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Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Red Sox Nation needs a new team crush

By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN.com

BOSTON -- Dear Red Sox Nation,

It's time. It's time to say goodbye to the love of your baseball life. It's time to plant a big wet one and then walk away.

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It's time to break up with 2004.

I'm not saying to forget the Red Sox team that ended the 86-year-old "Curse of the Bambino," that took Billy Buck off the scapegoat hook, that singlehandedly revitalized the sports publishing industry (at least eight Red Sox-related books from 2004). I'm just saying that was then, this is now. And this -- the '07 version of the Sox -- just left welts on the Colorado Rockies and took the critical 1-0 lead in the World Series.

Wednesday night's 13-1 no-doubter was yet another reason for you to have a crush on these Red Sox. It was -- using a Rockies management term for their recent ticket snafu -- "an external, malicious attack.''

First, the Red Sox beat up 17-game winner Jeff Francis, whaling away as early as the second pitch, when 5-foot-9 (yeah, sure) Dustin Pedroia homered off the thin scalp of the Green Monster. Then they tortured Rockies middle relievers Franklin Morales and Ryan Speier, who held his own personal walk-a-thon (three batters, three bases-on-balls, three forced-in runs) in the disastrous 34-minute fifth inning.

The baby-faced Francis looked like he needed a juice box. He was down 3-0 before he could adjust his cap.

Red Sox fans
Red Sox Nation loves its team, but doesn't seem to have the same love affair it had with the '04 Series-winning club.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox, who lead the league in 5 o'clock shadows, looked like they had enough energy left for a bar fight against shrimpers. There was that much of a difference in swagger. That's not a rip on the Rockies, who will recover from their Game 1 dry heave, but further evidence of just how good the Red Sox are.

"We made Francis work a little bit,'' said Boston first baseman Kevin Youkilis, who didn't play in the 2004 World Series.

A little bit? That was the longest four-inning, 103-pitch outing of Francis' life.

"Not many people last until the sixth inning against us,'' said Red Sox starter Josh Beckett.

These Red Sox aren't exactly the same character-driven circus of three seasons ago. They're not the Idiots. They don't "cowboy up." What they do is hit and pitch opposing teams into submission. They grind you down like rock to fine gravel. That's what they did to the Rockies. Three runs in the first, one in the second, two in the fourth, and seven in the decisive fifth. You could hear the screams all the way from Denver.

Is Beckett ever going to lose a playoff game? He's now 4-0 in this postseason and has another start left -- if the Series goes to a Game 5. His fastball left more contrails than the fighter jets that buzzed Fenway Park before the first pitch. Beckett struck out the first four batters he faced, nine in all. Gee, that must have been fun for the Rockies: eight days off, and when they report back to work, Beckett is waiting. Good luck with that.

"I held them off just long enough," said the straight-faced Beckett, who lost to Francis and this same Rockies team in June. Payback.

"He's as advertised,'' said Rockies manager Clint Hurdle of Beckett. "We've seen it before. We saw more of it tonight.''

The Rockies, winners of 21 of their previous 22 games, saw everything in Game 1, none of it in their favor. They were nervous. And they were rusty enough (eight days between games) to require a long spray of WD-40. Most of all, they were crummy.

So dominant were the Red Sox, that about the only employee on the payroll who didn't have a hit Wednesday evening was Wally the mascot, who, by the way, arrived at the Fens in an oversized limo. Speier probably would have walked him anyway.

Pedroia had that leadoff home run. Youkilis had two hits and scored three times. David Ortiz had three hits and two RBIs. Manny Ramirez had three hits, three runs and two RBIs. Jason Varitek had two hits. So did J.D. Drew. Julio Lugo had three.

The Red Sox tied a World Series record with eight doubles. And those 13 total runs and the 12-run margin were the most in Game 1 history.

"They grind pitchers up,'' said Beckett.

There aren't many guarantees in playoff baseball, but winning the first game of the Series comes close. Nine of the last 10 world champions won Game 1. So it matters, even more than home-field advantage has mattered in recent years.

But the Rockies will cling to another piece of baseball history: The two previous teams that won this big in the opener -- the 1959 Chicago White Sox and the 1996 Atlanta Braves -- didn't win the World Series. It isn't much, but it's something.

Still, these Red Sox deserve your full and undivided attention. Nothing against the '04s, but enough already with the constant reminders of what happened back in the day. They've had almost three years of backslaps and free brews -- all deserved -- but now it's time for guys such as Beckett, Pedroia, Drew, Youkilis, and Lugo, to name a few, to get their own moment. They've earned it.

Shortly before the game began, the Fenway scoreboard featured a long video highlight of that 2004 team's playoff run, all to the sound of The Beatles' "A Day In The Life.'' But here's the thing: They had their day. The 86 years of misery were exorcised. How do we fast-forward the machine?

Wednesday night's win should help. Three more wins after it will help more.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. He co-authored Jerome Bettis' autobiography, "The Bus: My Life In and Out of a Helmet," which is available now.