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Sunday, October 28, 2007
This time, Red Sox bulldozed their way to title

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

DENVER -- It's never an easy thing to comprehend when the universe changes before your eyes.

You're never sure why. You're never sure how. And normally, you're never sure when.

But if anyone asks, you can tell them you saw it all unfold on the last Sunday night in October, in a scenic Colorado ballpark nestled between the mountain peaks.

You didn't just see the Boston Red Sox win the World Series. You didn't just see the Red Sox sweep the World Series. You saw something bigger, something deeper, something historic.

This wasn't 2004. That's ancient history now. This wasn't 86 years of torment and misery, curses and ghosts, being washed away by events taking place on a baseball field. This was different. Very different. Couldn't have been more different.

This is a franchise that has turned life as we used to know it upside down. This is no longer a team defined by all the years it didn't win. This is a team carving a whole new niche in the sporting universe.

Make no mistake. The Red Sox now are one of baseball's powerhouse franchises. And what they just did -- in this World Series, in this October and especially in the past week and a half -- made that 100 percent official.

"It's a different organization now," Curt Schilling said after the 4-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies that completed this sweep and this journey. "It's different. Nobody feels sorry for us anymore. And they shouldn't. We're not the little guy on the block anymore. We're not David to Goliath. Payrollwise, we're up there with anybody now. But it's about a lot more than payroll. They built this franchise to last. And it's been a privilege to watch it take off."

Until Sunday, the only franchise in the history of this sport that ever swept two World Series in four seasons was the one, the only New York Yankees (who, of course, had done that four times).

But now the Yankees have company. Now the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox have moved in right beside them, leaving their stamp on their sport and its rich postseason history.

And this team stampeded up that mountainside in a way no team ever has. Well, not since baseball expanded its postseason in 1969, at least.

This team outscored the Los Angeles Angels, the Cleveland Indians and the Rockies by a combined score of 99-46 -- the greatest October run differential in postseason history.

These Red Sox finished that run by outscoring the Rockies 29-10 in this World Series -- the greatest World Series run differential in history.

Mike Lowell
A throw-in in the Josh Beckett trade, Mike Lowell is a big reason the Red Sox are the last team standing this October.
On a night when principal owner John Henry was moved to say, "We're not just a bunch of stat geeks," the Red Sox took possession of one of their favorite stats of all. Nothing measures domination like run differential. So those numbers -- plus-53 and plus-19 -- tell you just how thunderously this team imposed its will on all its victims.

"They beat us with small ball. They beat us with the long ball," Colorado's LaTroy Hawkins said after the Red Sox had finished blowing a hole in his team's 21-1 bubble with a howitzer. "They beat us every which way you could imagine, brother. I'm not going to sit here and say what Eric Byrnes said about us, that we outplayed 'em, because it ain't true. They got us. They got us good."

The Red Sox outhit Colorado, .333 to .218. They rolled up the second-highest World Series batting average of all time. They batted .419 with runners in scoring position -- while holding the team they were playing to a .167 average in the same spots. They trailed at the end of just three innings in the entire World Series (by one run early in Game 2) -- and never were behind at any point over the final 23 innings.

"This team," reliever Mike Timlin said, "was built to do what it did. But to be able to do it -- to sweep the World Series twice -- is just an amazing feat."

No doubt. But here's what makes it even more amazing:

Only 10 days earlier, Boston's dream season looked as if it was ready to tumble over a cliff.

The Red Sox arrived at the ballpark in Cleveland trailing the Indians three games to one. They'd lost three games in a row, by a combined score of 24-11. They had to face C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona in the next two games.

At that point, Dennis Kucinich seemed to have a better chance of being sworn in as president on Jan. 20, 2009, than the Red Sox had of climbing out of that hole.

But that's not how they saw it.

"I remember walking in the clubhouse," said rookie dynamo Jacoby Ellsbury, "and it was exactly the same, down 3-1, as it was tonight, up 3-0. The music was going. Everybody was in a good mood. Nothing really changed. And maybe that's the key -- not changing anything."

Bingo. Only eight players in that clubhouse had lived through the miracle of 2004, the impossible scramble out of the 0-3 canyon against the Yankees. But those eight knew exactly what tone to set: Don't worry. Be happy.

"We were down 3-0 three years ago, so there was a whole different set of dynamics for us winning that one than there was this year," Schilling said. "It was almost like we played two World Series that year. But this year, down 3-1, I don't ever remember for a day thinking we weren't going to be here. I don't know if that's right or wrong, fair or foul. But I don't think anybody in that clubhouse thought our season was going to end before we got here."

WORLD SERIES

Rockies-Red Sox
series page
And was that, he was asked, because Josh Beckett was pitching Game 5?

"Absolutely," Schilling answered.

Beckett unfurled a save-the-season, 11-strikeout five-hitter over eight innings that night to get the parade turned around. And the rest is, literally, history.

