The 2007 Red Sox Defined

1190989586Last Wednesday, when the Red Sox were left staring at a 3-1 deficit, there was little hope for a turnaround. Sure, there was the wishful scenario that was bandied about—Josh Beckett in Game 5, the indomitable Curt Schilling in Game 6 and anything goes in the finale—but the overwhelming feeling was trepidation, not confidence. This was not the battle-hardened 2004 band of misfits trying to overcome the struggle of generations. This was just another baseball team.

But as Dustin Pedroia’s seventh-inning blast cleared the Monster, and a roar could be heard all the way across the Charles in Cambridge, this 2007 Red Sox team, so efficient and professional, was finally embraced.

In the aftermath of Game 4, many people felt they were too tight. Not like 2004, all loosey-goosey from shots of Jack and ready to shock the world. Late in that fateful season, Terry Francona had warned that the long-haired rebel posse was something that worked for that team, and that team alone, and was not likely to be recreated.

Indeed, Theo Epstein dismantled that team almost as soon as he could, allowing Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, and Orlando Cabrera to walk, and then not resigning Kevin Millar and Johnny Damon the following year. Idiocy was out, low-key professionalism was in, along with a commitment to youth.

In many ways, the 2007 team was a bridge, albeit an extremely well-paid bridge, to the next generation. For 169 games this team failed to connect on a visceral level like those shaggy teams of the recent past, as they methodically marched along, leading the East almost wire-to-wire before turning in a ridiculously easy sweep of the Angels.

This was an entirely new model for fans to scrutinize and dissect. No longer the go for broke offensive juggernauts of the last few seasons, they instead practiced the art of the 4-2 victory. While the offense was still efficient, the plan called for solid starting pitching, great defense, and Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon to finish it off.

As a strategy for winning baseball games, it has only been effective for well over a century, but it was altogether different for Red Sox fans, so accustomed to those 7-5 wars of attrition. If it lacked anything, it was a certain thrill-factor, and the Red Sox provided very few late-inning heroics for the simple reason that they were rarely needed.

All the while the transformation was taking place. Pedroia, Manny Delcarmen, and Jon Lester became key pieces. Beckett claimed the ace mantle from Schilling as the 38-year-old made the transition to his final pitching act, that of a crafty veteran. And then Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz arrived to provide a September jolt.

They cruised along, without much drama either on-field or off, and then suddenly they were down 3-1, staring at C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona. It was then that people began to wonder. Who are these guys, anyway? Julio Lugo, JD Drew, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, the three big-ticket purchases acquired to ease the transition, were suspect. Coco Crisp appeared worn out as did Schilling and Jason Varitek, while the Indians were cool and fresh, and ready to take over the world.

Three games later, the Sox are still standing, and the Indians remain a team for tomorrow. The reasons are numerous. Beckett and Schilling were superb, Matsuzaka was good enough. Drew awoke from his season-long slumber at just the right time, and Cleveland’s defense, thought to be its Achilles’ Heel, faltered at exactly the wrong time.

But something else happened in those three games. Something hard to define. In those three games the 2007 Red Sox became an identifiable entity. They did it without becoming Cowboys or Idiots, and it wasn’t because of hexes or witchcraft or any of that other babbling bullshit.

Rather, they are now part of history because of their professionalism and execution, and of course, their pitching. It only took 172 games for this team to achieve that collective identity. One could argue they should have been appreciated long before all hope appeared lost, but they have achieved it now. It’s not 2004 anymore.

RELATED: Will Leitch of Deadspin fame, nails it on his NY Times blog. [Death to the Underdog]