LOS ANGELES — For the first time in five years, the winner of the World Series wasn’t a team that had an easily identifiable legacy of pain. The 2018 World Series champions weren’t the ‘17 Astros, who had never won. They weren’t the ‘16 Cubs, who hadn’t won in over a century, or the ‘15 Royals, who had just emerged from a two-decade stint as the butt of baseball’s jokes. No, this year’s champion was the Boston Red Sox, who have done it several times before and look like they can do it several times more.
This is exactly what the Red Sox have always wanted.
The Red Sox are the bullies they’ve always wanted to be. They never wanted your pity. They never wanted your pats on the back. They wanted to crush their enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their fans. This is what is best in life for a sports team. This is all the Red Sox ever wanted, to be a normal bully of a team, to compete with any and all of the other bullies.
Like, say, one of the bullies that’s about three-and-a-half hours away to the southwest. Something like that.
It wasn’t this fourth championship that got them kicked out of Club Sad. The second one got them put on probation, and the third one is when their membership was canceled and their dues refunded. But this is the one that makes it Just Another Championship in a long string of future championships. That isn’t to say it isn’t special, or that the Red Sox or their fans should be ho-hum about this. It’s to say this probably doesn’t end with fond memories that are held close to everyone’s chest for the next 50 years.
This probably ends with another one at some point, because that’s what baseball bullies do.
There are things that separate this championship from the others, of course. For starters, knowing that this isn’t a part of some larger Bambino or worst-to-first narrative helps Red Sox fans truly appreciate this team as a likable team. Maybe not to you, and maybe not to the average fan, but certainly to them.
When you’re a Red Sox fan that isn’t worrying about Red Sox lore, you get to appreciate that Mookie Betts is amazing, that the bevy of homegrown youngsters will stick around for the better part of a decade. Every city falls in love with their World Series champs, the specific personalities and stories. It’s a given. But this was the year that Red Sox fans could zero in on that, without worrying about emerging from the New York shadow.
Over the last 40 years, the Yankees have won five World Series, and the Red Sox have won four. That’s basically a tie. Over the last 20 years, it is a tie. And if you consider that the bulk of the Yankees’ championships came when the reserve clause was in effect, and players couldn’t really leave the Yankees, well, that hardly seems sporting. This is a new era where the Yankees are the Red Sox and the Red Sox are the Yankees. That’s all Red Sox fans were asking for in the first place.
The other thing that separates this championship from the others is that this team is better. This is almost certainly the best Red Sox team in more than 100 years. The only teams that compare had Babe Freaking Ruth in the 1910s, when there were eight teams in the American League and no postseason. Those teams had the edge when it came to winning percentage, but this year’s team had the edge with raw wins, and they kept adding and adding to their total. The 2018 Red Sox won 119 games this year, including the postseason, which is 10 more than any other Red Sox team in history.
You can bring up the 154-game schedule to argue with the meaningfulness of that stat, but I don’t see the point. The 2018 Red Sox were probably the best version of the team that was ever assembled. A World Series win doesn’t prove that, but it sure is a nice exhibit to enter into evidence.
They were so good, y’all.
It’s worth detailing why the Red Sox were that good, of course. It’s not a complicated story.
The Red Sox were that good because they drafted well. They drafted Betts in the fifth round, the selection right after Scott Snodgrass. They drafted Jackie Bradley, Jr. in the first round, right after Larry Greene. They drafted Andrew Benintendi very high in the first round, right after Tyler Jay.
The Red Sox were that good because, in these specific situations, every other team in baseball drafted like they were trying to make the Red Sox that good. All it took was one scouting director with a hunch, and it would have screwed everything up. Betts had to fall to them in the fifth round. Benintendi had to be there with the seventh-overall pick.
The Red Sox were that good because they used the vast financial resources of New England Sports Ventures/Fenway Sports Group to buy players. There was a time when I would have been mad about this, but after the last offseason, I dare say that it’s kind of refreshing. Yes, spending money can actually make teams better. What a brave new world.
