The Boston Red Sox waited 86 years for their historic championship of 2004. The good people of New England didn’t have to wait nearly as long for the sequel. The 2007 baseball season was marked by Boston firing out of the gate quickly and cruising into the playoffs. And while the Red Sox ran into a significant hiccup in October, it didn’t stop them from ultimately bringing home another World Series title.
Boston was known for their bats and David Ortiz had another big year, batting .332, hitting 35 homers and driving in 117 runs. Third baseman Mike Lowell hit .324 and drove in 120 runs. Ortiz and Lowell both finished in the top 5 of the AL MVP voting. Dustin Pedroia won Rookie of the Year and hit .317. All of which was enough to more than compensate for Manny Ramirez missing a chunk of time and posting what were—at least by Manny standards—pedestrian numbers of a .388 on-base percentage/.493 slugging percentage.
The Red Sox offense was good, ranking third in the American League in runs scored, but the pitching was great—the best in the AL. Josh Beckett was a 20-game winner and the Cy Young runner-up. Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon were a lights-out bullpen combo in the eighth and ninth inning. By the All-Star break, the Red Sox were soaring, with a 9 ½ game lead in the AL East.
Boston’s historic rival in New York had gotten off to a very slow start. But Alex Rodriguez kept the Yankees afloat. By year’s end, A-Rod’s numbers were astonishing—a .314 batting average, .422 on-base percentage, 54 home runs and 156 RBIs. He easily took home his third MVP award.
Scoring runs wasn’t the Yankee problem. Jorge Posada was the game’s best catcher in 2007, with a stat line of .426 OBP/.543 slugging. Robinson Cano’s numbers in those same categories were .353/.488. Derek Jeter had a .322 batting average. New York scored more runs than anyone in baseball. But except for 19-game winner Chien Ming-Wang, the pitching was mediocre.
By the All-Star break, the Yanks were not only far behind the Red Sox, they were in trouble in the race for what was then just a single wild-card. In late summer, they turned on the heat. A strong second half helped New York take the lead in the wild-card race by Labor Day and eventually pull away. They even made the AL East race interesting, before Boston finally put it to bed on the final Friday of the season. The Red Sox and Yankees were both heading back to the playoffs.
The Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers were the contenders in the AL Central. The Tribe had the American League Cy Young winner in C.C. Sabathia. The 19 wins and 3.21 ERA were impressive. But what set Sabathia apart from the competition was the 241 innings pitched. He was joined in the rotation by Fausto Carmon (later to change his name to Roberto Hernandez), who won 18 games with a 3.06 ERA. Rafael Betancourt was one of the best setup relievers in baseball and Cleveland finished third in the AL for staff ERA.
Cleveland’s offense was led by the trio of Grady Sizemore at the top of the order and Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner in the middle. Sizemore had a .390 OBP, still hit 24 homers and scored 118 runs. Martinez was a .300 hitter and drove in 114 runs. Hafner was another 100-ribbie man.
Detroit, who had reached the World Series in 2006, got a huge year from Magglio Ordonez, who batted .363 with 28 homers and 139 RBIs. Ordonez was the runner-up behind A-Rod in the AL MVP vote. With Curtis Granderson and Gary Sheffield also having good years, the Tigers were second in the league for runs scored despite playing in one of its most expansive parks.
Detroit led Cleveland by a game at the All-Star break, and both teams were in good position to make the playoffs. But the Tigers, with the exception of a young Justin Verlander, had pitching problems and that showed up in late summer. Cleveland pushed to a 5 ½ game lead by Labor Day and kept Detroit at arm’s length. And the Tigers were unable to keep up with the Yankee surge, fading from the playoff picture altogether.
The Los Angeles Angels set the pace in the AL West, thanks primarily to Vlad Guerrero Sr. in the everyday lineup and John Lackey in the rotation. Guerrero batted .324, popped 27 homers and drove in 125 runs. Lackey was a 19-game winner. They each finished third in the race for the MVP and Cy Young awards, respectively.
Support in the lineup came from .300 hitters in Howie Kendrick, Chone Figgins, and Orlando Cabrera. Help in the rotation came from Kelvim Escobar, who won 18 games, and in the bullpen, from closer Francisco Rodrigues who posted 40 saves. The Angels got a first-half challenge from the Seattle Mariners, led by the great Ichiro Suzuki, who hit .351. But Los Angeles pulled away in late summer and clinched the West with room to spare. Seattle hung in for a while with New York and Detroit in the wild-card race before eventually falling by the wayside in September.
The four playoff teams from the American League—the Red Sox, Yankees, Indians, and Angels—were the four best in all of baseball. But the National League’s lack of a standout team was made up for with a race that had all four of their spots up for grabs in the final week and ended with a dynamic one-game playoff.
The NL West had three teams fighting it out. The Arizona Diamondbacks were led by pitching. Brandon Webb was an 18-game winner with a 3.01 ERA and finished second in the Cy Young voting. Arizona’s strong pitching compensated for a woeful offense that had only outfielder Chris Young, and his 32 home runs to rely on.
Colorado, playing in Coors Field, had no problems scoring runs. The Rockies were led by MVP runner-up Matt Holliday who hit .340, with 36 homers and 137 ribbies. Troy Tulowitzki, an exciting young shortstop, batted .291 with 24 home runs and 99 RBIs. Brad Hawpe drove in 116 runs. Todd Helton and Willy Taveras each hit .320. Colorado scored the second-most runs in the National League and carried a pitching staff that relied on 17-game winner Jeff Francis.
