In 2004, it was a miracle.
In 2007, it was a walkover.
In 2013, it was a joyful surprise.
But, in 2018, it was a matter of being a great baseball team, the best in all of the major-leagues, and one of the best of all time. (In recent years, only the 1998 Yankees seem to come close.) This is an entirely different order of world champion. The Boston Red Sox’s fourth World Series win of the 21st century was different from the previous three. Rafael Devers made it different. Mookie Betts made it different, and so did Andrew Benintendi. Alex Cora made it different. Joe Kelly, the fireballing Guy From IT, made it different. And, in the end, Steve Pearce, a career spare-part who turned into the Tesseract at exactly the right time, made it different. By the time the champagne went airborne in Los Angeles, the Red Sox had taken on the fearsome aspect of a larval dynasty.
I will grant you that the farm system is a pretty empty collection of pastures right now, and I will grant you that almost anything can happen with free agency, and that there are some serious financial considerations looming in the near term, but throughout the playoffs, the Red Sox looked from top-to-bottom like a smoothly running machine. To anyone whose memories go back to the toxic waste dumps of the early 1960’s, the teams that hired an incompetent bigot like Pinky Higgins twice, this transformation seems almost transcendent in how complete it is.
In 2004, when the Red Sox finally laid all the ghosts to rest, and all the doom struck romantics and slumming poets had to find other things with which to be burdened, that was a big step. The follow-up three years later cemented the new era, which provided a comfortable context for the Year Of Koji six seasons later. This season was the logical next step in the evolution of a new kind of Boston franchise. I still remember people dishing out Molten Takes back in 2004, asking Red Sox fans how they would react when the team “finally won.” I remember answering, “Let it happen and let’s see.” The final answer, delivered on Sunday night, is that semi-regular success turns out to be a great deal of fun.
The process began with the acquisition of Pedro Martinez in 1998 and the signing of Manny Ramirez after the 2000 season. These moves were the definitive evidence that Boston had stepped all the way into modern major-league baseball, and this definitely including burying forever the franchise’s sorry racial history as well. David Ortiz came along in 2003 and was a indelible icon within a year. Seeing Fenway Park in those days alive with Dominican flags was like feeling a fresh, cool breeze blowing through in through windows long nailed shut. In 2004, the Red Sox were enough of a destination team for Curt Schilling to sign on.
After the epochal 2004 championship, the team began to profit from the farm system built by Theo Epstein and his cadre of young talent-mongers. Jonathan Papelbon became a closer and Dustin Pedroia was on his way to being an MVP — He led off the entire 2007 World Series with a home run — and Jacoby Ellsbury hit .438 against the Colorado Rockies in the World Series. Then, in 2013, a team with an entirely different character won another championship. This was Ortiz’s team, in fact and in spirit. (Papi’s grand-slam game winner in the eighth inning of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers may be the most iconic moment of his iconic career.) By the night the first pitch was thrown in the 2018 World Series, the Red Sox had become the very model of a modern major baseball team. And a better one than any of the others.
Success, as it turns out, isn’t boring at all. It doesn’t do any damage to history or romance or mythology. In fact, it creates its own history, and romance, and mythology. Now there’s the Bloody Sock, and Papi against the Tigers, and Koji’s joyful grin, and Steve Pearce’s brief turn as the Sultan of Swat added to that long history of misery that one equal the lot of this franchise. Yin is as much fun as yang. Gamboling ego is as merry a companion as gloomy Id once was. Once again, the Red Sox are the masters of the first two decades of a new century. What comes over the next eight is somebody else’s problem.