Manny Became Manny: Red Sox World Series Champs
“If it doesn’t happen, so who cares? There’s always next year. It’s not like it’s the end of the world.”
– Manny Ramirez, before Game 5 of the ALCS
Three days after the Red Sox won their second title in four years, I found myself thinking one thing: this was Manny’s October. Of course, it was Beckett’s as well. And Papelbon’s. And Papi’s and Lowell’s and the young guys’ and everyone else (including Drew and Lugo!). It obviously took a resolute effort by all parties involved to win eleven games. That’s how World Series are captured. It was Manny, however, by virtue of the comments he made before Game 5 in Cleveland, who galvanized this team.
Manny the Galvanizer? you may ask. True, it may not roll off the tongue as easy as, say “William the Conqueror”, but for the record, since Manny made those remarks with the Red Sox facing a 3-1 ALCS deficit, the Sockers are undefeated, and will remain so until next April.
Statistically, Manny’s imprints are all over this postseason. He led the Sox or tied for the team lead in home runs (4), RBI (16), walks (16) and on base percentage (.508). He hit the walk-off blast in Game 2 of the ALDS that brought the element of the surreal back to Fenway. And when the Sox again found themselves on the brink of elimination, he channeled the guy who had made it all seem so simple three years prior.
Whenever I think back to 2004, I see Kevin Millar, working The Walk that led to The Steal. I also see Millar, on the field before Game 4, talking to the fans. Most of them were holding signs vividly detailing their despair and heartache. And there was Millar, telling the fans (in reference to the Yankees), something along the lines of “don’t let us get this one. Because then we have Pedro in Game 5 and Schilling in Game 6 and anything can happen in Game 7.” He then directed himself to the clubhouse, where he led some of his teammates in a shot of Beam, and the rest became history that the sport of baseball had never known.
The parallels between the ’04 and ’07 teams are significant. Both squads played with a distinct confidence; the Idiots used Varitek’s Glove in A-Rod’s Face as a rallying cry, and plowed their way through the final two months of the season and the Angels en route to the 2004 ALCS; the ’07 team was a slower, steadier roll, as it surged into first place in April and never relinquished its lead, sweeping basically the same Angels team again in the first round. Then for both teams, something happened. They hit a brick wall. Never will I understand how the Idiots got down three games to the Yankees. I only understood how they came back. They came back because they were all battled-tested from the shock of 2003 and because they had a blue-collar swagger that had captivated a Nation.
The explanation for how the ’07 team got down 3-1 was not only identifiable, it was cut and dry: they stopped hitting. They stopped hitting because they had two perpetually unproductive players (Drew and Lugo) who began feeling the gravity of Boston and the weight of their contracts and a rookie catalyst at the top of the lineup (Pedroia) who started to stall out as the games became more important.
Enter Manny (or as I like to now call him, “Media Cowboy of October”). In truly Millarian (ie what the %$&# are you thinking??) fashion, Manny, as had become a regularity in the ’07 postseason, addressed the media, and verbally shrugged his shoulders about the implications of defeat in Game 5.
Manny the Trivial? Now that sounds more accurate.
You know what? He was right. He was absolutely right. After 2004, Red Sox Nation could no longer be compared to Atlas, Greek god of heavy burdens who had to hold the heavens on his shoulders. After 2004, for once in eight generations, it really wasn’t the end of the world if the Red Sox lost. Manny was well aware of that. His hot and cold relationship with the city of Boston started frigidly; he requested out multiple times early in his contract because the team had no camaraderie and the sports climate in Boston was cooking him alive. But when his career became marked by its greatest achievement and a fan base with its 86 years of baggage was finally vindicated, Manny must have realized that only green pastures lay ahead.
The fact that Manny came out and said what every Red Sox fan was thinking in the recesses of their minds makes him a genius. Manny, ladies and gentlemen, has seen and endured it all and emerged as, you guessed it, Manny. While his time in Boston has tested him to the nth degree, at certain points he’s survived it and others he’s relished it, in the process he’s carved himself what is going down as one of the great legacies of all-time.
So he got in front of the camera and, for the benefit of Lugo and Pedroia and Drew and the Nation, issued a collective tranquilo. He saw his team needed a load taken off, and he nominated himself point man. In doing so he brought us all back to earth, and brought his teammates back to baseball. Over the subsequent seven games, Lugo played with an electricity none of us had seen before, Pedroia grew up (again) before our very eyes, this time into a five and a half foot long-range assassin, and Drew hit a I’ll-never-forget-where-I-was-when-this-happened grand slam that he’s now receiving a check in the amount of $14 million for.
Oh, and Red Sox Nation got another parade. So there. It all worked out.
Just like Manny cared it would.