The Red Sox were that good because they used those vast resources to buy the right players. They had their choice of Johnny Cueto, Zack Greinke, and David Price, and they picked the dude who helped them win a World Series. They could have gone all in on Yu Darvish or Eric Hosmer, but they picked J.D. Martinez, who helped out an awful lot.
The Red Sox were that good because they were aggressive on the trade market for the big stars, leveraging their loaded farm system to get stars like Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel, as well as contributors like Eduardo Nuñez and Nathan Eovaldi. They identified their targets and pounced, and they were better for it.
The Red Sox were that good because they also took advantage of some dumb luck. C’mon, Steve Pearce was a 35-year-old free agent that anyone could have had with a major-league contract this offseason, and he was a spare part that anyone could have had for a modest offering this July. Now he’s the World Series MVP and a folk hero.
The Red Sox were that good because they hit 5.000 with two outs in the postseason. Don’t expect that to happen again. Don’t expect that to happen again for anyone.
The Red Sox were that good because of a combination of smart moves, an ability to spend, and fortuitous bounces, in other words. Don’t take offense to the part about lucky bounces, either. They’re a part of every championship.
Think of a World Series championship as if it were a no-hitter. You get to point to all the awesome pitches and domination, but at the same time, you can also point to all the things that should have gone wrong, but didn’t. The spectacular catches that save a no-hitter aren’t really proof that the pitcher did something right, after all, and yet the pitcher still gets most of the credit.
In this essay, I will prove that World Series championships are like no-hitters. Webster’s defines a “championship” as ...
Three years ago, I wrote an article with the headline, “David Price is still outstanding, so shut up.”
It aged well.
Things you shouldn’t like about the postseason: That every freaking thing has to mean something, that players fail because they didn’t chew through a cocoon of desire to get to the open air of success, that players succeed because they have it, defined as it, which is something that can’t be acquired, can’t be purchased, it’s just it. You know, baby, it.
The dumbest people crawl out from under the dumbest rocks to explain why certain athletes fail at certain times, and they’ve been doing it since the beginning of sports. There used to be a narrative about Price, how he always failed at just the wrong time. And then he came out and had his second straight brilliant start, bringing a championship to a city that took an awful long time to embrace him.
If you’re thinking about a silly choker narrative for anyone — in any sport — please cram it. Postseasons are too short and rare to worry about who’s underperforming in a small sample. Get excited about the randos like Steve Pearce, Jarrod Dyson, or Marco Scutaro. Don’t focus too much on the failures. It’s not healthy.
Which brings us to ...
Oh, come on, not again, son of a —
Clayton Kershaw now has a 6.06 ERA as a starter when facing elimination. That is the worst in MLB history (min. 4 games).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 29, 2018
But he has some good company. pic.twitter.com/5seTpyJpfl
Look at those names. Looooook at those names. Those five pitchers have combined for 18 Cy Youngs. Saberhagen is the only one who didn’t win three or more (he won two). Those pitchers were the best in baseball when they made those elimination starts. And they all screwed up a lot.
What does that tell us? That baseball is hard. That the postseason is hard, especially. That these great pitchers had to run a gauntlet of great teams. That these were the pitchers good enough to get asked, over and over again, to help keep their teams alive.
There’s a subtle difference between the Price narrative and the Kershaw narrative, though: We can absolutely point to where Kershaw’s stuff is different, and that makes a huge difference. In his final start against the Cardinals in 2013, he was sitting 94 and touching 96. In this start, he was sitting 91 and touching 92.
Which means there’s no reason to cram this Kershaw together with that Kershaw and present them both as evidence that the mushy, wrinkly stuff in his skull is the reason he doesn’t have a World Series ring. That’s ridiculous. They’re wildly different pitchers.
This Kershaw didn’t fail because he’s a postseason choker, or what have you. It’s because he’s not a force of nature who can beat all comers any more. He’s merely an excellent pitcher who has to face excellent hitters. Sometimes the excellent hitters win.
