Red Sox relish another trip to Classic

Red Sox relish another trip to Classic

BOSTON -- Look who's a World Series regular now.

"Before we broke the curse, we were perceived as perennial also-rans," Red Sox chairman Tom Werner said. "I know that some people are saying: 'Don't become the Yankees.' But I don't think there's anything wrong with having the expectation of being a winner and then winning. Just look around."

He was talking to MLB.com at 1 a.m. ET on Monday in a quiet area away from the din, long after the last pitch in Sunday night's 11-2 Game 7 victory over Cleveland in the American League Championship Series. There was work still to be done, but the scene was amazing. Outside on the streets, there were an extra 1,200 police officers from surrounding cities to help Boston's finest keep the peace. In the clubhouse, ALCS MVP Josh Beckett was spraying Korbel on someone.

On the infield grass, closer Jonathan Papelbon, wearing a full scuba diving mask (why stop at swim goggles to combat champagne redeye?), had been laughing hysterically as Kevin Youkilis did a comical strut to the music of "I'm Shipping Up To Boston" by the Dropkick Murphys. It's the song they play whenever Papelbon enters a game here. Everyone was having a blast, fans and their heroes going strong. It was another Red Sox party to celebrate another AL pennant.

"What's so great about this team is, even though they were down 3-1, they felt they would win three in a row," Werner said. "They knew they had Beckett, [Curt] Schilling and [Daisuke] Matsuzaka pitching three straight. They came up with timely hits. I'm very impressed in their confidence that they just showed.

"I think of the interesting characters on this team, from Manny [Ramirez] to Big Papi [David Ortiz] to Dice-K. It's such an entertaining team, as well as a successful one. Just look at what Matsuzaka did. I remember the dinner that [manager] Terry [Francona], [president/chief executive officer] Larry [Lucchino], [general manager Theo [Epstein] and I had with him. We said, 'We want you to be a big part in bringing another title back to the city of Boston.' He showed it to you in this game."

Matsuzaka rode the momentum of a hot Boston club and pitched five solid innings to record the victory that clinched a berth in the World Series, which starts at home on Wednesday against the Rockies. Boston won its last eight games of 2004 to claim its first World Series championship since 1918; now comes another chance.

"We were here for '04, and because it had been 86 years of waiting, back then it felt more unreal," said Steve Fisk of Marlboro, Mass., one of the revelers who stood in the box seats next to the field as the players and their families let loose. "This seems like what we were supposed to do. This feels very right. This is the way it's supposed to be, especially with the addition of guys like Dice-K and J.D. Drew.

"It feels like what was supposed to happen."

No one who was interviewed after Comeback II seemed to care one iota that they might "become the Yankees." Ortiz was taking it all in a few feet away from the pitcher's mound, where players' wives were posing with the AL championship trophy. It was there that Big Papi said, "We're there. We had some new guys on this club, but we teach them and keep them together, and that's what it's all about. We know how to do this."

Coco Crisp even got to party. There had been a high potential for mixed feelings, given his offensive struggles during the series and rookie Jacoby Ellsbury's insertion into the starting lineup in center for the last two games at home. But look who caught the final out, and how he caught it. Crisp was a ninth-inning defensive replacement, taking over in center for Ellsbury, who moved over to left in place of Ramirez.

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Crisp caught a Franklin Gutierrez fly ball for the second out, and then he had to crash into the wall in the center-field nook to make an impressive catch of Casey Blake's drive to win the pennant. It was a little pain and a lot of pleasure.

Crisp was living proof: The Sox no longer had their backs to the wall.

"I prepared the last inning to be ready, I was ready, and he hit the last ball to me," Crisp said when the clubhouse was elbow-to-elbow, everyone skating on Korbel corks. "I'm glad I came up with it, and not so glad that I went down. I was feeling a little bit of pain right there, but happiness at the same time."

There was natural sadness back in Cleveland, where they will continue to wait for that first World Series championship since 1948. The Indians came about as close as you can come to having another chance. Their ace, C.C. Sabathia, had been dueling with Beckett into the seventh inning of Game 5 at Jacobs Field, where they had taken a 3-1 series lead. But the Red Sox broke it open at that point and they never stopped.

In 1996, Atlanta trailed St. Louis, 3-1, and then outscored the Cardinals, 32-1, to win the National League Championship Series. In this ALCS, down 3-1, Boston outscored Cleveland, 30-5, to win it in seven.

These guys seem to know how to come back better than anybody in sports. They have practically patented the process by now. Even a couple of guys who weren't on that '04 team, Beckett and Mike Lowell, had won it all in '03 with the Marlins after winning their last three against the Cubs in the NLCS.

"We're not going to give up until the last out," Lowell said. "We did a great job of taking Game 5 as Game 5. We weren't worried about [Fausto] Carmona in Game 6 when you had to face Sabathia in Game 5. I thought it was a great series. Both teams were able to capitalize at times. We're a pretty loose bunch by nature. We were smart in not looking ahead."

There was a lot of planning ahead, though. Just consider the scene outside Fenway on this night. When Comeback I was completed on that October night in 2004 down at Yankee Stadium, fans were gathered in the streets outside Fenway in a wild scene. Sadly, an Emerson College student had been killed during that rather chaotic setting, inadvertently shot in the eye by a police officer's plastic bullet. Some changes were made, and the World Series celebration scene back at Fenway that year was more controlled.

That was the case here Sunday night and into the wee hours of Monday. One officer told MLB.com, "The night is still young, so you might not want to write about it yet." But by all accounts, the police presence was remarkable, with that infusion of law enforcement from neighboring departments. It was just another example of how, unlike the 2004 pennant, this one was absolutely expected by the general public.

Every now and then, you would see signs of conservatism; no one needs to remind the Red Sox that the Rockies won 21 of their last 22 games. Beckett actually was probably one of the most conservative revelers in the clubhouse, if you watched him long enough. There are plenty of reminders all over Fenway about what comes next.

It's like Werner said. Just look around.

FINALLY!
HALLELUJAH!
CURSE BUSTERS!
A NATION REJOICES!
FROM CURSED TO FIRST
WORLD BEATERS
WE WIN!
BELIEVE IT!

They are the front-page headlines that are framed in the hallway of the Fenway press box, and there are many more just like those. They are a constant reminder all season long to what happened one unexpected October under a pumpkin moon in 2004. On this night, it was just time to enjoy the ride. Next stop, World Series.

"It will be a great World Series," Werner said. "The Rockies have a successful story that's one of the greatest in baseball. But I wouldn't bet against Boston."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.