Every three years you get that wholesome Cinderella team that goes all the way and wins over the baseball world: the '02 Angels, the '05 White Sox...
And the '08 Rays. Let's get it out of the way right now: they'll take the Phillies in six. They get everything when they need it. Just enough hitting. Just enough bullpen. Magical rookies, be it Evan Longoria going deep regularly or David Price, who spent much of his season in Double-A, inprobably closing the show. (And Rocco Baldelli driving in the pennant-winning run.)
They survived what could charitably be described as a catastrophic defeat Thursday night and cold bats last night. Tonight, they survived a grinder of a game in which the defending world champions lurked around every corner and threatened right to the end.
Don't expect the '07 Rockies here. The Rays led, or were at least around first, all season. Save for a couple of brief slumps, they controlled the AL East, unlike Colorado, which parlayed a hot September into a playoff spot, then went stale sitting around for a week while the Red Sox fought off the Indians. And they won't recede to the mediocrity pile like the Rockies did this year. Figuring the Yankees bounce back, somebody could win 95 games in the AL East next year and not make the playoffs.
Which brings us back to the Red Sox, who proved tonight to be simply a prop in the romantic tale spun at the Trop.
A world champion can't expect everything to go swimmingly two years in a row, and it certainly didn't in Boston this year. Curt Schilling cons $8 million out of Sox management before admitting his mighty right arm is cooked. Fair-haired wonderboy Clay Buchholz crashes and burns. The soap opera that is Manny Ramirez finally runs off the rails. David Ortiz hurts his wrist in May and just never seemed right after he came back - whether it was injury or losing Manny, who knows. Mike Lowell tears up his hip and is badly missed in the ALCS. Jason Varitek ages 10 years overnight. Julio Lugo blows a wheel in July and goes down for the count.
And yet, these guys made it within a game of a return trip to the Series. Don't forget, plenty of things went right, too. Dustin Pedroia became MVP material. Kevin Youkilis and John Lester emerged as stars. Daisuke Matsuzaka proved more than just another overpriced Japanese import. Jed Lowrie proved a solid major league shortstop. Justin Masterson got the job done starting and relieving - Tim Wakefield's spiritual successor? And maybe it was a good thing Coco Crisp wasn't traded after all.
Not making an error in a seven-game series goes a long way, even if you're getting blown out in a couple of games.
Boston has plenty of work to do to get back to next year's ALCS. Let's see...find a catcher somewhere, keep integrating the fruits of the farm system, find a little more offense for the bench, hope Buchholz gets his head screwed on straight, get Big Papi healthy again...and more items will come up by hot stove season.
I'm past the cursing and angst the pre-2004 Agganis would've given wide berth to. Instead, I'm already looking forward to that mad Sox/Rays/Yankees scramble next year.