Two hours before Game 2 of the World Series, Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein stood behind a pillar in the home dugout at Fenway Park, out of the sight lines of the media soldiers toting cameras and notebooks on pregame patrol. "What I'm worried about," Epstein said, "is getting so much face time that, if we should ever be lucky enough to win this thing, my life would be turned upside down. I don't need that.
"Think about what this means to New England," Epstein continued. "If this team wins, the players, no matter how ancillary they are or what big stars, will be forever remembered and will always have a place here. Twenty years from now, I'm sure [reserve first baseman] David McCarty could move back here if he wanted to and some company would put him on the payroll in some capacity because he played on the 2004 Red Sox. It's a life-changing experience."
Seventy-two hours later, on a night when the sun, the earth, the moon and the World Series were aligned as never before--it was the first lunar eclipse to occur during a Fall Classic-- Boston beat the St. Louis Cardinals 3--0 to complete one of the most one-sided of the 100 Series ever played. The '04 Red Sox, as Epstein had suggested, became immortals. The first major league team to win eight consecutive postseason games, the self-styled frat-house Idiots, with little use for convention, on-time arrivals or shaves and haircuts, won the first world championship in the lifetimes of all but a few members of Red Sox Nation, the first since Babe Ruth helped pitch Boston to the 1918 title.
Other Red Sox teams may win championships, but this one will linger in memory with the unmatched sweetness of a first kiss. Last Thursday, the day after Boston had completed a four-game sweep of St. Louis, a woman in suburban West Boylston looked out her front window and saw an otherwise normal-looking man in his late 50s walking up and down the block giddily swinging a broom. "I guess a lot of people can die happy now," Epstein said after Game 4.
His cover blown, Epstein, 30, is being hailed as the young architect of the Team That Ended the Curse. In 23 months on the job he obtained 16 of the 25 players on the World Series roster--and gave up only two big leaguers (shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and pitcher Casey Fossum) in the process.
Now comes the hard part: the cold business of moving on without some of those beloved players. Two starters and two regulars can become free agents by Nov. 11--righthanders Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, catcher Jason Varitek and shortstop Orlando Cabrera. ( Boston picked up third baseman Bill Mueller's $2.1 million 2005 option last Friday.) In addition infielder Pokey Reese, outfielder Gabe Kapler, catcher Doug Mirabelli and relief pitchers Curtis Leskanic, Mike Myers and Ramiro Mendoza are eligible for free agency. (Kapler was the first to file, the day after the Series ended.)
"We will not put the interests of any one individual above what we feel is the greater good of the team," Epstein says. "It can be very dangerous to fall in love with a team because it went to the World Series. If you take two teams that each won 95 games, and one of them went to the playoffs and one of them did not, I can almost guarantee you that the next year the team that didn't make the playoffs is going to be better because it will take a more critical view of itself and address weaknesses. As much as I'd like to bring all the guys back, you have to look at it objectively and make the tough decisions."
Says Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, "We set our goal not just to bring a world championship to Boston, but world championships. We're going to try to keep this going. This is not the end of something. It's a start." With every seat sold at Fenway Park, a wildly successful team-owned cable network and interest in the club at an alltime high, the Red Sox, who have won at least 93 games for three years running, have the resources to remain a powerhouse.
Whether to re-sign Martinez and Lowe may be the trickiest decisions. They combined for 30 wins and one out shy of 400 innings in the regular season. They started half of the team's 14 postseason games. The Red Sox were 6-1 in those starts, including Games 3 and 4 of the Series, in which Martinez and Lowe threw twin seven-inning, scoreless, three-hit gems.
Martinez's starts at Fenway have been festive occasions because of the charisma and bravado he brings to the mound--not to mention his 117-37 record in a Boston uniform. He turned 33 during the World Series and, including his postseason work, threw a career-high 244 innings this year. "Contract year," two key Boston decision-makers say dismissively of Martinez, whose 33 starts were his most since 1998. Martinez earned $17.5 million this year, the highest single-season salary ever for a pitcher.