LOS ANGELES — The Red Sox have won four World Series in 15 years. You know what that means:
Well, right, it means that New England sports fans are extremely blessed — as you may be aware, this is the 11th championship among the Big 4 since 2001 — and we should cherish this time and place, because a realized dream such as this was not fathomable if you’re of a certain age and grew up rooting for those perennial Fenway heartbreakers.
Yes. You are definitely blessed, Sox fans.
But you know what else it means.
Four World Series winners in 15 years?
Why, we must rank them!
Even as we navigate the happy hangover of the Red Sox’ clinching 5-1 victory over the Dodgers in Game 5 Sunday night, even as the savoring and celebrating rolls on right into Wednesday’s parade, it is futile to resist comparisons to their predecessors as champions.
It’s fun to sort through the rosters, search for context, and remember all of them — the 2004, 2007, and 2013 champs — as another joins their legendary ranks.
I’ll tell you this, too. I’ll hear an argument for any one of them as the best.
But, know this now: There is not an argument that will convince me that any one of them is better than the champs just crowned Sunday night.
■ The 2013 Red Sox were probably the least talented of the champions, but perhaps the most determined. They became a more integral and meaningful part of the fabric of the city than ever with their unifying Boston Strong message after the Marathon bombings. Sometimes they were our catharsis.
David Ortiz was front and center, delivering in his special way by reminding us whose [expletive] city this was and hitting .688 in the six-game World Series victory over the Cardinals.
This wasn’t the best modern Red Sox champion, and the core of the roster wasn’t here for much longer after ’13. But if it’s your most beloved, no explanation will be necessary here.
■ The 2007 Red Sox often get marginalized compared with 2004 and ’13, because there just isn’t as much emotion attached to them, but they were an exceptional team, maybe the most complete of the three previous champs.
The roster was a mix of holdover ’04 stalwarts (Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Jason Varitek), fruitful products of the farm system (Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis), and quality talent acquired in other ways (Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, J.D. Drew).
They won 96 games, beat the Angels and Indians in the playoffs, then swept the Rockies in an anticlimactic World Series. They were truly, methodically great.
■ The 2004 Red Sox come closest to challenging ’18 as the best. They certainly had the highest degree of difficulty, just due to the weight of history. They exorcised all ancient curses, chased off all lingering ghosts, and they did it in a fashion that sometimes still seems unfathomable all these years later, coming back from a three-games-to-none deficit to defeat the Yankees in the American League Championship series before sweeping the 105-win Cardinals in the World Series.
Among the Sox champs of this century, there has not been one with more collective charisma, from Ortiz and Ramirez to Pedro Martinez and Johnny Damon.
If the 2004 Red Sox had not won, if they had not broken through the ice that had been cruelly impenetrable for decades, who knows how the great teams to follow them would have fared? The ’04 Sox took the burden of history off of future generations. Without them, it’s possible — unlikely, but possible — that this season could have been the 100th anniversary of the franchise’s last championship. Imagine still having to endure that. Actually, don’t.
■ Taking sentiment and nostalgia of the equation, the newest Red Sox champions simply must be considered the best. They won 108 games during the regular season, never losing more than three in a row. They went 11-3 in the postseason, including 7-1 on the road, beating a 100-win Yankees team, a proud and worthy defending champion in the 103-win Astros, and a talent-rich 92-win Dodgers team along the way.
That is a gauntlet, and while it was intense, it is remarkable now to look at how the Red Sox responded when challenged. After they lost Game 2 to the Yankees in the ALDS, they responded by winning Game 3 by 15 runs. After losing Game 1 of the ALCS to the Astros, they ripped off four wins in a row, including three at Minute Maid Park.
Perhaps most impressively, after losing in 18 innings to the Dodgers in Game 3 — a defeat that could have been a soul-crusher — and looking listless early in Game 4, they dropped nine runs on the Dodgers over the final three innings, never backing down even when things weren’t going right.
This team has significant star power (Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Chris Sale, and first-year superstar manager Alex Cora), but the whole roster was relentless, from World Series MVP Steve Pearce to the suddenly unhittable Joe Kelly to the entire starting rotation that morphed into lockdown relief pitchers whenever the moment demanded it.
Their star players weren’t at their best in the World Series, and it didn’t matter. This was a team, as unified as any Red Sox champion before them, as resilient and relentless and determined, and just plain better too.
We’ve seen four World Series champions in 15 years. What a blessing. And it just keeps getting better.
But we’ve never seen anything quite like these World Series champion 2018 Red Sox, the best in baseball this season, the best Boston has ever had.