Finally, they won one in Aria’s lifetime.
Last night, Red Sox Nation enjoyed a collective burst of deja vu as history looped back upon itself and replayed the ending to that euphoric 2004 World Series conclusion; with the 2007 Boston Red Sox matching that fabled team’s complete domination of a vaunted National League squad to grab victory and bring that blessed trophy back to Beantown. With last night’s season ending sweep against the Colorado Rockies, the Sox echoed the mission statement our heroic New England Patriots have been broadcasting for years now.
This truly is the best of times.
In 2004, the win was as cathartic as it was joyous – a mass exorcism of those ghosts that had haunted so many past Octobers. Of course, we were all ecstatic – who didn’t call someone that evening fearful they were waking a loved one only to find buoyant good cheer reverberating right back at them? So we soaked in the celebration, followed each footstep of the Rolling Rally, replayed that Joe Castiglione “Can you Believe It!!!” call over and over until it was either tattooed upon our brain or pouring through the tinny speaker of that novelty bottle opener you just had to buy – and then, when the last leaves fell and winter’s chill finally ushered us off to trivial pursuits; we said our peace, offered our voice to the collective eulogy, genuflected before the Baseball Gods and thanked our lucky stars that we FINALLY got one!!!
And for those of us with elder statesmen among their loved ones – be they grandparents or great aunts or uncles or simply an elder Mom or Dad, all world-weary souls who somewhere along that long line had accepted this lot in life that no matter what dreams may come – the supposed curse would eventually bury us all (entire generations of us), we felt the tears well and before closing the calendar on Red October, we reached deep down and from the bottom of our hearts let out one final, grateful exhale.
“Thank God Nana saw this!!!”
The times have changed. Last night’s win felt good… and deserved. We’re no longer Loserville. Between the weekly Patriots blitzkrieg and the Red Sox decimation of the Rockies, it’s never felt better to be a New England sports fan. Sure, the nation hates us now but we can take comfort in the fact that they hate us for our team’s record on the fields of glory, not for any ancillary attitudes or superficial showmanship. The national media complains that the Patriots run up the score. Well, this isn’t Little League or Pee Wee football. These are national sporting leagues – big business – where teams and players and coaches keep their day jobs by doing one thing only. Winning!!! They are rated on wins and judged by stats. The best way to counter that is to try and beat them on the field.
A couple of weeks back, I made a misstep on this Blog, where I vented frustration at the Sox organization (specifically the management and business core) for trying too hard to build a better Yankees. At the time I wrote that, I felt stung by a combination of choices. The first was the decision by management to start the cooled Coco Crisp and bench a red-hot Jacoby Ellsbury – or more to the point – to put too much stock in blind loyalty and not take chances at the time of year when a well-executed curve ball can really make a difference. The second influence upon my sour mood was the constant rumor that the Sox were realistically thinking of courting A-Rod and ejecting Mike Lowell.
In retrospect, I realize I had my perspective a bit shaded. The Sox aren’t trying to be the Yankees. They’re following the game plan drafted by the Patriots; aiming to project an officious, professional appearance on the field and off – and looking to let their play govern the day and grab headlines, not via the antics of a bunch of clubhouse cut-ups. So, I do regret some of what I wrote with one exception that I’ll get to in a moment. Before that, I wanted to touch on last night’s game.
We all saw it so I am not going to bore you with a moment-by-moment breakdown of the event. Rather, I just wanted to drop a few notes of tribute to some of the ‘highlights’ as I spied them. And again, not specific plays – just specific moments that really stood out to me.
First up, hats off to the Colorado Rockies and their fans. We all knew that team of destiny was going to run headfirst into the American League (and spare me the layoff talk – that Get Out of Jail Free card was only good for the first game). Simply put, the American League is the more talented league. When you subtract the Inter-league play – American League teams must battle through approximately 140 trials all aimed at building the better teams up towards that final throw down – October baseball. By the time these two great nations meet in the final round, The World Series, whatever American League gladiator has lived to fight carries with them the decided advantage.
That said, the Rockies may have been outmatched and outplayed but they were never outclassed. That’s not to take anything away from the Sox as both sides represented their leagues, their cities and their fan base with equal aplomb but I award a special measure of grace for that tear-tickling ovation the Rockie faithful granted John Lester when he left the mound buoyed by his rock-solid performance. Word is, the Denver Post had printed a heart-felt tribute to Lester’s battle against cancer and that story – a great human interest piece – pierced the armament that forms between rival squads and their fans to touch the humanity that lay within. The Colorado fans get it. They rewarded Lester not just for his real-life battles but for his triumph on the field as well – and knowing his parents were present to see it, to feel that love, made the moment so special.
I’m jumping around in my chronology but that’s because I have a big fish to fry before I close so before I fire up the ‘hot stove’, I wanted to express my shear glee at seeing Paps strike out pinch hitter Seth Smith to complete the game and win the series. Having Papelbon on the mound for a five-out save just seemed like the perfect punctuation mark for this wonderful season. How many times have we looked in awe at that goofball and wondered how a guy so giddy in his off-time could look so fearsome and play so awesome when all the pressure loomed just above his head?
