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Built to last

Red Sox, Rockies in position to contend for years

Posted: Monday October 29, 2007 2:10PM; Updated: Monday October 29, 2007 4:46PM
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Jon Lester
Game 4 winner Jon Lester is part of a Red Sox stable of impressive young arms.
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DENVER -- Jonathan Papelbon's glove had yet to hit the ground, his wild-eyed victory scream and gorilla pose still in full bloom. Mike Lowell was smiling, his hands raised, already making a beeline for the pile of celebrating teammates in the middle of the field.

John Henry, the Red Sox owner, stood applauding in the stands at Coors Field, accepting hugs and handshakes from those around him. A good contingent of Boston fans whooped it up amid a mile-high ocean of purple-clad Rockies fans as Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado's exciting rookie shortstop, stood unmoving in the on-deck circle, arms folded.

Stuck in the back of all their minds -- it wasn't front and center at that exact moment, certainly, but it would break through all the glee and beer haze before the night was over -- was a concept that most everyone around baseball will have to grapple with in the days and weeks and, probably, for long years ahead.

The Boston Red Sox, once perennial sad-sack losers, are now baseball's powerhouse, a burgeoning dynasty of -- can we say it now? -- Ruthian proportions. It's not going to be easy to stop them.

"What we saw tonight was a preview of what's to come," Henry, the team's principal owner, said on Sunday after the Sox finished off a sweep of the Rockies to win their second World Series in four seasons. "This shows 2004 wasn't a fluke."

Henry wouldn't be so bold as to predict more World Series titles, "Baseball is a tough game," he said. "It's not easy to win even if you do everything right." Still, after winning 96 games in the regular season and the American League East title, after a stirring comeback against the Indians earned them the AL pennant, and after the convincing World Series win, everybody around baseball realizes that the Sox are the new force in the game.

Thanks to a well-oiled baseball operations department that scouts well, conducts smart drafts, pulls off savvy trades and isn't afraid to spend on the occasional free agent when needed, the Sox are poised to take over the mantle of top organization in baseball from the once-dominant but currently lagging Yankees. These Sox are built to last.

They have some business to take care of this offseason, as they will every winter. A mainstay of their rotation in both 2004 and '07, Curt Schilling, becomes a free agent. Third baseman Lowell also is a free agent. (General manager Theo Epstein already has declared Boston's desire to re-sign the World Series MVP, who hit .324 and drove in 120 runs in the regular season.) The team undoubtedly will try to trade away outfielder Coco Crisp now that young Jacoby Ellsbury has shown that he can perform on the biggest stage.

Whatever happens, though, the Sox will thrive because of a solid young group that includes starters Jon Lester (who won Game 4 on Sunday), Daisuke Matsuzaka, Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett, all of whom the Sox have control of for several years. The same is true of relievers like Manny Delcarmen and the incomparable closer Papelbon, who has yet to allow a run in 14 2/3 innings of postseason relief.

Young everyday players such as Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Ellsbury are under team control for the next several years. Slugger David Ortiz has three years remaining on his four-year deal. Manny Ramirez's massive contract finally expires after next season but the club has options for two more years after that. J.D. Drew was signed for five years last winter. In all, the Sox will return in 2008 -- and for a few years after that -- largely intact.

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