MLB: Sox make winning a habit these days



David Cassilo

At a little past midnight on Sunday evening, it seemed that the streets of Boston were full by the time Jonathan Papelbon had ripped off his hat in celebration. After waiting an excruciating 86 years for one World Series title, Red Sox Nation had to wait a mere three for another. However, this title was unlike the one in 2004. They were no longer the rowdy “Cowboy Up” underdogs who shocked the world. The 2007 Red Sox did not wear that cowboy hat, but instead a hat with a huge target on it. From day one, the boys from Boston were one of the favorites in MLB, and from the early mornings in March to the dog days of August to the crisp evenings in October, the Red Sox showed that their new hat fit quite well. After seven straight wins to close the 2007 postseason, the Red Sox removed that hat and replaced it with one that read “World Series Champions.”

Although Boston was able to dismiss the Colorado Rockies in four games, it would be difficult to say that this was a walk in the park for the Red Sox. After the team’s explosion in game one, Boston found themselves in the middle of three battles with the Rockies. Each of these three contests was a one-run game in the eighth inning or later. The difference in the series was while the Rockies made their charge in these three contests, the Red Sox never relinquished their lead. Colorado was able to touch up Hideki Okajima and Mike Timlin in games three and four but could never get any damage off Papelbon. A lot of people point to when Matt Holliday was picked off in game two as the turning point of the series, but with two outs and Holliday only on first, the Rockies’ chances of scoring off Papelbon were slim to none. Every time the young closer came out of the bullpen, it seemed as though he was unhittable. Like a slightly saner John Rocker, Papelbon not only seemed dominant but equally as intimidating to the batter at the plate. His fastball, which was consistently in the high ’90’s, was untouchable.

It was the Red Sox’s young players, like Papelbon, who brought the title back to Boston. Unlike 2004, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez did not play major roles in the World Series. Rather, home-grown players like the aforementioned Papelbon, as well as Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, made the difference in this year’s fall classic. Ellsbury, who played in a mere 33 regular season games, set the table each game for the Red Sox at the top of their lineup as he sported a remarkable .438 average and .500 OBP. Credit must be given to manager Terry Francona for having the guts to not only play his rookie CF in the World Series but also eventually bat him in the leadoff spot. Ellsbury’s fellow rookie Pedroia set the tone for the series when he smacked a leadoff homer to start game one. With Ellsbury and Pedroia on base a combined 16 times in the four games, it made the jobs of Ortiz, Ramirez and World Series MVP Mike Lowell a lot easier.

For the Rockies, even with the sweep, this season is more important to their franchise than words can describe. The Rockies were an insignificant story in baseball basically since their inception over a decade ago. By capturing not only their own fans but also much of the nation with their remarkable run to and through the playoffs, Colorado has become relevant in the baseball world.

With all that being said, there is obvious disappointment throughout their clubhouse after getting swept. Yes, their team is young and will probably have a few more shots in the playoffs before all is said and done, but it is unknown if they will get close again. What failed Colorado most of all was its starting pitching. The staff, which had been the best in baseball during their improbable trip to the World Series, fell apart when it got there. Only one of the starters was even able to reach the sixth inning during the four games. The pitchers lacked command and finally seemed to let the pressure creep into their minds once they began the World Series.

Of course when a team only leads for three innings the entire Series, the bats must receive their blame as well. Aside from Holliday, the Rockies all looked ice cold against Red Sox pitching. Only two regulars batted over .300 in the entire series. Unlike the young players on Boston, the youth on Colorado, including likely MVP Matt Holliday, failed to rise to the occasion. Many people will point to the eight-day layoff as the reason for this, but four of the seven teams who had a layoff of that length went on to win the World Series. The truth is that the Rockies ran into the better team with the better pitching staff.

For the second time in the history of baseball, we have just gone through a four-year stretch in which every World Series was finished in five games or less. With yet another short series, it’s not the World Series that will be remembered but rather the victorious team – deservedly so. The Red Sox have arguably the greatest postseason pitcher of our generation (Josh Beckett), the greatest closer since Mariano Rivera (Papelbon) and perhaps the scariest three-four in a batting order in recent memory (Ortiz and Ramirez). Most importantly, everyone on the 2007 Red Sox now has at least one World Series ring on their hand, and with a terrific blend of youth and veterans set to return, a year from now they might just have another.