard it is to get here."
Frozen momentsThis time, Terry Francona had vowed to himself, he would remember to turn on the inner camera.
"I stayed in the dugout," he said, "then I said to the coaches, 'Be aware of your surroundings, because in '04 I wasn't.' Celebrating with the staff, then watching these guys spill onto each other, the outpouring of emotion, that's probably what makes me happiest.
"You know, at the end we live in the moment so much, so it's every bit as special as the first one. Maybe it's different, maybe it's different people, but it's no less special, believe me."
Behind Francona, Coco Crisp and nearly a dozen family members and friends struck a pose, Crisp's billowing Afro resembling a halo around the World Series trophy he clutched to his chest.
The last outs had been the hardest. Manny Delcarmen had given up a home run to Brad Hawpe in the seventh, and then, after Bobby Kielty hit the only pitch he saw in the World Series for a pinch-hit home run in the eighth, Garrett Atkins had answered with a two-run home run off Hideki Okajima in the bottom of the inning.
Okajima had appeared in each of the previous two games, and had run up his pitch count in both.
"This was anything but easy," Francona said. "We went to our bullpen. If that game ends up getting tied or we're losing, there wasn't a lot of air to breathe in that dugout, and not because of the altitude. We dug deep tonight, but we dug deep with some pretty special people."
Someone asked Francona about Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, the rookies who redefined precocious by never blinking when the stage lights burned hottest.
"We had some veterans that got, like, enthusiastic and giddy like little kids," Francona said, "and we had some young kids who acted like veterans. It was a good mix."
One of those veterans was Kielty, the son of the former Fitchburg High and Boston University football star Roger Kielty. Bobby Kielty once was known for a carrot top that evoked comparisons to Ronald McDonald. Now he will be revered in Boston for a home run that was 2007's answer to Dave Roberts's stolen base.
"I was so excited," he said, eyes shining in the clubhouse, "I felt like I was running on clouds."
Hollywood endingWhen it was over, pinch hitter Seth Smith vaporized by one last fastball from Papelbon, the three Sox owners, principal owner John W. Henry, chairman Tom Werner, and CEO Larry Lucchino, shared what Lucchino described as a "group hug" in the front row just above the visitors' dugout. "And Tom kissed us on the cheek," Lucchino said, mirthful of the Hollywood touch added by the longtime TV producer.
"It's very sweet," said Lucchino. "There's a joy, but as much a sense of quiet satisfaction of doing it again. Remember the joke we had in 2004, that 'any group of schlemiels can do it once?' Winning a second time creates a certain validation of the way we're going about things."
For a turbulent interlude, there had been some deep, hurtful divisions stemming from a fundamental disagreement about how best to proceed, general manager Theo Epstein briefly leaving the organization because, among other reasons, his vision differed dramatically from that of Lucchino, his former mentor.
Winning a World Series, their second in four seasons, can have a healing effect.
"I think there's a productivity, a sense that we are a much stronger organization when we work together," Lucchino said. "We're always going to argue or disagree. I don't mind that. I think I'll always have a seat at that table. There has to be some clashing of ideas for some progress and for some better ideas.
"We're never going to be a Johnny-One-Note in this office, but the fans will be a beneficiary of that."
Remarkable strength"It brings you to your knees," Epstein said, "when you hear news like that."
Epstein was recalling that horrible late-summer day a year ago when the Sox received the diagnosis of anaplastic large-cell lymphoma, a rare blood cancer, for Jon Lester, then 22 years old.
Lucchino, more than a quarter-century earlier, had faced a similar diagnosis, at a time when his survival depended on a willingness to undergo experimental treatment. The first place Lucchino went to, after 38 straight days in Dana-Farber, was Fenway Park, even though he had no business doing so, his immune system precariously vulnerable. But John Harrington, who owned the club, and another Sox executive named Jim Healey had offered a private booth from which Lucchino could watch the game with a friend.
"I thought last night," Lucchino said, "about how he must have felt during those days of chemotherapy, the bleakness and the discouragement of those moments, and then the exhilaration he must have felt last night."
Francona said he had deliberately downplayed that part of the Lester story. But now, after seeing Lester with his mom Kathie and dad John, standing on the field, the bond of love etched on all three faces? "There's no downplaying it," Francona said.
"What a journey to go from where he was a little more than a year ago," Epstein said, "to winning the deciding game of the World Series.
"I'd stand him up as an organizational poster boy, because he was a model for all of us, with his courage and determination and bravery. That opened people's eyes about him and what he's all about. Baseball put the icing on the cake."
Gordon Edes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.