Sox excelled from start to finish
Team a model of consistency in capturing World Series title
DENVER -- They had it all the way. No, really, even down 3-1 to the Indians in the American League Championship Series, the Boston Red Sox never started doubting where they'd end up.
Part of that was the fact that Josh Beckett -- nothing short of dominant this October -- was the man to pitch Game 5 and that the last two games would be at Fenway Park.
Another factor was that the Red Sox were nearly a wire-to-wire act this season, taking over first place in the American League East for good on April 18 and developing an attitude of focus and confidence while winning 96 games. The postseason wasn't much different, as the Red Sox ripped off 11 wins in their 14 games, culminating with the sweep of the Colorado Rockies in the World Series.
When they celebrated their second World Series championship in four years late Sunday night on the field of Coors Field, there wasn't the utter ecstasy of 2004. This was more a feeling of deep satisfaction and elation that the job was finally completed.
"This year, being down 3-1, I don't ever remember thinking for a day we weren't going to be here," said Red Sox right-hander Curt Schilling. "Whether that's right or wrong, fair or foul, I don't think anyone in our clubhouse thought our season was going to end before we got here."
The "here" Schilling was referring to was the very top of Major League Baseball's landscape.
"It was nice for the organization to win the division," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "It's been a long time since anyone won it but the team from New York. The fact of the matter is, getting in gave us an opportunity."
In truth, the 2007 Red Sox weren't a team that faced a lot of adversity during the regular season. They took a huge lead in late May and even when it dwindled in September, their chances of qualifying for postseason play never seemed in doubt.
"I'd like to think that we've started to re-define who the Boston Red Sox are," said Schilling. "That's something I'm very proud to be associated with."
The Red Sox created a winning atmosphere unlike any in recent franchise history. For even in 2004, they went into the postseason as the Wild Card and nobody truly believed until it was all over and 86 years of baggage was gone.
This '07 team was different. It was as if they were on a crusade, save for that brief scare against the Indians in the ALCS.
And when the Red Sox did face their first crisis point of the season -- it just happened to come in October -- they proved that they not only had the talent to be champions, but also the heart.
"We were down, we found ourselves with our backs against the wall and when you find a way to win and you get the team to jell together like that, it just made it special," said Red Sox right fielder J.D. Drew.
During the regular season, Drew wasn't a player the Red Sox could always count on. In the first year of a five-year, $70 million pact, he produced 11 homers and 64 RBIs. But then came Game 6 of the ALCS, and Drew clocked a grand slam that was as big a hit as any the Red Sox had during the postseason.
Similarly, Julio Lugo struggled to match his price tag (four years, $36 million). But when there was a key line drive to be caught against the charging Rockies in Game 3 of the World Series, Lugo literally jumped as high as he could and snatched it out of thin air.
All eyes were on Daisuke Matsuzaka all year long after the Red Sox invested $103.1 million in the right-hander from Japan. And, sure, Matsuzaka struggled at times, particularly in the second half. But when it came time to win Game 7 of the ALCS and Game 3 of the World Series, he answered the bell.
Literally, you can go up and down the roster and find a key contribution from anyone. And that's what happens on championship teams that go wire-to-wire.
That made the end -- Game 4 of the World Series -- especially fitting.
"You have to have horses," said Schilling. "You have to have [Jonathan] Papelbons, you have to have [Josh] Becketts, you have to have Manny [Ramirezs], you have to have David [Ortizs], but when you have Jon Lester winning it and Bobby Kielty hitting the game-winning homer, it just speaks volumes to the depth of the club."
In 2004, the Red Sox won the World Series with an established cast. This time around, the Red Sox had a classic blend of veterans and youth.
"It's just a tremendous mix of some extremely young players and some extremely old players. I'm in the middle," quipped Varitek.
Some players practically came out of nowhere to help this championship team.
Lefty reliever Hideki Okajima came over from Japan with none of the fanfare that accompanied Matsuzaka, yet he was a force in the bullpen all year.
Dustin Pedroia struggled mightily during his September callup a year ago and he started 2007 as a struggling No. 9 hitter. By the time it was over, he was an invaluable table-setter. In fact, it's no coincidence that the Red Sox came out of their hole against Cleveland once Pedroia broke out of his slump.
After the Red Sox had long since established themselves as a near postseason lock, Jacoby Ellsbury was called up in September and electrified the team with his speed and energy. The left-handed-hitting center fielder supplanted Coco Crisp in Game 6 of the ALCS and the Red Sox never lost with him in the lineup.
Manny Delcarmen was a lost soul in Spring Training and combined with Craig Hansen for a colossal ninth-inning collapse in a Triple-A game at Buffalo in May. By the time the Red Sox were crowned champs, Delcarmen was entrenched as one of their top relievers.
"It's awesome," said veteran reliever Mike Timlin. "It's been a great blend. These young guys that have come up here, they listen and they learn."
They learned, in fact, about David Ortiz's will to play through a painful right knee injury all year long. And they watched Big Papi still put up monster numbers, particularly in September and October.
They saw Mike Lowell put together one professional at-bat after another, and making diving stops at third, right up until the time he was named MVP of the World Series.
And if anything was certain, it was that games were basically over when Jonathan Papelbon came out of the bullpen. The closer capped the World Series with his seventh consecutive scoreless outing in the postseason.
"We have a lot of guys that can play this game," said Ortiz. "We have younger guys and they walk in and see how we do things around here and how we put it together."
When it came time to put it together in October, nobody got locked in like Manny Ramirez. Sidelined with an oblique injury for most of September, Ramirez announced his presence in the postseason by hitting that bottle rocket of a walk-off homer in Game 2 of the Division Series against the Angels.
For the postseason, Ramirez hit .348 with four homers and 16 RBIs.
On the eve of Game 4 of the World Series, Ramirez busted out a memorable line.
"We don't want to eat the cake first, before your birthday," said Ramirez.
The cake was finally there for the taking and the taste was something to savor for a team that set a tone from April through October.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.