Within baseball's best division, the Red Sox, working smarter not harder, capture their third World Championship of the millenium.
From front to back, baseball's Athens has the stuff of champions.
- Josh Beckett reemerges as the bluest of blue chips
- Newly inked Jon Lester pays dividends as one of baseball's premier lefties
- Daisuke Matsuzaka extends his record as the winningest Japanese import, ever
- Brad Penny is worth every cent
- Tim Wakefield keeps opponents off-balance
- The Killer B's (Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden) await their chance in AAA; Buchholz had a Spring ERA barely above the Mendoza Line
- The Money Guy awaits, as John Smoltz rehabs, author of a 2.65 post-season ERA in 24 series
A revitalized bullpen return newly minted millionaire Jonathan Papelbon, unscored upon in 25 post-season innings. He holds court with the "lay down the law" firm of Saito, Delcarmen, Ramirez, Okajima, and Lopez. Justin "Bull from Night Court" Masterson can start, relieve, or bring cookies to Don and Jerry. And Daniel Bard's fastball brings visions of sugarplums to Red Sox Nation while Junichi Tazawa has an upside the size of Mount Fuji.
Defense wins championships. The Sox emphasize balance between scoring and run prevention, and return their best defense ever. Dr. Strangeglove in left is replaced by Jason Bay, J.D. Drew squishes the injury bug, and Jacoby Ellsbury adjusts to the hard stuff down and in, steals more than anyone from The Exchange, scores a hundred runs and runs down more flies than CSI.
With a lot to prove, Jason Varitek has a mean reversion season, while Kevin Cash exchanges his whites for pinstripes. Mike Lowell is healthy again, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis are two rich, productive happy campers, and Big Papi simply gets healthy.
Intangibles come into play more than ever, as the Yankees squabble over A-Rod's tarnish and the well-known A-Rod/Teixeira feud erupts into scenes that only Wes Craven can love. That's once A-Rod actually returns from hip surgery. Most New Yorkers know that what A-Rod needs is a checkup from the neck up. Sox fans wont have to needle A-Rod about his peccadilloes as he misses their first five meetings.
Few know of the immutable and arcane 'Curse' placed over the Yankees in September of 2001 (just before Arizona finished them) following the firing of a Tampa-based employee. The Curse of Mr. X remains as thick and relentless as New York smog. First learning of the curse at a 2006 conference in Vail, I could tell you about it, but then I'd have to kill you.
Hundreds of thousands of children in the Evil Empire State go to bed hungry for Boston Championships (six for the city since 2000). Let's face it, the New Jersey Giants are just not that into you.
Tampa finds repeating as division champions a Herculean task. The stars aligned for the cowbelles in 2008, but the brass ring eluded them, just as it does in 2009. Tampa thrived under the Butch Cassidy "who are those guys" mantra in 2008. The Rays are formidable, but won't sneak up on anyone this season, and picture perfect pitching health never occurs in consecutive seasons.
Terry Francona's liberation from Mannyville restores his alchemy to Boston's Moneyball roster. Boston's best manager seamlessly applies the statistical magic from the Baseball Operations' geeks. Their strategic knowledge of baseball's quantum mechanics gives the Sox a competitive edge over the division's knuckle draggers. After all the MENSA room isn't the loo at the New Bronx Zoo.
The Sox shopped at Walmart while the Yankees (it's no accident with a GM named Cash-man) spent like Michael Douglas in Wall Street. Boston has reserve funds for a rainy day, and the Yankees have a TARP 3.0 application with the Federal Reserve after unloading half a billion dollars on Mark T, a future WWE heavyweight champion, and a pitcher who belongs in the Peabody Museum glass flowers case.
Karma rules. The Red Sox have John Henry and New York has Bernie Madoff. Boras raked the Yankees over the coals while Theo Epstein got the better of Great Scott. The New Yankee Stadium cost 1.6 billion dollars while our economy faces the biggest downturn in eighty years; that's worse than certain Yankees without Brian McNamee.
A Sox World Series sweep sends Jordan's Furniture owner Warren Buffett into free furniture catatonia. And consider his recent fortunes, it's as easy as ABC, Another Boston Championship in 2009.
(Originally published in abridged form in the Boston Globe)