Why the Red Sox beat the Rockies

When one team outscores another team 29-10 while sweeping the World Series, there are going to be a lot of reasons. Boston’s sweep this season saw positive contributions from nearly everyplace imaginable.

Start with the starting pitching, which was brilliant.

Josh Beckett set the tone, allowing one run in seven dominant innings to win his fifth consecutive postseason start. But everybody expected the Boston ace to come through with a gem. The rest of the Red Sox rotation was much more questionable.

Curt Schilling, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jon Lester had combined for a 4.23 ERA during the regular season and a 4.42 ERA during the first two rounds of the playoffs. In the World Series, they combined to allow only three runs in 16.1 innings, good for a 1.65 ERA. All three also left their games with the lead.

That none of those three pitchers was asked to finish the sixth inning is a tribute to manager Terry Francona. Knowing the offensive capabilities of the Colorado Rockies and the depth of his bullpen, he turned to the relievers as soon as his starting pitchers found trouble after the fifth.

The bullpen wasn’t as dominant as it had been at times during the season, but it did enough to make sure that all four starting pitchers got the win.

Hideki Okajima, who had been nearly unhittable in the first two rounds of the postseason, allowed two big homers, allowing the Rockies to pull within a run in games three and four.

But the one reliever who never wavered was closer Jonathan Papelbon. He pitched 4.1 scoreless innings in the World Series, giving him a total of nine innings of shutout ball in the playoffs.

His usage, again, is a tribute to Francona. During the regular season, Francona asked Papelbon to get more than three outs only four times in 59 appearances. In the playoffs, he changed strategies to maximize his best reliever, sending Papelbon out for more than one inning six times in seven appearances. The Bulldog (has any player ever epitomized his college’s mascot better?) came through every time.

The offense also came through when it needed to. After blitzing the Rockies for 13 runs in the first game, game two was a much calmer affair.

The Rockies led for the only time in the series until Boston’s patience at the plate finally wore down Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez. In the fourth inning, it was a Mike Lowell walk, a J.D. Drew single and a Jason Varitek sacrifice fly that tied the game. The next inning, a walk started things again as David Ortiz reached on the free pass, moved up on Manny Ramirez’ single and scored on Lowell’s double.

That was enough for Schilling and the bullpen.

The Red Sox jumped out quickly in game three thanks to three rookies. Jacoby Ellsbury doubled twice, Dustin Pedroia hit a bunt single and starting pitcher Matsuzaka hit a two-run single in a six-run third inning that could have been even worse had Ramirez been called safe on a close play at home plate.

When Matsuzaka and the bullpen coughed up five runs of that 6-0 lead, the offense got going again with light hitters Julio Lugo and Coco Crisp reaching on a walk and a single, followed by back-to-back doubles from Ellsbury and Pedroia.

In game four, it was time for the Red Sox to chip away again, scoring single runs in the first (Ellsbury double and Ortiz single), fifth (Lowell double and Varitek single) and seventh (Lowell home run) to take a 3-0 lead.

When the Rockies scored their first run of the game in the seventh, Boston even found offense from an unexpected spot: Bobby Kielty homered on the only pitch he saw in the World Series.

Kielty’s pinch-hit homer was just another example of every move Francona made working out.

After struggling during the first two rounds of the playoffs, Crisp was benched in favor of Ellsbury, who hit .438 with four doubles, four runs scored and three RBIs in the sweep and could have won a World Series MVP award before his rookie season.

But Crisp didn’t go unused during the postseason—he moved into center field in the later innings while Ellsbury slid to left or right to replace Ramirez or Drew defensively. That may have prevented the tying run from scoring in game four when Ellsbury was able to track down Jamey Carroll’s flyball at the wall in left, a play Ramirez may not have been able to make.

The Red Sox pitched better, hit better and were managed better during the World Series, and they proved without a doubt that they were the best team in baseball in 2007.

In fact, this is the first time since 1998 that the team that was clearly the best in the majors ended up winning the World Series. That year, the Yankees went 125-50, outscoring opponents 1,027 to 690.

The Red Sox didn’t quite match New York’s plus-337 run differential, but they came close. After a great regular season and a dominant postseason, they scored 966 runs and allowed 703, an advantage of 263. Including the postseason, the Yankees (plus-183) had the next-best run differential and the Rockies (plus-109) were the only other team to outscore its opponents by at least 100 runs.

With the best record in baseball, the best run differential in baseball and a World Series title, the Red Sox proved there was one simple reason they won the AL East and then beat the Angels, the Indians and the Rockies: They were the best team in baseball.

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