Cursed no more
Red Sox have replaced Yanks as MLB's gold standard
Posted: Tuesday October 23, 2007 8:31PM; Updated: Tuesday October 23, 2007 8:31PM
BOSTON -- It wasn't that long ago, remember, that the Red Sox were a punchline, a franchise so star-crossed that many people around the team were forced to turn to the supernatural to explain a generation's worth of woe and heartache.
You remember. The Curse of the Bambino. Bucky Dent in '78. Bill Buckner's error in '86. Aaron Boone in '03.
Well, four short years after the Sox finally and forcefully reversed the curse with their first World Series title since 1918, Boston's beloved Sox have shown that 2004 was no fluke. They've become the game's new juggernaut, a big-market, big-money team that not only can outspend the Yankees when the urge strikes (for Daisuke Matsuzaka, as one example) but -- as they showed this year -- can outplay them, too.
Wednesday night at Fenway Park, the new Sox open the World Series -- their second in the past four years (which, if you're counting, is two more than the Yankees) -- as a good-sized favorite against the upstart Rockies.
From loveable losers to World Series favorites. Massachusetts politicians don't flip flop like that.
"In this region, people were always waiting for the other shoe to drop," John Henry, the principal owner of the Sox, said Tuesday. "There's still some of that out there. I think it's just human nature. But I really think that people in New England expect the Red Sox to win now. They expect the Patriots to win. They expect the Celtics to win this year."
It's amazing, when you think about it, how quickly and completely the image of this franchise has turned. Back in October of 2003, when the Yankees' Boone hit his 11th-inning home run in Game 7 of the ALCS to defeat the Sox, no one who had paid any attention at all in the previous century was the least bit surprised. In fact, in a lot of people's minds, it was a stunner that the Sox had made it that far. Losing, especially getting their hearts ripped out like that, was simply the status quo for the Sox and their long-suffering fans.
But then came 2004 and the historic comeback from 3-0 in the ALCS against the Yankees, and then Boston's first World Series title in 86 years. That Series was the culmination of a quick and thorough franchise makeover by Henry's ownership group and some savvy moves by the baseball brain trust, including general manager Theo Epstein.
It wasn't easy -- "2004 was suffering until the last out of the World Series," Henry said -- but the first step was made, and the Sox have been heading in the right direction ever since. The Sox lost in the first round of the playoffs the following year -- to the eventual Series champion White Sox -- and they missed the playoffs in an 86-win season in '06.
But this season, with their payroll jacked up more than $20 million (and that doesn't include the winning $51 million posting fee to negotiate with the Japanese pitcher, Matsuzaka), the Sox bounced back by winning their first AL East title since 1995 and coming from behind to beat the Indians in the ALCS. They now carry home-field advantage -- and the increased expectations of their far-flung nation of fans -- into the World Series.
"In my opinion, it's turned around 180 degrees," Tim Wakefield, the veteran knuckleball pitcher who has been part of both of these Red Sox teams, said of the image of the team.