DENVER - The comparison, as commonly applied, tends to be odious. It makes John Henry quaver, Larry Lucchino combative, Theo Epstein defensive.
But perhaps in this one instance, the Red Sox will not object to being likened to the New York Yankees.
Only one American League team in 103 years of World Series play has executed a four-game sweep in successive Series appearances. The Yankees have done it on three occasions, the last when Joe Torre was still employed (1998-99).
Three years to the night Keith Foulke flipped to Doug Mientkiewicz for the final out of the 2004 Series, the Sox stand poised to become the second. The Sox took a six-run lead, then held off the Colorado Rockies, 10-5, in Game 3 of the 103d World Series before a crowd of 49,983 blissfully unaware of the real meaning of the white towels they waved with such fervor when this one started. Tonight, the Sox will send cancer survivor Jon Lester, 14 months after his diagnosis, to the mound for a potential closing scene that would make Hollywood blush and New Englanders weep.
Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, rookies who were otherwise engaged when the Sox won in 2004 - Pedroia in the Arizona Fall League, Ellsbury in college - rescued the Sox with back-to-back doubles in the eighth inning, fueling a three-run rally after the Rockies had drawn to within 6-5.
Jason Varitek's sacrifice fly in the ninth accounted for the final Sox run, and made it four times in their last five postseason games that they scored in double digits.
"Incredible night, wasn't it?" said Sox principal owner Henry, on the verge of accomplishing something no Sox owner has done since Joseph J. Lannin in 1915-16, winning multiple Series titles.
"Jacoby and Dustin and Oki and Paps, and [Daisuke] Matsuzaka pitched great tonight," Henry said. "What is there to say? No one knows better than we do what it's like to come back from a deficit."
Ellsbury (four hits) and Pedroia (three) combined to score three runs and drive in four, justifying manager Terry Francona's willingness to make them the first rookies to bat 1-2 in a Series lineup.
Ellsbury became the third rookie in Series history with four hits in a game, joining Fred Lindstrom of the New York Giants (Game 5, 1924) and Joe Garagiola of the Cardinals (Game 4, 1946).
"They were great," Epstein said as he walked out of Coors Field. "They've been a huge part of what's gone on here all season long."
Matt Holliday's three-run home run off Hideki Okajima pulled the Rockies to within a run, 6-5, in the seventh, but Okajima recovered and Jonathan Papelbon recorded the last four outs.
"I've seen a lot of games like this in Coors Field," Epstein said, "and the visitors don't usually win. That says a lot about our guys to pull together and make big pitches when they had to."
Whatever hopes the locals entertained of a purple reign appeared to vanish in a hail of 10 Red Sox hits in the first three innings. Ellsbury doubled twice in a six-run third inning, and Matsuzaka delivered a two-run single for his first major league hit, a true Monster mash for the Japanese pitcher who came to America with that nickname and only enhanced his stature on both sides of the Big Pond.
"I can't say that I'm a confident hitter, but I love hitting," Matsuzaka said.
Matsuzaka, pitching with a confidence renewed by winning Game 7 of the AL Championship Series against the Indians, took a three-hit shutout into the sixth, but was lifted after issuing one-out walks to Todd Helton and Garrett Atkins. A Gold Glover in Japan, Matsuzaka also made a nice play afield in the first inning, trapping former Seibu Lions teammate Kaz Matsui off second base after making a nice backhanded stab of Holliday's comebacker.
The Rockies were an endearing underdog entering the Series, having improbably climbed from fourth place in the National League West in mid-September to wild-card entry by winning a play-in elimination game against the Padres. The Rockies through five innings, though, looked like a team that took an eight-day vacation and never came back.
Colorado manager Clint Hurdle managed the third inning like he was stuck in a chaise lounge, inexplicably leaving in starting pitcher Josh Fogg until after Matsuzaka singled and Ellsbury followed with his second double, scoring Julio Lugo to make it 6-0.
Hopes of winning their first World Series in their 14-year history go back in the humidor with the unused baseballs, unless the Rockies can duplicate the Sox feat of coming back from an 0-3 deficit in the '04 ALCS against the Yankees, the only time that has occurred in big league annals.
"We don't want to eat the cake first before your birthday," said Manny Ramírez.
Ellsbury became just the second big leaguer in Series history to double twice in an inning, joining Arizona's Matt Williams, who did it in 2001.
Pedroia followed Ellsbury's first double by bunting in front of the mound and beating it out, a moment's hesitation by catcher Yorvit Torrealba compounded by a high throw to first. Pedroia was credited with a single as Ellsbury took third. David Ortiz, the newly minted first baseman because Francona couldn't use a DH, doubled into the right-field corner, Ellsbury scoring and Pedroia taking third.
Ramírez was walked intentionally to load the bases, but Mike Lowell grounded a 2-and-1 pitch up the middle for a two-run single, giving the Sox third baseman 14 RBIs in 13 postseason games. J.D. Drew popped to short, but Jason Varitek lined a single to left. Ramirez's stutter-step into third, followed by a wide turn, gave Holliday just enough time to nail Ramírez on a close play at the plate.
But there was no letup in the Sox' onslaught. Lugo walked, reloading the bases, and Matsuzaka, 0 for 4 in the regular season, shot a ground ball through the left side, scoring Lowell and Varitek to make it 5-0. Ellsbury's double to center finished off Fogg.
The Rockies, who were held to a run in each of the first two games and had not scored since the first inning of Game 2, broke through after Matsuzaka was lifted in the sixth. Brad Hawpe greeted reliever Javier Lopez with a bloop single over shortstop, Helton scoring, and Torrealba grounded a base hit up the middle to make it 6-2.
Francona went to his bullpen again, summoning Mike Timlin. Pinch hitter Ryan Spilborghs drove Ellsbury to the track in center with a fly ball for the inning's second out, and Lugo short-circuited a big inning when he climbed high into Denver's thin air to bring pinch hitter Jeff Baker's line drive back to earth. Lugo also had made a run-saving play in the fifth, backhanding a ball in the hole and flipping off balance to Lowell at third for the force.
But that only delayed the Rockies' comeback. Kaz Matsui, who had singled off Matsuzaka to lead off the first, dropped a bunt that died in fair territory about 20 feet down the third base line for a base hit. Colorado rookie Troy Tulowitzki followed with a base hit, and Francona called for Okajima, who had been unscored upon in six previous postseason appearances (9 2/3 innings). That lasted one pitch, Holliday crushing an "amai tama," which means "sweet ball" and is the Japanese way to describe a cookie, over the center-field wall, landing an estimated 437 feet away.
"Okie threw a changeup," Francona said, "and Holliday hit it a long way."
Okajima gave up a base hit to Todd Helton, then righted himself by whiffing Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe and retiring Torrealba on a comebacker.
How anxious was Henry when the Rockies drew to within 6-5?
"Very," Henry said. "I was sitting next to Marie Epstein [Theo's wife]. She was tranquil, but she was the only one. We felt very stressful."