SEVENTH HEAVEN!!! Sox Win Series Again

This time, it took a mere 1,096 days—during which one man occupied the White House and two other teams won the World Series—before many millions of Red Sox fans got to experience a second time what their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers never got to enjoy once.

The Red Sox are world champions. Again.

The Sox capped their second stirring championship run in four seasons with a Hollywood flourish by beating the Rockies, 4-3, to finish off a four-game sweep in front of 50,041 towel-waving fans in Denver.

Jon Lester, who was undergoing chemotherapy one year ago, tossed 5 2/3 shutout innings to earn the win and fellow cancer survivor Mike Lowell locked up Most Valuable Player honors by going 2-for-4 with a solo homer. The Rockies scored twice in the eighth off Hideki Okajima before Jonathan Papelbon retired the final five Rockies in order—including Seth Smith by strikeout for the final out—to set off an emotional celebration.

Papelbon appeared to be near tears during a post-game interview on Fox, as did Jason Varitek, who tucked the final ball in his back pocket on his way to hugging Papelbon (presumably, he'll have an easier time keeping it than Doug Mientkiewicz did three years ago). David Ortiz was captured wiping tears from his eyes and Royce Clayton, a 15-year veteran who collected just six at-bats following a September 1 recall and did not play at all in the postseason but quickly became popular with his teammates, looked as if he were crying as he clutched the World Series trophy for the first time.

A franchise once synonymous with heartbreak is the first to win two titles this decade—and it's done so by mounting two of the most dramatic comebacks in postseason history and winning eight straight World Series games. The Sox, who won their final eight games of the 2004 postseason in coming back from a three games to none deficit against the Yankees in the ALCS and sweeping the Cardinals in the Fall Classic, won their final seven games this month after falling behind the Indians three games to one in the ALCS.

"I'm supposed to have a lot of things to say and maybe be a little bit profound," Terry Francona told reporters afterward. "But it's hard to come up with the right words. To go through this from day one until now with people that you really, really care about makes it really special."

The seventh championship in franchise history wasn't quite as epic as the hex-busting title of 2004, but it may have been more meaningful from an organizational point of view. This crown validates the philosophies of Theo Epstein, who acquired all but five of the players on the Sox' 25-man Series roster. Upon being hired in December 2002, he said he wanted to assure long-term success of the Sox by turning them "...into a scouting and player development machine."

Three of the winning pitchers in the Series were 27 or younger while Papelbon, a 2003 fourth-round draft pick, recorded saves in the final three victories. Jacoby Ellsbury, a 2005 first-round pick with 116 regular season at-bats under his belt, was 6-for-9 as the leadoff hitter in the final two games of the Series. He'll be the heavy favorite to win the AL Rookie of the Year award next season—an honor that will almost surely be bestowed this season upon the Sox' top pick in the 2004 draft, Dustin Pedroia, who sparked the ALCS comeback by reaching base in eight of his final 13 plate appearances and buried the Indians with five RBI in the final two innings of Game Seven.

Yet as impressively as the plan has come to life, its execution was never easy—as symbolized best by the clumsy manner in which Larry Lucchino, Epstein and Francona slung arms around one another as they stood on the podium inside the visitors clubhouse during the trophy presentation.

This Wednesday marks the two-year anniversary of Epstein's resignation over philosophical issues with Lucchino. The Sox' management structure is one in which the manager is more the executor of the plan than the architect, and Francona remains unsigned beyond next year while managers such as Ozzie Guillen and Joe Maddon—each of whom presided over signed extensions while Francona remained unsigned beyond next year. And Francona raised eyebrows after the Sox clinched the AL East Sept. 28 when he thanked owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner but did not mention Lucchino, the club's CEO.

Rest assured that extension will get signed, and in short order, after Francona became the first Sox manager since Bill Carrigan in 1915-16 to win two World Series. His patient ways and long-term approach earned him some ridicule during the regular season—especially when the Sox fell off their 100-win pace during the summer and had to fend off the Yankees in September—but there can be no denying that his method works after an October in which he seemed to have the magic touch.

He managed the season with the playoffs in mind, which allowed him to use Papelbon for more than an inning in six of his seven postseason appearances after relying on him for more than three outs just four times in 59 regular season outings. He was proven correct to stick with Pedroia and Julio Lugo after they struggled at the start of the postseason, yet the Sox went 6-0 after he benched Coco Crisp for Ellsbury. With the Sox on the edge of elimination against the Indians in the ALCS, he talked fantasy football with his players.

Even the most subtle moves worked out. Bobby Kielty hit the only pitch he saw all Series for a pinch-hit homer leading off the eighth. Ellsbury, switched to left field after Manny Ramirez was pulled in a double switch, raced back and caught Jamey Carroll's scorching line drive for the second out in the ninth.

"I know he doesn't hit or pitch or do any of those things anymore," Lowell said, referring to Francona. "But I think he provides an atmosphere for our clubhouse and for our guys to be able to use our talents to the best of our abilities. That's not easy to do in the market we're in."

It's never easy to field a contender in a baseball-mad environment, but these Sox had challenges unlike any of their predecessors. The 2004 team was dogged from start to finish by talk of a Curse and the belief it would find a way to screw things up right until Keith Foulke stabbed Edgar Renteria's comebacker, but there was no such pessimism surrounding the 2007 club, only the highest of expectations that, at times, wore on all involved.

"I think it's a little different when, from the onset, a lot of people are expecting you to win a world championship, and if you don't, it's a disappointing year," Lowell said. "For us to come through and do what we thought we were capable of doing is unbelievable."

This team was not as personable as the 2004 champions, but it proved resilient and ruthless both during the marathon of the regular season and the sprint of the postseason. The Sox withstood a mediocre three-month stretch (they were 44-39 from June 1 through Aug. 31) and the red-hot Yankees (who trailed by as many as 14 ½ games on May 29 but closed within 1 ½ games of the Sox twice in the season's final 10 days) to lead the AL East for the final 166 days of the regular season.

The Sox trailed the Angels for three innings in an AL Division Series sweep before hiccupping against the Indians, who didn't trail for 21 straight innings between Games Two and Five of the ALCS. But the Sox trailed in just three of their final 51 innings after moving to the edge of elimination in the ALCS 13 days ago.

"Our manager didn't panic, the players didn't panic, the coaches didn't panic," Lowell said. "We knew if we just kept playing the baseball that we know we can play, we'll be all right."

They were better than all right. They were the best. Again.


Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752. To subscribe to Diehard or diehardmagazine.com, please CLICK HERE

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