Monday, October 29, 2007

Sweep Success: Red Sox Claim Second World Series Title in Four Years

Will everyone please stop talking about "the curse"? If there ever was a "Curse of the Bambino," it certainly has been more than exorcised after the Boston Red Sox claimed their second World Series title--and second World Series sweep--in four years with a 4-3 win over the Colorado Rockies. The longer this series went, the more an air of inevitability seemed to descend over the proceedings; whenever the Red Sox needed a hit they got one, they seemingly drove in every runner who reached scoring position and they proved that they could not only blow out Colorado but that they could also muster just enough clutch hitting and pitching to win the close games.

Boston set the tone in the top of the first inning as leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury doubled. Ellsbury advanced to third base on Dustin Pedroia's ground out and he gave the Red Sox a lead that they would never relinquish by scoring on David Ortiz' double. Aaron Cook got Manny Ramirez to ground into a double play to end the inning but this was hardly the start that Colorado wanted.

Similarly to game two, after Boston took an early lead the game became a real pitching duel for the next several innings. Any time the Rockies even hinted at making a threat the Red Sox quickly snuffed it out. For instance, in the second inning, Todd Helton hit a leadoff double--but then the next two Rockies hitters made outs, Brad Hawpe walked and Yorvit Torrealba grounded out to end the inning. The Rockies were never able to get a clutch hit in this series until they fell too far behind and their attempts at rallies always came up short.

In the third inning, Kazuo Matsui hit a one out double but the Rockies stranded him at second as their next two hitters struck out. In the fifth inning, Boston once again showed what you are supposed to do when you get a runner in scoring position. Mike Lowell, the World Series MVP, led off with a double and after J.D. Drew grounded out Jason Varitek singled him home. For a while it looked like that might be enough to get the job done and the Red Sox definitely seemed to be in control when Lowell led off the seventh inning with a home run.

Trailing 3-0 and down to their last nine outs, Colorado answered back in the bottom of the seventh with a leadoff homer by Hawpe but the Rockies managed only one other hit in the inning. Pinch hitter Bobby Kielty immediately reestablished Boston's three run lead with a leadoff homer in the eighth inning. The Red Sox actually left a couple men on base after that but now Colorado needed to score at least three runs before making six outs.

It cannot be said that the Rockies quit; it seems like they simply ran out of gas. Todd Helton singled in the eighth inning and Garrett Atkins' home run again brought Colorado to within one run. Boston responded by bringing in ace closer Jonathan Papelbon, which signaled that the end was near. Papelbon had not yet allowed a run in the 2007 postseason and that did not change as he retired the final five Colorado hitters to earn the save.

Although the two Boston World Series sweeps will forever be linked together in the popular imagination, they were accomplished by two almost completely different squads. True, some of the big names from 2004 are still around--Ortiz, Ramirez and Schilling to name three--but Boston's management has done a good job of bringing in productive veterans while at the same time developing young players who could very well also play key roles in possible future title runs. The Yankees and the Red Sox both have famously large payrolls but it is becoming very obvious that one team has spent a lot more wisely than the other. Manager Terry Francona seems to get overshadowed by the numerous big names and outsized personalities who are on the roster but it is worth noting that he is the first manager in MLB history to win the first eight World Series games of his career. Such things do not happen by accident and whenever conversation turns to the subject of the game's best managers his name must be included on the short list now.

Life is good for New England sports fans: the Red Sox are the World Series Champions, Boston College is ranked second in the BCS, the Patriots are unbeaten and look unbeatable and the Boston Celtics have brought in two All-Stars to team up with Paul Pierce. That is why no Boston sports fan should be allowed to say anything about a "curse" any more. If you want to talk about sports "curses," dial up a Cubs fan, an Indians fan or a Browns fan--it has been more than 40 years since any of them have cheered for a championship team.

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