BOSTON - A dynasty? The Red Sox?
Not since the turn of the century, when the Yankees captured their fourth title in five years, have we seen another team put its stamp on a decade. But that changed Wednesday night at Fenway Park, where the Red Sox, a team that won 69 games to finish dead last a season ago, closed out the Cardinals, 6-1, in Game 6 for their third World Series crown since 2004.
And how's this for symmetry? The only other time the Red Sox were considered baseball's ruling family -- before the Yankees became the Yankees -- was way back in 1918, at the end of a run that featured four titles in seven seasons.
It took 95 years for the Sox to throw another party like that at Fenway, and the celebration started early, with Shane Victorino's bases-clearing double high off the Green Monster in the third inning. Victorino, you may remember, sealed the ALCS win over the Tigers with a grand slam in Game 6, and he reacted in similar fashion.
Victorino pounded his chest with both fists as the crowd roared, and the Cardinals never regained their composure. The 3-0 lead soon became 6-0, prodded by a Victorino RBI single, and no one in the ancient building was prouder than general manager Ben Cherington, who heard his share of grief for giving Victorino a three-year, $39-million deal last winter.
Looking back, Cherington admits he probably overpaid for Victorino. But what's a few extra bucks when the payoff is a world championship. Once a Bambino-cursed team that could never win the big one, the Red Sox may be setting up shop on the big stage for a while.
Three rings in 10 seasons after going 86 years without one is a level of prosperity that people in these parts, the long-suffering fans who felt the '86 heartbreak, have trouble wrapping their brains around. The same holds true for Red Sox players from those frustrating eras -- a group that got close but ultimately were sucked in by the generations of failure before them.
To witness what's happened since reversing the curse in 2004 has been mind-blowing.
"It really is,'' said Carlton Fisk, who threw the ceremonial first pitch. "It really stands out in that they're doing it with different kinds of clubs, too.''
The Red Sox have moved past the institutional failure that thwarted them for most of the 20th century. When Cherington pulled off last season's franchise-altering trade and freed up $260 million in payroll, he put in motion a plan that got the Red Sox to the World Series and should help sustain this success in the foreseeable future.
Boston is a winning brand again, and the resilience the Red Sox showed in bouncing back from last year's humiliation on the field helped their city heal to some degree from the horrifying marathon bombings in April. Before Game 6, Victorino talked about the lure of Red Sox Nation, and also how he knew this franchise would be the right fit for him. It was more than the roster. There was a vibe.
"I've been a fan of the game,'' Victorino said. "I watch what is going on. Even though they were in last place, I knew this was a first-class organization. They're about winning. They want to be at the top.''
The Red Sox also have never been more attractive to free agents than right now, and may even rival the Yankees, whose iconic status has been weakened by an aging, ultra-expensive roster badly in need of upgrades. After a lifetime of losing the best players to the Bronx, the Red Sox could be gaining the upper hand.
The Red Sox have rebuilt a solid foundation, strong enough to turn a last-place team into a champion in a year's time. From now on, a coronation at Fenway may not be such a rare event.
"Your goal playing for the Red Sox every year is to try to be at this point and win the World Series,'' Dustin Pedroia said. "That's never going to change here.''