We are the Champions, Again

1193146918A few weeks ago, when Sports Illustrated put the glowering mug of Jonathan Papelbon on the cover, it signaled a new era in postseason baseball. With his cap pulled down tight and his eyes narrowed and full of bad intentions, this was the face of baseball, as well as an organization poised to rule the sport for the next generation.

To justify this unofficial anointing, Papelbon would have to do something extraordinary. Something like take the ball for the third time in four days to record five outs with no margin for error on the road to close out a World Series. And so, here we are, starting at the best team in baseball, and possibly the best franchise too.

So, how does it feel?

If 2004 was an epic release of emotion, 2007 was a validation of all that the Red Sox have been trying to accomplish since 2003. Without the pressure of having to end 86 years of futility, the Sox have been able to build an organization. One that was capable of being the best team in baseball from the second game of the season all the way to the very last, and that might even be a tougher accomplishment.

There will be many stories over the next few days about what this means, and almost all of them will deal with whether or not the Red Sox are the new Yankees. We’ve already covered that, and it’s a facile and stupid argument.

If the second world title in four years means anything to that dynamic, it’s that the Sox are not the hunters anymore, and that our friends from New York can no longer claim with any sense of honesty that they don’t worry about Boston. And if you don’t think the Red Sox act with one eye on the Yankees, and vice-versa, well you also don’t understand why Scott Boras decided to hijack the game in the eighth inning last night.

But, as many of you probably yelled at your televisions last night, “This isn’t about the Yankees!” And it isn’t.

This is about the Red Sox, a team no longer burdened by history and inept management. A team with tremendous financial resources and a front office that isn’t afraid to use it. But money doesn’t win championships (see: Mets, New York), players do.

Players like Mike Lowell, a well-deserved MVP, who stole a run in Game 2 with his baserunning and drove in another in a 2-1 game. Players like Bobby Kielty whose name should always have a place in Red Sox lore.

All season long, fans have watched a team that was greater than the sum of its parts. Whether it was Eric Hinske winning a game against Detroit with a home run and a run-saving catch, or Alex Cora keeping them afloat in April and May while Dustin Pedrioa figured out what he was doing, the Red Sox found a way.

When the Yankees made it interesting, the Red Sox were better. When the Indians threatened to end it all, the Red Sox were better. When the Rockies showed up with their 21-of-22 streak, the Red Sox were much better.

Through it all, the menacing face of Papelbon stared in at opposing batters letting them know that to beat the Red Sox they had to go through him. All those years when the Yankees were winning World Series after World Series they could talk about tradition and pinstripes and all that other bullshit, but when it came right down to it, they had Mariano Rivera and you didn’t. The Red Sox have Papelbon.

So, how does it feel? Satisfying.