That’s why it rankles me to no end when people blast him for his inspired Michael Flatley impression. As Rick Pitino once memorably cautioned, “All this negativity in this town sucks.” Paps dons a Bud Light box, bounces around like Captain Underpants come to life, and people blast him for what – loving life? Yes, he’s crazy, but the good kind. The lovable kind. Look, the last time we had this much crazy, it was in the form of Millar and his Cowboy ways and all that guy was good for was open bar at The Baseball Tavern. I’ll take Pap’s Lord of the Prance over the Rally Karaoke guy any day of the week as Paps brings it when it truly counts and earns that glory. He’s earned the right to get Footloose.
Anyone looking for a preview of next season, only had to look at Ellsbury’s tremendous leaping catch in left field, robbing Jamey Carroll of a definite double and perhaps a second spark at a rally. This series has really shaped our future squad – with Ellsbury, Pedroia, Papelbon and Youk projecting the face of a very youthful team. Don’t forget, by Spring 2008, Clay Buckholz should have that arm nice and limber. Coupled with these rooks and sophomore/junior members come a stellar senior class boasting the likes of Ortiz, Manny and of course, the Man God – Josh Beckett. Together, this team has become a mighty weapon.
This sharpened sword, forged in the eternal flames of fall baseball, will enter the fray again. A unit tested in battle. A group that found their identity at the exact moment when lesser beings would have cowered and called it a day. A great group dynamic – that unlike the 2004 team – will largely take the same shape when the curtains open on the 2008 season.
So this brings me to my one gripe – the one blemish on last evening’s beautiful portrait. That would be Scott Boras’ ill-timed (albeit, extremely choreographed) missive that A-Rod would be ending his association with the New York Yankees and was now free to date. The message came across in the 8th Inning – just around the time when most savvy Sox fans had an inkling that Mike Lowell stood a great chance to secure the Series MVP.
Speaking of which, how great is that? The guy who was labeled as the rider to Josh Beckett’s contract ended up going neck-and-neck with him for this title. Either choice would have been greatly applauded but Lowell’s selection somehow feels best.
Back to Boras. Talk about poor timing. Talk about no tact. Talk about soulless dreck. Mere moments before Lowell would come to the podium with tears in his eyes and a giant grin plastered on his mug, Boras decides to whisper in Theo and companies’ ear. Here we are in Eden and that damned snake comes slithering by with tidings from the Big Apple.
Theo – Don’t bite!!!
This team is young, much too vital for a midlife crisis. You may be tempted to buy the Porsche but it’s not necessary. A-Rod is the superficial bling that merely distracts from the real issues that plague a team. And eventually, the gold chains and the sports cars and the hair plugs lose their luster and the buyer is left to look at themselves in the mirror and realize that all those big ticket buys were merely over-compensation for sad, cruel reality. Yes, A-Rod is an awesome player – one of history’s greatest hitters – but (and this is a big conjunction) he is not a good teammate.
And this isn’t a Yankees thing either. There are a number of Yankees that I really admire. I think Derek Jeter is a world class individual and athlete. When we Boo it’s often out of respect. Swap the uniform and suddenly our worst enemy can become our best friend. Jeter earns that through his on-the-field play and more importantly, his leadership in that Yankee clubhouse. The same goes for Mariano Rivera, who earned my lifelong appreciation when he stood before a packed house at Fenway and welcomed the ironic applause for his 2004 ALCS collapse with the best possible reaction – a huge beaming grin. He gets it – and for that – he gets my nod. And the list continues further down the line and captures guys like Pettite, Matsui – hell, even Posada, who slays me with his unlikely ‘Red Sox killer’ status, genuinely seems like a good teammate.
There’s one common denominator with those guys. They have heart and any baseball fan worthy of their salt has to embrace an intangible like heart over ‘on base percentage’ any day of the week. Heart keeps teams alive.
Our team, as presently constituted, is healthy as a horse – a real champion thoroughbred. With the rocketing rookies mixing it up successfully with our stalwart veterans, the prognosis for a long life is GREAT!!! I urge Red Sox brass to dash even the faintest thought of open-heart surgery; swapping Mike Lowell for A-Rod is akin to replacing your throbbing ticker with an I-Pod. You’ll lose your heart in favor of a brand name – one that has become so generic, it no longer carries the same luster and mystique.
Do we really want to gut the team, pony up $300 million over 10 years and grant one guy part-ownership of the organization and sovereign rule over Rhode Island just to grab a few more homers? We’ll gain some power numbers but in the end, ultimately, lose our true power.
The power of teamwork.
And that’s how this World Series was won. Not on the long ball but on good pitching and timely hits. And it’s this victory that hits at the right time.
The Fall sure is a nice time to live in New England.