San Diego’s pitching was the NL’s best and Padre ace Jake Peavy won the Cy Young Award with 19 wins, a 2.54 ERA and 223 innings pitched. Greg Maddux was now 41-years-old, but he still squeezed out 14 wins. Heath Bell was the setup reliever and one of the league’s best, while the great Trevor Hoffman saved 42 games.
Arizona and San Diego were in the race from the start, and for half the season, the Los Angeles Dodgers appeared to be the third team. Colorado lurked in fourth place. The Dodgers started to fade in the second half and in September, they and the Rockies crossed paths. On September 16, Colorado began to really heat up, starting a winning streak that would end up being historic.
When we reached the final weekend, Arizona had a one-game lead on San Diego and was plus-two on Colorado. The wild-card was in play, but at least one NL West team would go home and perhaps two.
That’s because the NL East also had two teams in the hunt, the New York Mets, and the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phils were led by MVP shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who hit 30 homers, scored 139 runs, stole 41 bases, drove in 94 runs, and hit .296. Chase Utley had arrived as the best second baseman in the National League, hitting .332 with 22 homers and 103 ribbies. Ryan Howard’s 47 homers and 136 RBIs got him a top-5 MVP finish. Aaron Rowand roamed centerfield and hit .309 with 27 home runs. Pat Burrell’s 30 bombs were another asset for the National League’s most prolific offense.
The Phils couldn’t pitch and for much of the season, the Mets seemed in control of the NL East. New York was getting big years from David Wright and Carlos Beltran. Their pitching was better than Philadelphia’s, but with 41-year-old Tom Glavine finally in decline, the Mets still had flaws on their staff.
New York led this race by six games on September 9, but Philadelphia started coming on strong. By the final weekend, they were tied for first and a game out in the wild-card race.
The NL Central wasn’t in contention for the wild-card by the time the stretch drive arrived, but they still had a good division race. The Chicago Cubs were getting good pitching, with Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly combining to win 33 games and the staff as a whole finishing second in the National League for ERA. Alfonso Soriano hit 33 homers and batted .299. Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez each exceeded a .300 batting average and 20 HRs at the corner infield spots.
Chicago was joined in the race by the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards, the defending World Series champion and still led by Albert Pujols, faded badly in September. But the Brewers hung in. Prince Fielder hit 50 bombs and finished third in the MVP vote. Ryan Braun was an emerging star, and Corey Hart a solid rightfielder.
The Brewers were leading the Central by 4 ½ games at the break, but Cubbie pitching began to asset itself in the second half. By the final weekend, Chicago had nudged out to a two-game lead.
Everything was up for grabs in the final three days. The Cubs clinched the NL Central on Friday night. Arizona also won and at least secured a playoff spot. Over Friday and Saturday, the Mets and Phillies each split and remained tied going into Sunday. Colorado’s winning streak finally stopped on Friday, but they bounced back on Saturday and remained a game back of San Diego.
On the last day, we still had two playoff spots to fill, and the NL West champ was still undetermined. The Phillies beat the Washington Nationals. The Mets were crushed by the Marlins and Philadelphia was the NL East champ. Colorado beat Arizona and gave themselves hope. When San Diego lost to Milwaukee, it meant the D-Backs had won the NL West and the wild-card spot would come down to a one-game playoff between the Rockies and Padres.
The Colorado-San Diego tiebreaker game deserves its own place in baseball lore. They were tied 6-6 going into extra innings. The Padres scored twice in the top of the 13th. The Rockies answered with three runs, the last a close play at the plate. And with a 9-8 win, Colorado was going to the playoffs riding a 13-1 winning stretch.
After the surge of drama, the Division Series round was mostly devoid of excitement. Arizona’s pitching dominated Chicago and the Diamondbacks swept the Cubs in three straight. The Rockies kept right on winning, sweeping the Phillies out. Over in the American League, Boston got an electric moment when Manny hit a three-run walkoff jack to win Game 2 against the Angels. But that was the only tense moment in Boston’s three-game sweep.
Indians-Yankees was the only series that didn’t end in a sweep. There was a bizarre moment in Game 2. New York, having lost the opener, was holding a 1-0 lead late in Game 2. At which point a swarm of flies descended off of Lake Erie and clearly distracted reliever Joba Chamberlain. The Indians got the tying run, won in extra innings, and eventually closed out the series in four games.
Colorado’s stunning surge remained the talk of baseball in the NLCS. The Rockies rolled through the Diamondbacks in four straight, meaning their winning streak was now 20 of 21 games.
It was the ALCS that produced the best series of any played this October. The Red Sox and Indians split the first two in Fenway, and then Cleveland took control by winning Games 3 & 4 at home. Game 5 was a Sabathia-Beckett showdown. The Red Sox won 7-1 and got the series back to Fenway, where they got an easy win in Game 6.
In the decisive seventh game, Boston led 3-2 in the seventh when an error gave Cleveland an opportunity with runners on the corners and one out. Okajima got a double play ball to escape. The Red Sox unloaded for eight runs in the final two innings and were headed to the World Series.
Do you go with the best team or the hot team? It’s the age-old question of postseason baseball and the one that loomed over the Red Sox-Rockies matchup. In this case, you go with the best. Boston won two easy games—a 13-1 win to open the Fall Classic and a 10-5 victory in Game 3. And the Red Sox won two tough games, a 2-1 decision in Game 2 and a 4-3 triumph that clinched.
Boston’s 2004 title could no longer be dismissed as the blind squirrel finally finding the acorn. The Red Sox had done it again.