ST. LOUIS — The march to baseball's ultimate glory was not conventional, not mundane and certainly not relaxing. But why should anyone be surprised?
For these are the Boston Red Sox. Celestially speaking, this franchise has not exactly been Destiny's Darlings, unless you happen to have been born during the Taft Administration. Since 1946, when the team with the best record in baseball lost a painful Game 7 in this very city, the great, sad cries of the Red Sox and their passionate fans have been variations of "Why?" It's been:
"Why can't we win one, just one?"
Eleven days ago, baseball life as we know it changed. Why? Who knows? It just did. Emerging from an 0-3 abyss in the American League Championship Series, the Red Sox have rolled off eight straight wins. Three outs —- make that three Mariano Rivera outs — away from a humiliating sweep by the Evil Empire, the Boston Red Sox have put together the most devastating run in the history of post-season baseball, winning the last four games against Yankees and then dispatching the St. Louis Cardinals in an official World Series sweep, the capper being Wednesday night's 3-0 triumph before 53,037 heartbroken fans at Busch Stadium.
Red Sox win! Red Sox win! Theeeeeeee Red Sox win!
For 86 years, and especially during the 37 seasons since the 1967 team restored baseball interest in New England, the question has been, "What will Boston do if the Red Sox ever win the World Series?"
We are now about to find out.
Before looking into the cultural and sociological ramifications of all this, let's step back for a minute and remind yourself what this is all about.
It's about baseball.
This is not the Boston Symphony whipping the St. Louis Symphony. This is not about Mass General taking out Barnes Jewish. This is not about chowdah getting the measure of toasted ravioli.
This is about the Boston Red Sox having a better baseball team than the New York Yankees. This is about the Boston Red Sox having a better baseball team than the St. Louis Cardinals. This is about the Boston Red Sox, for the first time since 1918, having the best baseball team in the world.
This about performance on the field.
This is about winning Game 1 of a World Series with a home run off a foul pole struck by a player who, if plebescite managing were in vogue, would have been dropped from the lineup three games earlier. This is about winning Game 2 of a World Series when a very expensive, swaggering, big-talking 37-year old pitcher does the very thing he said he had come here to do, and he does it on an ankle that needs significant surgical repair. This is about winning Game 3 of a World Series when the gifted 33-year old diva of a mound ace submits his best performance in a month in what may have been his Red Sox farewell.
Finally, this is about Derek Lowe out-Curting Curt and out-Pedroing Pedro with a spectacular 7-inning display of pitching. This is about Johnny Damon leading off the ballgame with a home run into the St. Louis bullpen, making it the fourth straight game the Red Sox scored in the first inning. This is about Trot Nixon hitting three doubles and knocking in two runs. This is about becoming only the fourth team in major league history to win a World Series without ever trailing.
This is about an eccentric billionaire owner, a precocious general manager and a computer-toting manager working together to build on a team left behind by a Massachusetts-born pure fan who had stocked the cupboard with stars, including the Series MVP.. The starting lineup in this biggest of all games featured four Dan Duquettes, four Theo Epsteins and one Lou Gorman. I like that.
This is about a team that stumbled and underachieved for three months before finding itself. This is about a team that conducted a Sysiphysian pursuit of the Yankees during the regular season, but which never lost faith in the team-wide belief that it was the better team, even after losing the first three games of the ALCS, the third of which was a complete embarrassment.
This is about a team that was able to do what so many of its predecessors could not do, which was to appreciate the tortured team history and appreciate the angst of the fandom without becoming overwhelmed by either. This is a team that had no trouble adopting the one-day-at-a-time mantra of manager Terry Francona, whose approach to many situations, both on and off the field, confused and sometimes angered fans, many of whom can only relate to my-way-or-highway skippers, not to a thoroughly modern man who embraces technology and thinks too many rules are counter-productive.
So now we know what it takes to win. It takes superb starting pitching. How about a combined 10 hits and one unearned run from Schilling, Pedro and Lowe in Games 2, 3 and 4? It takes timely hitting. It takes the requisite defense. And it takes a bullpen, which, in the post-season, was, at times, beyond spectacular.
And it takes a little luck. Manny stayed. The Yankees got stuck with A-Rod.
Baseball, my friends, baseball.
It took a little while, but the championship of baseball has come back where it belongs. Since the 1870s, baseball has resided in the heart of Boston. While an entire nation has sold its soul to the violence and essential callousness of football, Boston has been a proud, stubborn holdout, preferring a more subtle, intricate, sport appealing equally to the mind and the senses. If we are the only locale in America left in which baseball is King, so be it. When you're right, you're right.
What a sweet ride it was. Has any team ever sent its followers on such a Manic (sweeping the Angels) - Depressive (Losing those first three to the Yankees) - Euphoric (each and every one of the last eight games) post-season journey? It's not possible.
So there it is. No more crying, hear? No more whining, hear No more "Whys?" The Boston Red Sox are champions of the world.
There is only one thing left to say.