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His last pitch was a high fastball. Seth Smith, the Rockies' pinch hitter, swung at it and missed. Papelbon exulted, heaving his glove high in the air and ripping the cap from his head, crushing it in his left hand. His face was a beacon lit by joy and relief.
In a postseason format overrun by flukes, wild cards and Cinderellas in recent years, the Red Sox restored traditional order to the baseball universe. They became the first team since the historically great '98 Yankees to win the world championship after winning the most games in the regular season. The best team won.
"They definitely played better than we played," Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said. "They played defense well, they pitched well, they hit well. They played the game the right way."
Befitting the Sox' return from the brink, two of their greatest comeback stories figured prominently in the clincher. Starting pitcher Jon Lester gave Boston 5 2/3 shutout innings to earn the victory just 14 months after he was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a cancer that required off-season chemotherapy. And Lowell, a survivor of testicular cancer diagnosed in '99, doubled, homered, scored twice and was named the World Series Most Valuable Player.
The Sox jumped to a 1-0 lead in the clincher by the third batter of the game, when Ortiz grounded a single to drive in Ellsbury, who had opened the game with a double. Lowell doubled and scored in the fifth and homered in the seventh to knock out starter Aaron Cook. Boston added its final run in the eighth, pushing the score to 4-1, when Bobby Kielty smacked a first-pitch fastball from Brian Fuentes for a pinch-hit home run. Colorado cut the gap to 4-3 in the bottom of the inning on a two-run homer by Garrett Atkins. That's when Francona called on Papelbon. His closer locked down the final five outs with one scare: a fly ball by Jamie Carroll that Ellsbury snared at the wall.
So ended a new kind of wonderful for the Red Sox and their Nation. 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 have gone 15-2 in them. They are 8-0 in Series games under Francona, the only manager to win even his first five World Series games. Behold the sated, spoiled even, Red Sox fan, a genus not seen on the planet since Ruth wore the Sox uniform in 1918, the last time Boston won world titles this close together.
Hardly 30 minutes after the last out, standing alone in a clubhouse hallway, Papelbon was asked to put such euphoria into words. He bowed his head for a bit, and when he raised it, tears had welled in his eyes. He waited longer, then finally said, "Hell, I don't know if I can. All of us are a part of this. It's such a surreal feeling. I remember my brother Josh came up to me on the field and pinched me. So I guess, yeah, it's real."