For the second time in four years, the Red Sox are in the World Series. And just like last time, they measured the depths of the degree-of-difficulty scale. The 2007 team didn't have to come back from 3-0 like its '04 predecessors. But coming back from 3-1 down against the Indians in the American League Championship Series was still an impressive accomplishment that will go down in the annals of franchise lore.
How have the Red Sox -- a team once identified by late-season disappointment -- transformed into the team that always seems to come back in October?
"I just think when you're in this kind of pressure cooker, you can either fold and kind of implode, or you can relax and be yourself," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "That's what our guys do: they relax and stay themselves. None of the circumstances bother them."
The World Series begins Wednesday at Fenway Park, when the Red Sox host the Rockies at 8 p.m. ET on FOX. But before that spectacle begins, it's worth looking back for a minute at what Boston accomplished not just in the ALCS, but the body of work it has put together in recent Octobers.
Beginning with the 1999 postseason, the Red Sox are 14-3 when they face elimination. Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield are the only two players who have been a part of the team for all 17 of those games, and much of it speaks to the leadership of the captain.
After all, it was Varitek who sat in front of his locker for as long as the media wanted when the Sox lost Game 4 to the Tribe at Jacobs Field last Tuesday and continued to keep a firm resolve about him.
"We've got a one-pitch playoff every pitch," Varitek reminded everyone after Game 4. "We have to go out there with that intensity. We've got to play one pitch at a time, literally. We have to create our own opportunities. We've got to outplay our opponents."
The Red Sox turned Varitek into a prophet. They did all of those things for the remainder of the series and kept such concentration that they never again trailed.
But Varitek doesn't just lead the ship by himself.
Third baseman Mike Lowell is another leader who remembered the experience of bouncing back from a 3-1 deficit with the Marlins against the Cubs in the 2003 National League Championship Series.
Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling -- postseason stalwarts both of them -- wanted the ball with the season on the line, and they delivered. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez wanted to be at the plate in all the big spots, and continually they delivered. So did core players like Lowell, Kevin Youkilis and rookie Dustin Pedroia.
And in dire situations, sometimes even Manny being Manny can help. Ramirez is no media darling, but he decided to turn into one once the Red Sox got into that 3-1 deficit. While some of the national media jumped on him for his carefree words, his teammates appreciated the levity.
"I think Manny put it really well," said Sox right fielder J.D. Drew. "There was always next year in his mind. That just kind of shows you how relaxed we were, the worst case [being] we were going home and the best case, 'Hey, we're moving on to the World Series.'"
Sure, the Red Sox lost three in a row to the Indians to fall in the 3-1 hole, but they never lost their resolve.
"Nobody got down on each other," said Pedroia. "We kept battling. We knew if we won [Game 5] in Cleveland, we'd have a chance. Josh went out and we all jumped on his back, pretty much. He carried us through that game. Once we got back here, Schill did great and everything came together, and here we are -- we're still playing."
Is it character or talent that helps a team perform so well when the margin for error is zero?
"I think you have to have both," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "If you have one without the other, you're not going to make it. We managed to play ourselves into a deficit, but we managed to play ourselves out if it. I just think the mentality is always the same, every day. You play nine innings or whatever it takes."
To a man, the Red Sox seemed to agree that the biggest key to the comeback was to look at each at-bat, inning and game as an almost individual entity.
"We were not going to give up until the last out," said Lowell. "I think we did a great job of taking Game 5 as the most important game and not looking ahead. And then Game 6 and then Game 7. We weren't worried about [Fausto] Carmona when we had to face [C.C.] Sabathia. I think we were very focused in that sense. But it starts with the pitching. Josh did it, Schill did it and Daisuke [Matsuzaka] did it, for the most part."
In truth, it takes nearly everyone playing a role to win three successive must-win games.
"It's exactly like '04, just a different team," said Wakefield. "Your back is against the wall and you had to win. You had to win the first night to get to the second night, and that's the philosophy we all took."
Once again, that philosophy was executed to perfection, and the reward was a trip to the World Series.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less