Ortiz provided one definition of that new institutional culture, however profanely, when he challenged his teammates. Less coarsely, deferring to live television as he accepted the World Series Most Valuable Player trophy, third baseman Mike Lowell further defined it when he said, "With the Red Sox, people expect you to win."
The Red Sox expected to win? Talk about putting a Bucky Bleepin' Dent in conventional wisdom. These are not your father's Red Sox.
Since taking over the club in 2002, the ownership group headed by John Henry has expanded, polished and branded Fenway Park ("America's Most Beloved Ballpark") into a landmark, cash-spewing destination that is every bit the Boston must-see that Faneuil Hall is. It has encouraged the most fanatical, suitcase-packing, jersey-wearing, card-carrying legion of fans in American sports (Red Sox Nation). It spends more money on players than the Indians and the Rockies combined and, if you count the $51 million it plunked down just to negotiate with Japanese righthander Daisuke Matsuzaka last winter, even as much money as the Yankees. But its most amazing achievement is this: It has supplanted the Calvinistic, multigenerational dread of Red Sox fans with the sunshine of optimists. Boston, which once made a gruesome art of losing, now almost always wins the Big One. The Sox have played 17 postseason elimination games since 2003 and won 15. They are 8--0 in World Series games under Terry Francona, the only manager ever to win his first five Fall Classic games.
When the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, church bells rang out across New England and people rushed under a full moon to the gravestones of their deceased loved ones to pass word of the championship. The Nation enjoyed one big cathartic cry. Funeral parlors braced for a boom in business, the now-I-can-die-in-peace crowd suddenly mortally tranquil.
This championship carried a lightness of being, a baggage-free, hedonistic escape. Behold the sated, if spoiled, Red Sox fan, a species not seen on the planet since Babe Ruth wore the Sox uniform in 1918, the last time Boston won a world title so close to a previous one. "I noticed it when we played the Angels [in the Division Series]," Henry says. "Red Sox fans were extremely confident. The expectation now is that the Red Sox are going to win."
Get used to it. When you factor in option years, Boston controls the contracts of leftfielder Manny Ramirez, ace righty Josh Beckett, shortstop Julio Lugo and first baseman Kevin Youkilis through 2010; those of righty Papelbon, Ortiz and rightfielder J.D. Drew through 2011; Matsuzaka, lefty reliever Hideki Okajima, second baseman Dustin Pedroia, lefthander Jon Lester (the Game 4 winner) and righty reliever Manny Delcarmen through 2012; and Ellsbury and future ace righthander Clay Buchholz through 2013.
The only immediate threats to leave among the key Red Sox are Lowell, 33, and righthander Curt Schilling, soon to be 41, both of who will test the organization's resistance to paying for the declining phases of even its most popular players (see Martinez, Pedro; Damon, Johnny; and Lowe, Derek). The Red Sox will investigate the possibility of signing third baseman Alex Rodriguez, whose agent, Scott Boras, announced during the clincher that his client would opt out of his contract with the Yankees. Boston, however, is interested in Rodriguez "only on our terms," a source said, an indication that it would not be interested in the $30 million annual neighborhood that Boras believes Rodriguez will inhabit.
Members of the newly emboldened Red Sox Nation on hand at Coors Field sent club executives a distinct voice mail as the brass celebrated with players after the last out. "Don't sign A-Rod!" the fans chanted. "Re-sign Lowell!"
WHATEVER THE off-season brings, the Red Sox will continue to emphasize player development as the backbone of their business. Lester, 23, who threw 5 2/3 shutout innings in the clincher, and Buchholz will go into the rotation in 2008. The 24-year-old Ellsbury is likely to displace Coco Crisp in centerfield, as he did in the World Series. And shortstop Jed Lowrie and righthander Justin Masterson, both 22, are next in line among Boston prospects to "make an impact next year," Epstein says.
"The free-agent market has always been an inefficient market," adds the G.M., whose otherwise strong track record includes some questionably expensive free-agent signings. "Now with teams locking up their better players to extensions, it's become a horribly inefficient market. That's another factor driving our player development."