By Bob Nightengale |
Maybe the Boston Red Sox really are who they thought they were.
The team that won a franchise-record 108 games during the regular season, swatted away the 100-win New York Yankees in the first round, and bashed the 103-win Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series, is going to the World Series.
The Red Sox are out to prove that not only are they the finest team in all of baseball this season, but perhaps one of the greatest of all-time, certainly in franchise history.
The defending World Series champions barely knew what hit them, watching the Red Sox celebrate their fourth American League pennant in 15 years Thursday, at Minute Maid Park. The Red Sox won 4-1, eliminating the Astros four games to one in the best-of-seven series.
“Like I’ve been telling them, they’re very talented,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “Very talented. I’ve been telling them the whole season. And they’ve been preparing. They believe that they’re talented and they’re enjoying the moment, which is very important.
“We play in a city that sometimes winning is a relief, and we’re not doing that. We really are enjoying the ride, the journey.
“That’s been the most impressive thing about this group, they’ve been very consistent since day one in spring training all the way to October 18th.”
The Red Sox smell blood now, wanting to make sure that this season is forever remembered, and the only way to accomplish that is by winning the World Series.
“We have swagger, we have confidence,” Red Sox third baseman Eduardo Nunez said, “and last year we did not have that. That’s the big difference. We have more confidence in ourselves.”
Says Red Sox second baseman Brock Holt: “You don’t win 108 games by some fluke. We are a good team. We are a tough team to beat.”
Let’s be honest. They are the team to beat.
The Red Sox are steamrolling their way into the World Series, winning eight of 10 games this postseason, including a 5-0 road record, and finishing with four consecutive victories against the powerful Astros.
The Red Sox will meet the winner of the National League Championship Series, but whether they’re playing the Los Angeles Dodgers or the Milwaukee Brewers, Boston will be heavily favored to win the World Series, which would be their fourth championship since 2004.
They’ll have home-field advantage, plenty of rest, and the aura of invincibility.
“They are not only talented,” Red Sox GM Dave Dombrowski said, “but they’re tough. This team has talent, good leadership, they’re gritty, and they bounce back. You have to have good players, and leadership, and play together as a team.
“They’ve done all of that.”
It was only fitting that David Price was the one who took the Red Sox to the big dance, pitching on short rest after warming up twice in the bullpen Wednesday night, and delivering the greatest postseason performance of his life.
Price, making the 12th postseason start of his career, finally won his first, pitching six shutout innings, yielding just three hits, and striking out a career-high eight batters.
The Red Sox offense did the rest off Cy Young candidate Justin Verlander with a solo homer by J.D. Martinez, who was unceremoniously released four years ago by the Astros, and a three-run blast by Rafael Devers. The Astros, who had yielded fewer runs than any AL team since the DH was implemented in 1973, wound up surrendering 27 runs in their last four games.
“Their offense is relentless,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said, “just relentless.”
Simply, the Astros were no match for the powerful Red Sox, who beat them every conceivable way. They didn’t even need a victory from ace Chris Sale, who pitched just four innings and was hospitalized with an undisclosed stomach ailment. He would have been ready for a Game 6, if necessary. They got just two extra-base hits from Martinez. And closer Craig Kimbrell gave up at least one run in three of his four postseason appearances, allowing eight base runners in three innings in the ALCS.
It made no difference.
Dombrowski made sure this team was too deep, and talented, for anyone to beat them, making a slew of shrewd moves at the trade deadline, aggressively trying to go for the jugular instead of hoarding prospects.
“To me if you have a chance to win,” said Dombrowski, who won a World Series in 1997 with the Miami Marlins, “you go for it. You’ve got to give yourself a chance.”
This is a runaway freight train no one can stop.