Sox found momentum before a title
Season-threatening ALCS loss followed by seven straight wins
DENVER -- No, it really wasn't the end of the world. For the Red Sox, it was the beginning of everything.
When Manny Ramirez made his famous remarks before Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, Red Sox fans and teammates took it as just Manny being Manny. The Red Sox faced a 3-1 deficit, needing to win just to send the series back to Boston for Game 6.
"If it doesn't happen, who cares?" Ramirez's famous remark went. "There's always next year. It's not like the end of the world or anything."
Indeed, there will be next year. Thanks to all that happened since then, the Red Sox will be the defending World Series champions when they get there.
Only seven other teams have won at least seven straight games in the postseason, but the Red Sox are the only franchise in that group to win seven straight to come back from the brink of elimination to win a title. Now, they've done it twice. They won eight straight in 2004 to break The Curse of the Bambino. Their seven straight wins this October might well have continued an era.
As catcher Jason Varitek pointed out, the history goes deeper than that.
"We were down in '99 and we came back [to win the AL Division Series]," Varitek said. "And then we came back in '03 and '04 [in the ALCS]. Those things, those experiences, help and pass on."
It wasn't just the wins this time, but the way the Red Sox controlled them. They trailed in just three innings of that stretch, and they outscored the Indians and Rockies by a combined 59-15 margin, including the greatest run differential in the history of World Series sweeps.
The Red Sox had no way of knowing they could put together that kind of stretch to go from being almost finished to finishing out. Despite tying Cleveland for baseball's best record in the regular season, Boston's longest winning streak was five games.
Talk about finishing with their best baseball.
"I think it adds something," reliever Mike Timlin said. "[With] the adversity and the hill we had to fight, we had to basically take a step back, take a deep breath and say, 'Look, one game at a time.' And when we did that down, 0-3 [in 2004], and then we did that down, 3-1, it helped in the whole next series. We're not looking too far ahead. We're just looking at the game today, a game that we have to take care of today."
That's how they were able to look at Game 5 of the ALCS and not have a quiver in their hands.
"We knew [Josh] Beckett was on the mound [for Game 5]," pitching coach John Farrell said. "There was an utmost air of confidence within our group."
Win that, Farrell said, and they could get the series back to Boston, where their home fans would help make a difference. What they couldn't anticipate was how their starting pitching would follow up Beckett.
Curt Schilling and Daisuke Matsuzaka were unable to get through five innings in the Games 2 and 3 losses that earned Cleveland its advantage. But Schilling tossed seven innings of two-run ball and J.D. Drew got the ball rolling against Tribe co-ace Fausto Carmona with a first-inning grand slam in Game 6 as the Sox evened the series. Then Matsuzaka -- whom Beckett predicted would come through in a Game 7 even after his Game 4 loss -- went five innings to hold onto a 3-2 lead before the Red Sox's offense opened it up.
The confidence never really waned. But from there, it swelled, starting with rookie Dustin Pedroia's home run to lead off the bottom half of the first inning of Game 1 of the World Series to jump-start the Sox's sweep of the Rockies.
"Guys had a lot of confidence in the person sitting next to them in this clubhouse," Farrell said. "We knew what the task was at hand, and we knew that we had to grind away and methodically work through those last three games against Cleveland. This is a very good team, and that approach continued on through these four games here."
If momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher, the Red Sox had it. Though the offense had an ebb and a flow to it, the pitching had consistency. All four starters -- Beckett, Schilling, Matsuzaka and Jon Lester -- earned the victory in their starts. The depth that seemed to be lacking in their struggles was greater than many expected.
It wasn't easy, and as many said, their World Series sweep wasn't as easy as it looked. But if they could survive the ALCS, they weren't going to have nerves in close situations here.
"The whole week, it's been a grind," closer Jonathan Papelbon said. "We had to come into this stadium and scratch and claw to get these wins out. We won four games in a row, yeah, but it wasn't easy. There's no doubt about that. This was not an easy task. I think that we got a lot of balls to bounce our way. We played great defense, and we pitched just good enough to win."
Maybe it wouldn't have been the end of the world had the Red Sox lost that Game 5. Now that they're on top of the baseball world, they don't have to think about it.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.