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Welcome (back) to October

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  October 8, 2008 07:47 AM

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I don't often opt to write in the first person, but wanted to share this story in the wake of the Red Sox' fourth trip to the American League Championship Series over the last six years:

Last week, just before the start of the playoffs, I was sitting in the media workroom at Angel Stadium in Anaheim when I ran into Troy Renck, a fellow writer from the Denver Post. We started talking about potential offseason maneuvers, as baseball followers like to do, and I asked about the potential availability of Matt Holliday, with whom I have developed an obsession bordering on the unhealthy. The conversation naturally turned to Jason Bay, who was coming of a two-month, regular season stint with the Red Sox during which he had 37 RBIs and 39 runs scored in 49 games.

The inference was obvious:

Who needs Matt Holliday when you have Jason Bay?

"But like I was just telling someone the other day, 'This is Boston we're talking about,' " Renck recounted. "'All they care about there is October.'"

And then it hit me like a fastball in the ribs:

People talk about Boston now the way we used to talk about New York.

Perception is a funny thing. No matter how much you try, the one thing you can never really control is how other people look at you. We live in an increasingly image-conscious world where people go to great lengths to manipulate their appearance -- see Rodriguez, Alex -- and those most successful at perpetuating an image frequently are the ones who place no real emphasis on it at all. As the theory goes, the best approach is to just focus on the task at hand and let others decide whom (or what) you are.

It's called self-assuredness.

And so now, seven seasons into the John Henry era and just four wins from another trip to the World Series, we ask you: what are the Red Sox if not self-assured? During a time when the clubs with the best regular-season records in their respective leagues are now reorganizing their closets -- the Los Angeles Angels and Chicago Cubs -- the Red Sox are still playing baseball. Again. Boston continues to win, no matter what, and many people on the outside like the Red Sox the way they like the San Antonio Spurs entering any NBA postseason.

Because the Spurs have a pedigree, because they have cachet, because they generally win when it matters most.

Even if they lose.

For a moment here, try to emotionally divest yourself and ask the following question: No matter what happens over the next few weeks -- if it lasts that long -- are the Red Sox going to be perceived any differently come next spring? Doubtful. More than likely, people are going to merely look at them and say: "And, of course, you can never count out Boston." The level of respect outsiders have for the Boston organization now is beyond healthy; Red Sox success has reached the point where it is virtually unquestioned. We look at the Red Sox and see a hobbling Mike Lowell, a questionable Josh Beckett and a maddening Daisuke Matsuzaka. They look at the Sox and see a fearless Jon Lester, a steady Jed Lowrie, and a dynamic Jacoby Ellsbury.

And then they ask:

Where do the Red Sox keep finding these guys?

And how do we get what they have?

Of course, some of this is purely generational. If you were born in or after, say, 1992, you have no idea what I'm talking about. During your teenage years, the Red Sox have been nothing short of a baseball power. Since Pedro Martinez arrived here in time for the 1998 campaign, the Red Sox have averaged 92 wins per season and been to the playoffs seven times in 11 years; in postseason play, they are 36-25, a .590 winning percentage that translates into 96 wins over the course of a 162-game season. And this is to say nothing of the two world titles they have won for millions of people positively ecstatic to have merely one.

To you, with all due respect, Buckner is just another name you Google.

(We're talking Bill, not Quinn.)

Even so, what has happened to the Red Sox, during the last six seasons in particular, obviously has brought the franchise and its followers to entirely new heights. The psychological and emotional growth of this region (as it pertains to baseball and sports in general) has been nothing short of extraordinary. With the Sox facing a 3-1 series deficit to the Cleveland Indians last October, Manny Ramirez asked a simple question -- "What's the big deal?" -- and many of us nodded in agreement. Think about that for a minute. At a moment that would have inspired all-out panic throughout New England as recently as five years ago, we were embracing the philosophies of a man-child as if he were the Dalai Lama.

Freed from unnecessary baggage, the Sox won seven in a row from that point forward and had another parade. (In these parts, the term "rolling rally" has taken on the significance that "Canyon of Heroes" possesses in New York.)

This October? Only heaven knows where the Red Sox will end up, but that is not the point. Win or lose, we are fairly certain that these Sox are here to stay for a good while. Neither Boston nor Chicago may end up having a parade this fall, but the Red Sox and Cubs, once tortured soul mates, could not possibly be more different now. The new Red Sox are still finding ways to win; the Cubs are still finding ways to lose. The good news for those dispirited Chicagoans is that they, like everyone else, can turn on their televisions this month (at least for another week) and watch a Red Sox team now known for its ability to rise to the occasion, gleaning some measure of hope that that they can make the metamorphosis from losers to winners.

Don't you see?

Chicago, too, wants to be like Boston.

Where all that matters now is October.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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