SURREAL, THAT'S WHAT IT IS, LIKE A BARKING CAT OR THE FIRST TIME YOU SAW JOHNNY DAMON IN PINSTRIPES. YOU FOLLOW A TEAM YOUR WHOLE LIFE—A TEAM DEFINED BY ITS INABILITY TO WIN IT ALL; A TEAM SYNONYMOUS WITH HEARTBREAK—AND THEN YOU WAKE UP ONE MORNING AND THAT TEAM HAS WON THE WORLD SERIES FOR THE SECOND TIME IN FOUR SEASONS. And you ask yourself: How did this happen?
As with most mysteries, it helps to retrace your steps. Before it was possible for the 2007 championship to surprise nobody, the '04 title had to shock everyone. That seems like the place to start. Experiencing the '04 World Series run must have been what it was like watching the first moon landing. It was something that had been talked about for entire lifetimes, something that seemed hypothetically possible but that no one was sure could actually be accomplished.
After that, being a Red Sox fan meant something different—but not that much. We still had all those years of loyal service: memories of tears shed in 1986 and nicely worn-in caps. But now we had a championship to go with it, like a badge for meritorious service. We had a title in our lifetime, but then so did Diamondbacks fans. We weren't huge winners; we just weren't losers anymore. When I saw a Cubs hat, I didn't feel kinship with its wearer as much as the memory of kinship.
And now the Red Sox have won again. And not as a wild-card team or with a bunch of hairy self-described Idiots. It was just baseball, and they were just better than everyone else. The '07 Sox were a combination of good pitching and a deep, patient lineup. I mean, yeah, it seemed a little improbable—another title without so much as a generation since the last one—but why not?
A lot has been made of the big-name, big-money stars who helped the Red Sox win, but good teams make smart decisions; and this title, like the last one, was just as much about the throw-ins, afterthoughts and castoffs whom the Sox have given a home. Boston's best player this season was third baseman Mike Lowell—the World Series MVP—whom the Marlins forced on the Red Sox in the Josh Beckett trade. And after Boston spent $103.1 million to land Daisuke Matsuzaka, the conventional wisdom was that Hideki Okajima was being brought in to keep him company. No, the Sox brought him in to pitch, and for $1.2 million they got an All-Star, a guy who's so good he doesn't even need to look where he's pitching.
And then there were the rookies, because good teams know when to reload. Dustin Pedroia, a guy whom Terry Francona stuck with through a miserable start, will probably be the AL Rookie of the Year. Centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who leaves flame plumes when he rounds the bases, is still eligible for the R.O.Y. next year.
The '07 Red Sox buried the Yankees early and held on late. No fluke, the Sox were the better team. And no, the players weren't all salvaged from the Island of Misfit Toys, but Boston spent their $143 million better than the Yankees spent their $195 million, and that's satisfying too.
After the Sox won their season-long death-cage match in the East, they rolled over the AL West champion Angels, sweeping the three games by a combined score of 19-4. Then came the Indians, who forced the Red Sox into a three-games-to-one hole in the ALCS before Boston ducked into the phone booth or said shazam or, well, sent Beckett back to the mound. Boston won three straight by a combined score of 30-5. Jonathan Papelbon got the final six outs of Game 7, glaring in before each pitch, as if to say, You really thought you could beat us? Us?
To watch that was to know that the Red Sox had become the heavies, the favorites, no matter who they were playing. And on that note, Colorado arrived in town. Not exactly a traditional powerhouse, the Rockies had somehow won 21 of 22. But then came Game 1. Beckett, no longer merely mortal, struck out the side in the top of the first, and Pedroia led off the bottom of the frame with a homer. And you just sort of knew, didn't you? We've all seen the slipper fall off Cinderella before. In this case it was knocked off by 17 hits and 13 runs. And, well, you know the rest.
So, after a nearly mythic 86-year drought, the Sox have won two titles in four seasons. They've done it with dominant pitching, a lethal lineup and aggressive management. It sounds unsettlingly familiar, and it brings up one last vexing question: Are the Red Sox becoming the Yankees?