LOS ANGELES -- The baseball season ends just as the discussion about this Boston Red Sox club's place in the sport's long and layered history begins. It's not enough to simply state that the Red Sox put the finishing touches on their ninth title -- and fourth since 2004 -- with a clear and convincing 5-1 victory over the Dodgers in Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday night at Dodger Stadium.
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No, a team this talented, a march this methodical deserves a deeper appreciation. The Red Sox began 2018 by blowing an eighth-inning Opening Day lead and sending their fans into a Twitter tizzy. Then the club with a rookie skipper named Alex Cora won 119 times in all -- a mark bested only by the 1998 Yankees (125) and the 2001 Mariners (120). The Red Sox needed just one game north of the minimum each to take down the 100-win Yankees in the American League Division Series, the defending World Series champion Astros in the AL Championship Series and the two-time National League champion Dodgers in the Fall Classic.
"We're not cocky," said shortstop Xander Bogaerts, "but we know who we are. We have one of the best teams [in history], especially in Red Sox history."
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Their solitary setback in this best-of-seven World Series was the 18-inning extravaganza that was Friday's Game 3. To repeat: It took the equivalent of two baseball games to beat these Red Sox. And even in the wake of that lone loss, there was a standing ovation in Boston's clubhouse for Nathan Eovaldi's outrageous relief effort -- another signal of the closeness, camaraderie and confidence that carried this club.
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"Everyone just cares for each other," impact offseason acquisition J.D. Martinez said. "It's a family. It really is, man. People get more excited when someone else steps up than when they step up. It's so rare to see that. And it just wasn't in the playoffs. It was all season long."
Glory arrived on a Southern California night in front of a crowd littered with some untold-but-notable number of red shirts breaking up the blue in the stands.
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It arrived behind the short-rested-but-no-less-effective arm of David Price, who had already shaken off his October blues and was now back to cementing his Boston legend with seven-plus magnificent innings in which he was touched up only by a first-inning homer from a familiar Series source in David Freese. It arrived with a trio of damaging dingers against Clayton Kershaw -- the two-run blast belted by World Series MVP Steve Pearce in the first, the solo homer that snapped Mookie Betts' cold spell in the sixth and the center-field swat delivered by Martinez in the seventh. Pearce's second shot, off Pedro Baez in the eighth, was a resounding capper to a breakout postseason for the veteran journeyman.
This was a bit of a tensionless tilt -- one polished off by a perfect ninth from staff ace Chris Sale.
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"They have a lot of depth up and down the lineup," Kershaw said of the Red Sox. "You saw their starters out of the bullpen, starting [on] short rest, whatever they did, and their bullpen guys were throwing the ball great. They're a great team."
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These two franchises had not met on the Series stage in 102 years, but you know what they say about the past informing the present. The 1916 Red Sox, colorfully characterized by one New York Times account from the time as "the carmine-hosed Boston warriors," took Games 1 and 2 at home, were defeated in the first road tilt, erased a deficit to win Game 4 and then finished off the Series in Game 5.
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If the long-ago result is replicated in the modern day, then the description fits, too. But even in Red Sox lore, which of course includes a 2004 team that killed a curse and captured imaginations well outside the borders of Red Sox Nation, this 2018 squad has a special, perhaps singular, place to claim. Sunday's Series finale -- a game that, to once again borrow a vibrant line from the Times circa 1916, "resembled a tug of war between an elephant and a goldfish" -- only confirmed it, and now the process of putting this season in perspective will be left to the historians.
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"It's almost overwhelming," said Dave Dombrowski, team president of baseball operations, "because you just never think that you'll be associated with a club that can do that. [To go] 119-57? Those numbers are mind-boggling. It's winning more than two-thirds of your games over the year, so, no, I don't think you can really grasp it, and I think it's a tribute to all these guys. You don't get to that point unless you're talented and you grind, you really work through things, you bounce back, you're resilient and you're tough. And that's this group."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Freese frame: As if the sight of Freese homering in a World Series game hadn't already evoked memories of Game 6 in 2011, in the third inning he tripled on a fly ball that was misplayed by the right fielder. In '11, it was Nelson Cruz. On this night, it was Martinez, who simply lost the ball in the L.A. haze. With Freese on third and one out, Price was in a bit of a bind, but he got Justin Turner to ground out on the first pitch. And when Enrique Hernandez sent another fly ball to right, Martinez made the catch in foul territory to end the threat. When he got back in the dugout, Price made it a point to give Martinez the ol' Bash Brothers forearm bump -- a nice show of appreciation between two teammates.
Smooth Sale-ing: A key element of Boston's October run was Cora's aggressiveness in employing his starters as setup men. But in Game 5, he altered the assignment for Sale. After Joe Kelly turned in another resplendent relief outing in the eighth, Cora gave Sale (whose starting schedule had been pushed from Game 5 to the potential, and ultimately unnecessary, Game 6) the opportunity -- the privilege, really -- of closing it out in the ninth, which he did by striking out Manny Machado.
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"It was so surreal," Sale said. "I throw a pitch, next thing I know I got [catcher Christian Vazquez] in my arms and just the first thought of being a World Series champ ran through my mind. It was unbelievable. I appreciate the fact that they handed me the ball."
Cora became just the fifth manager to win the World Series as a rookie skipper, joining Bucky Harris (1924 Senators), Eddie Dyer ('46 Cardinals), Ralph Houk ('61 Yankees) and Bob Brenly (2001 D-backs).
"First of all, [the Red Sox] gave me a chance," Cora said. "They saw me as a capable manager, and they gave me a chance. It's funny, because when they announced it, we were flying to L.A. last year between the [AL] Championship Series and the World Series [when Cora was the bench coach for the Astros], and ironically enough, we win it here. So it goes full circle."
This game marked just the second time in World Series history that both teams homered in the first inning. The other was Game 5 in 1948, between the Boston Braves and the Indians (Bob Elliott and Dale Mitchell).
Pearce became, per the Elias Sports Bureau, the first position player to be named World Series MVP with 50 or fewer regular-season games for the winning team in his career (at the time of the Fall Classic) and just the second midseason acquisition to win the honor, joining Donn Clendenon of the 1969 Mets.
Freese has now hit both a leadoff homer and a walk-off homer (Game 6, 2011) in the World Series. The only other player with both is Derek Jeter. Freese now has twice as many career games with both a homer and a triple in the World Series (two) as he does in the regular season (one).
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The Red Sox's four World Series titles in the past 15 seasons equals their total number of World Series titles in the 100 seasons that preceded 2004.
HE SAID IT
"It's an instant shot. Every hair on your body is standing up and you don't feel a thing." -- Sale, on what it's like to win a World Series