The Kershaw who could beat all comers, the spiritual and physical heir to Sandy Koufax, failed for all sorts of freaky reasons, and he sure could have used some run support to make the points moot.
This guy, though, is just a great pitcher. Sometimes those guys get shellacked, even if it’s not fair.
And if we’re going to talk about Kershaw, we have to talk about the Dodgers, who are the Clayton Kershaw of great teams. There’s no shame in that comparison. It’s just too obvious to ignore.
When I was a younger pup, the Atlanta Braves were an object of fascination for me. They won 14 NL East titles in a row, from 1991 to 2005, but just one World Series. Considering that in the pre-second-Wild Card days, every team had a one-in-eight chance of winning, that seemed like a rotten payoff for 14 postseason berths. This was proof that it was somehow bad to be a Braves fan.
No, goodness, no, it was great to be a Braves fan. Maddux and Smoltz and Glavine and Chipper, what with the wins and wins and wins every year. What a splendiferous golden era of baseball. Looking at the championships was a dumb way for me to look at it.
For example, what in the hell did Kerry Wood getting a two-out, two-run double against Russ Ortiz have to do with anything? How was that a referendum on what the Braves had built over the decades? It wasn’t proof that the Braves didn’t know how to win. It wasn’t evidence of poor roster construction. It was just the baseball gods drunkenly playing craps with stolen money.
Over and over again. With stolen money.
The Dodgers are an obvious parallel, and I want to shake all of the sad partisans, all of the dejected fans, and remind them just how special it is to win six division titles in a row, how magnificent it is to win two pennants in a row. There are so, so many great moments baked into all those runs.
And while I’m too tired to make an exhaustive list right now, where do you think Max Muncy’s 18th-inning home run ranks on the all-time list of “I BELIEVE IN MY TEAM” moments of delirium in baseball history?
Man, it’s up there.
With one swing, the Dodgers went from being effectively eliminated to believing that they were going to come back with a vengeance. The cocktail of exhaustion and fatigue and hand-wringing and importance made it one of the purest baseball experiences that any fan base will ever enjoy.
That counts for something. Yes, it was all screwed up because of Mitch Moreland, Ryan Madson, and whatever else you want to throw on the bonfire, but they had a moment. Man, what the Orioles would have given for that moment this year. Or the Blue Jays or Padres or Reds or Giants. That one burst of delirium, where everything was completely and irrefutably worth it.
It’s a beautiful thing, and I wish that I could have appreciated that more when I was young and dumb. The Dodgers are too rich and smart not to trip into a championship. Until then, they’ll have the six division titles and moments like the Muncy walk-off. That doesn’t seem like it’s enough, but only because you’re too close. It’s pretty damned impressive once you step back.
But the Red Sox are champions again, the bullies they’ve always wanted to be. If they do it again next year, my stars, will I be out of words. Right now, though, we can focus on what they did right, which was, oh, everything. The list of screwups from the Red Sox can fill a Post-It note if you write big, and the list of unqualified successes for the Red Sox are destined to fill a 300-page book that will sell for $21.95 and be published before you’re done with your holiday shopping.
That they’ve done this four times in the last 14 years is unfortunate because they’re making it look easy. It’s not this easy. There will be droughts and dry spells, even if the teams are excellent. Just look at the Yankees over the last 10 years.
“Just look at the Yankees” is something that definitely gets the Red Sox’ attention, too. Even after their fourth World Series win in the new millennium, there was a chant of “YANKEES SUCK, YANKEES SUCK” in the Dodger Stadium crowd.
Back in May, Marc Normandin ended his column with a meme. I have no idea why this should end any differently.
Yankees fans will roll their eyes. Red Sox fans will laugh, finally getting what they’ve always wanted.
The Red Sox are official bullies, and they don’t care what you think. You’ll have a lot of time to contemplate this before you see them in October next year.