When we look back some day on the week and a half of baseball that followed, what will we find? We'll find a team that went on an October rampage we'll have a hard time comprehending.

Over the next seven games, the Red Sox outscored the Indians and Rockies by the mind-boggling total of 59-15. Roll that around your brain a moment: 59-15.

We took a look at the other six teams in history to rip off winning streaks of seven games or longer within the same postseason. The closest anybody came to that plus-44 run differential was a plus-30 by the 2006 Tigers, who outscored the Yankees and A's, 40-10, in their seven-game run through the LDS and LCS.

You thought that 2004 Boston squad -- a team that won its last eight and led at some point in every inning of the World Series -- had a dominating finish? Heck, those Sox were only plus-24 (49-25).

Remember the 1998 Yankees -- viewed as the most dominant team of modern times? They were just plus-23 (44-21) while winning their final seven.

And what about the '76 Big Red Machine -- one of the most storied teams of the division-play era? Nope, they were only plus-22 (41-19) while sweeping an entire seven-game postseason.

And this team doubled that. Amazing.

The Boston Red Sox are still a team dealing out the curses and the torture, all right -- except now they're dealing them out to everyone else.

"You know," Schilling said, "we didn't have our backs against the wall all season. And the first day we did, we never lost again."

After Beckett's masterpiece, they ripped off three straight offensive eruptions of 11 or more runs. Then Schilling, Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon tag-teamed their way to a 2-1 win in Game 2 of this series. Then Daisuke Matsuzaka and Ellsbury took charge of Game 3. And that brought us to this night.

• To Jon Lester, cancer survivor, weaving 5 2/3 downright cinematic shutout innings, leaving with a 2-0 lead to actual hugs in the dugout. "Wow," said pitching coach John Farrell. "What a storybook ending to a great year."

• To Mike Lowell, a cancer survivor himself, wrapping up a Series MVP award. Doubling and scoring in the fifth. Homering to lead off the seventh. "I'm on cloud nine," an emotional Lowell said afterward. "It's unbelievable."

• To Bobby Kielty, picked out of the Overstock.com bargain bin in August after the A's released him, bombing a pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning -- on the only pitch thrown to him in this World Series -- and having it turn out to be the winning run. "The most amazing moment I've ever had in baseball," Kielty said. "I felt like I was running on clouds."

• And, finally, to Papelbon, the Riverdance king, who would take the baseball in the eighth inning, after a Garrett Atkins homer had cut the Red Sox lead to 4-3, and head for home. Trying to become the first reliever to close out a World Series with a save of five outs or more since Jesse Orosco got the final six outs in 1986.

Four of those five outs were vintage, all-business, no-problem Papelbon. But it was That Other Out that almost rewrote this entire script.

With one out in the ninth, Papelbon left a 96-mph, 0-2 smokeball out over the plate to infielder Jamey Carroll. Nobody has ever mistaken Carroll for, say, Prince Fielder. But he took a Prince-ian hack, and the baseball went rocketing toward the fence in left.

Asked whether he was able to breathe OK as he watched that baseball roar through the Rocky Mountain night, Henry gulped and replied, "No!"

But, as he had so often in this enchanted October, manager Terry Francona had the right man in the right place to save the Nation. And that man, in this case, was not the usual left fielder extraordinaire, Manny Ramirez. It was Ellsbury, who had shifted over to left for defensive-upgrade purposes in the eighth.

Mike Timlin
It seems like old times. Mike Timlin is one of eight Red Sox players who were part of the 2004 miracle.
So the baseball and the new left fielder seemed to be charging toward the wall in lockstep, the drama building with every inch they flew. But inside Ellsbury's head, the same message kept playing over and over: This ball has to be caught.

"I was thinking, 'I'm going to get this somehow,'" he said. "If I had to climb the wall. If I had to run through the wall. But it wasn't landing."

He threw out his glove hand. The baseball dropped inside. He rattled against that fence. When the vibrations subsided, both the fence and the left fielder were still standing. And the Red Sox were one out away.

Papelbon did the rest, powering a 95-mile-an-hour heat wave past pinch-hitter Seth Smith for his third save of four outs or more in this World Series. Then the closer fired his glove toward the nearest mountain peak -- and the baseball universe had been transformed forever.

ESPN Radio's Jon Sciambi tried to interview Papelbon amid the on-field bedlam a few minutes later. Papelbon's mouth moved. But all that came out was this:

"I can't speak right now, dude."

And maybe those were the most eloquent words spoken on that field -- because this was, in fact, one of those occasions in sports when almost no words can sum up what just happened.

We have made it through most of our lifetimes thinking of the Red Sox with a certain simplicity, possibly even a little sympathy. But those days are over, friends. Over. Two World Series sweeps in four seasons have sealed that deal.

The Boston Red Sox are still a team dealing out the curses and the torture, all right -- except now they're dealing them out to everyone else.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," has been published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.