The 2007 Boston Red Sox entered the season in a state of quasi-transition. Their historical World Series title of 2004 had been followed by two years of decline, including a bad second half fade that left them out of the playoffs in 2006. There were questions looming over whether their 2004 triumph over the New York Yankees was a one-time thing, a case of the blind squirrel finally finding the acorn. 2007 answered those questions.
Boston produced the pitching in the American League, with Josh Beckett winning 20 games to anchor the rotation and Jonathan Papelbon pitching brilliantly as the closer, with 37 saves and a 1.85 ERA. In between, the Red Sox had 40-year-old veteran Curt Schilling. Even though injuries limited Schilling to 24 starts, he posted a 3.87 ERA and was ready when the playoffs began.
The team also added Japanese starting pitching Daisuke Matsuzaka, and while “Dice-K” won 15 games, another addition from Japan proved to be even more important. Hideki Okajima became the setup man in the bullpen, worked more innings than any reliever and finished with a 2.22 ERA.
Offensively, the Red Sox remained a machine, and were third in the American League in runs scored. Seven regulars had on-base percentages in excess of .350. David Ortiz led the way, with a .445 OBP, while popping 35 home runs. Kevin Youkilis was arriving as a star at first base, and rookie Dustin Pedroia had a .380 on-base percentage at second base. Even with leftfielder Manny Ramirez, one of the great hitters of his team, missing substantial time, Boston could churn out runs.
The Red Sox surged out of the gate and their record soared to 53-31 by the first weekend of July. The Yankees made a late season run at the AL East title, shrinking Boston’s lead to a game and a half in the final week, but Boston’s playoff berth was never in doubt and they held off the Yanks to clinch the division.
Boston swept through the Anaheim Angels in three straight games in the Division Series. Beckett and Schilling had dominant performances in Games 1 & 3, while Ramirez won Game 2 with a three-run walkoff home run in the ninth for a 6-3 win.
The Cleveland Indians awaited in the 2007 American League Championship Series. The series was, of course, best-of-seven, but it might have been settled by the Red Sox’ performance in the seven games the teams had played in the regular season. Boston and Cleveland were both 96-66, but because the Sox had gone 5-2 in the head-to-head meetings, they held homefield advantage.
Beckett matched up with Cleveland ace, the Cy Young winner C.C. Sabathia, in Game 1. Beckett dominated while Sabathia melted down, in a 10-3 Red Sox win. But the series turned back Cleveland’s way quickly. They won Game 2 in extra innings by scoring seven runs in the top of the eleventh, then rewarded the home fans with victories in Games 3 & 4 back in Cleveland.
The Red Sox put the ball in Beckett’s hands for Game 5, facing both Sabathia and a raucous crowd at Jacobs Field in Cleveland. Youkilis hit an early home run, Beckett dominated for eight innings and Boston broke open a game they led 2-1 with five late runs. The ALCS was going back to Fenway.
Boston loaded the bases with no one out in the first inning of Game 6, but after Ramirez and third baseman Mike Lowell failed to pick up the runners, it looked like an opportunity was about to be wasted. Then J.D. Drew, a free agent acquisition who had been disappointing all year, hit a grand slam—it would be dubbed “The $14 Million Grand Slam”, reflecting his annual salary and lack of production to this point. Boston scored six more runs in the third and cruised to a 12-2 win.
Dice-K had the ball for Game 7, and the Red Sox gave him three early runs. But Boston also hit into two double plays and there was a lingering feeling they had let Cleveland hang around. The Indians trimmed the lead to 3-2, though they too missed a chance for more when centerfielder Kenny Lofton was thrown out on the base paths.
The sequence of the top of the seventh-bottom of the seventh-top of the eighth decided the American League pennant. With one out in the Cleveland seventh, Lofton reached second base when Boston shortstop Julio Lugo dropped a pop fly. But one batter later, Lofton was held at third on a single to left, a play he could have easily scored in. When the ball hit the part of Fenway’s stands that juts out close to the foul line, it apparently confused the third base coach. Okajima then induced a double play ball to kill the threat.
Boston’s rookie tandem then came through. Jacoby Ellsbury, a September call-up, reached on an error and then Pedroia hit a two-run homer. Cleveland got the first two runners on in the eighth, giving the meat of their order three chances as the tying run. Papelbon was summoned, and he ended the threat. Boston then blew the game open with six more run. Beckett was 2007 ALCS MVP for his two dominating wins over Sabathia.
The 2007 World Series was anti-climactic. The Colorado Rockies came into the Series red-hot, having won 21 of their previous 22 games. But Beckett cooled them off in Game 1, and Pedroia hit an early home run to key a Boston rout. Schilling won a tight 2-1 game, and Boston closed out the series with two straight wins in Colorado.
Lowell hit a big home run in Game 4, and his 6-for-15 showing won him World Series MVP. A better choice would have been Papelbon, who saved three World Series games, two of them one-run affairs and worked 4.1 innings for the saves. But no matter who got the award, the 2007 Boston Red Sox were back on top of the baseball world and had sent a message that they weren’t going away anytime soon.