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Monday, October 29, 2007

Twin peaks: Sox are champs

Boston rides four-game sweep to second title in four seasons
By Ian Browne / MLB.com

DENVER -- A scintillating seven-game winning streak that began in Cleveland with the season on the brink of elimination ended Sunday night with the Red Sox mobbing each other in the thin air of Coors Field of all places, culminating in a World Series championship that didn't take even close to 86 years this time around.
By sweeping the Rockies with a 4-3 victory in Game 4, the Red Sox are champions of Major League Baseball for the second time in four seasons, once again doing it by giving their National League opponent the broom treatment. It was the seventh -- there goes that number again -- time the Red Sox have won the World Series.

It all ended with Jonathan Papelbon, the closer who has been brilliant all year and into the postseason, striking out Seth Smith on 95-mph heat. The fiery right-hander tossed his glove high in the air with joy, took his hat off and then embraced catcher Jason Varitek after saving the World Series clincher for left-hander Jon Lester.

From there, it was a sea of Red Sox piling on top of each other in the middle of the diamond.

"It was just an amazing ride," said Papelbon. "Hopefully this is a sign of more to come. The guys in this clubhouse, we have a chance to be here year after year. We can put a good team out there year after year."

Three years ago, the Red Sox were overjoyed just to do it once. Now, the organization -- which has made the postseason four of the past five seasons-- is hoping to turn into a perennial powerhouse.

Victory did not seem to be any sweeter this time than it was in 2004.

"You know what, what happened in '04, we'll never forget," said Terry Francona, the first manager in Major League history to win his first eight World Series games. "I won't ever forget it. But this is '07, and we said that from Day 1. And we accomplished our goal, and it's not easy to do."

Give the Rockies credit for this: they didn't quit. Down, 4-1, in the bottom of the eighth, Garrett Atkins blasted a two-run homer to left against Hideki Okajima, putting the heat on the Red Sox.

"They don't panic when they're down," World Series MVP Mike Lowell said of the Rockies. "It got a little dicey there after Atkins hit the home run, but Pap's been there all year for us. There's no better guy to have in that situation than him."

It was Papelbon, who didn't allow a run in seven postseason appearances, who recorded the final five outs. It was his third save of the World Series.

There was also a feel-good touch to the end of the script, as Lester, who was undergoing chemotherapy treatments for anaplastic large cell lymphoma at this time last year, fired 5 2/3 shutout innings against Colorado to earn the win in his first career postseason start.
"Words can't describe it," said Lester. "It really hasn't sunk in. Maybe it will sink in when we go ride around Boston with the trophy. Right now, it's just a lot of fun. This is the one you work for ever since you first picked up a baseball. This is what you dream of and this is what you work towards all year."

Aaron Cook, making his first start since Aug. 10 because of a left oblique strain, hung tough (six innings, six hits, three runs) for the Rockies in a losing effort.

But the Red Sox did enough offensively to get the job done. Lowell -- who has a way of making his hits count -- belted a solo homer in the top of the seventh to give Boston a 3-0 lead.

Brad Hawpe drew the Rockies within two on a solo shot to right against Manny Delcarmen in the bottom of the seventh. But after Mike Timlin navigated the Red Sox through the final two outs of that inning, Bobby Kielty opened the eighth with a pinch-hit homer to push the lead back to three runs.

The fact that Kielty hit a decisive home run was symbolic of the way this postseason went for Boston. From the veterans to the rookies to the role players, everyone did their thing.

"You have to have horses," said Red Sox right-hander Curt Schilling. "You have to have Papelbons, you have to have [Josh] Becketts, you have to have Mannys, you have to have Davids, but when you have Jon Lester winning it and Bobby Kielty hitting the game-winning homer, it just speaks to the depth of the club."

Don't let the relative ease of the World Series conquest fool you. The ride to the pinnacle was anything but easy for the Red Sox. They trailed the Indians, 3-1, in the American League Championship Series before climbing out of that seemingly daunting deficit.

If the script sounds reasonably familiar, it should. In 2004, the Red Sox came back from 3-0 down to beat the Yankees in the ALCS, and they finished that championship ride with eight straight wins.

"It's the most impossible thing to get done, and we got it done," said Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. "And [three] years later, we did it again."

Coming into the World Series, the Rockies had won 21 of 22. But the Red Sox cooled them right off, riding their battle-tested playoff horses (Beckett and Schilling) to victories at Fenway, and then having Daisuke Matsuzaka and Lester seal the deal in the Rocky Mountains.

"We had momentum on our side," said Timlin, who has now been a part of four World Series champions. "We came from a tough series with the Indians and we just carried it into this one. They had the time off and it didn't play in their favor, and we rolled."

After taking over first place in the AL East for good on April 18 and winning 96 games during the regular season, Boston went 11-3 in the postseason.

"I'm just so proud of everybody," said Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, a force in his rookie year. "It took 25 guys and every scout and coach to win this."

In Game 4 of the World Series, the Red Sox again set the tone early. Jacoby Ellsbury, fresh off his four-hit performance in Game 3, led the game off with a double. He moved to third on a groundout by Pedroia and scored on Ortiz's single to right.

Cook held the Red Sox down for a while after that first, throwing three straight shutout innings. But the Boston bats came alive in the fifth. Lowell got it started with a leadoff double to center and belly-flopped home on a one-out single to right by Varitek. After Julio Lugo followed with a single, Cook struck out Lester and Ellsbury to keep it at 2-0.

Things would get topsy-turvy later, but the Red Sox found a way to finish it off. By the end of the night, the infield seats at Coors Field were packed with Boston fans, who cheered the players on for roughly 90 minutes in a post-clinch party.

"I thought there would be a different feeling, because there wasn't sort of the long, dramatic buildup," said Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino. "But it's still exhilarating and still jubilant. Just sitting here now, seeing the players in uniform, Red Sox Nation here with us, it's beginning to hit me right now with the fans cheering. It's a gratifying feeling."


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