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October 29, 2007

Prospectus Today

Dogpile Day

by Joe Sheehan

It is a cliché to say that we can't quantify everything in baseball. As the amount of information we have grows, as people like Dan Fox and David Pinto emerge to parse that information in new and innovative ways, as we gain a deeper understanding of the processes behind the statistics, we get closer to being able to measure the game and its players with a precision heretofore unimagined. Baseball science, as it were, is in its heyday.

After tonight, however, I know what cannot be quantified: being able to claim the word "champion" for your own, to scream at the top of your lungs that you're the best, and get no argument. To dance on a field with your teammates-no, your work family-and embrace and have, for that moment, the knowledge that no one is better than you are.

Tonight, for the first time, I saw that moment up close, and I have no good way of relaying it to you in Prospectus terms. There's no Value Over Replacement Feeling, no Equivalent Emotion, no Smile Shares. There's just the look on a man's face when he's wearing the entire Cooperstown Collection, fresh off the factory floor, soaked in cheap champagne and cheaper beer, sporting the "What Not to Wear" miniseries combination of goggles and a baseball cap. There's no measure for that; you have to see it to appreciate it, and even then you can't really understand it.

Men play professional baseball for any number of reasons, and we pick those apart at our leisure to fill column space, to generate mouse clicks and revenue and make a name for ourselves. Make no mistake, though: however much these men enjoy the playing, the adulation, the paychecks and the power, they live for this.

We should all have this feeling at some time in our lives. We should all set a goal, work towards it, achieve it and celebrate ourselves when we accomplish it. I envy these Boston Red Sox, who played baseball in 2007 better than any team did, and will forever be known as champions for it.

Win number 107 fit the pattern of numbers 101 through 106-the Red Sox took a lead, getting ahead with a run in the first, and tacking on tallies in the fifth and seventh, the latter a solo home run by World Series MVP Mike Lowell that chased Aaron Cook from the game. Despite leaving the field down 3-0, Cook was as good a story as this Series provided, throwing the Rockies' first quality start since Game Three of the NLCS, and keeping them in yet another game in which the bats didn't make an appearance. He was extremely efficient, going past four pitches to just three hitters in his first two times around the lineup. He got 15 ground balls by pitching to his strengths; it just wasn't enough.

Lowell's homer set loose a string of power; in a Series that saw two homers hit in the first 33 innings, the two teams combined for four over the final three. Brad Hawpe matched Lowell's blast in the bottom of the inning. Bobby Kielty restored the Red Sox' three-run lead with his own in the top of the eighth, a shot that ended up as the difference in the game after Garrett Atkins launched a two-run blast off of Hideki Okajima in the bottom of the inning.

All the late fireworks left the Rockies where they didn't want to be: down a run, and facing Jonathan Papelbon. Terry Francona continued his pattern of bringing in Papelbon once the tying run reached the plate, and Papelbon responded by pounding the strike zone, getting five outs on 23 pitches, just five of them balls. The outing was not without its scares-both Brad Hawpe and Jamey Carroll will be cursing the humidor for a while-but Papelbon extended his career postseason shutout streak to 14 2/3 innings, and threw his glove in the air to set off the celebration.

Of course, Papelbon had a game to save because Jon Lester was even better than Cook was. Getting his fastball up to 93 at times-including when he made a power strikeout of Matt Holliday with a runner on second in the third inning-Lester looked like the top-tier prospect he was before cancer derailed his path to the big league rotation last fall. While he did seem to tire past the 80-pitch mark, his 5 2/3 shutout innings made the sweep possible, and provided a preview of someone who could be another above-average Red Sox starter in 2008.

Papelbon, Lester…the Red Sox got contributions from even more products of their farm system. Jacoby Ellsbury led off the game with a double, and scored the first run. Manny Delcarmen relieved Lester and closed out the sixth. The 2007 World Series may have been where the high-payroll, high-profile Red Sox of the past passed the torch to a different team. Both, today, are champions.

  • The Red Sox defense simply wasn't a problem for them in Coors Field. David Ortiz wasn't good, but he got help, with Lester calling him off a popup that he was never going to get to early in the game. The DH also contributed a nice scoop of a Julio Lugo throw, and handled a popup himself on the apron. Manny Ramirez finally misplayed a ball, turning a line drive by Kazuo Matsui into a double with an awful route, but Matsui remained at second base when the inning was over.

    The Rockies did finally test Ortiz by bunting, with Aaron Cook singling in the fifth by laying one down. The bunt was actually a push past the mound, more a pitcher/second baseman play than a first baseman's one.

  • Clint Hurdle's decision to scapegoat Willy Taveras, who was benched again in Game Four, remains inexplicable. Neither Cory Sullivan nor Ryan Spilborghs is the player Taveras is, and making your team worse in the interest of change isn't a positive thing. Spilborghs had a terrible Series, however brief, and Sullivan's misplay in Game Three loomed large when the Rockies made their aborted comeback.

    When you get to the World Series, play your best players and hope for the best. All other plans are likely to fail. Terry Francona's decision to change center fielders on the fly fit this theory to a T.

  • Mike Timlin earned his fourth World Series ring last night, which actually puts him in some interesting company. Just 16 other players have played for at least four World Champions, without any of them being the Yankees. Just nine of those played in the World Series for at least four World Championship teams:

    Eddie Collins, 6
    Jack Barry, 5
    Stuffy McInnis, 5Frankie Frisch, 4
    Larry Gardner, 4
    Jim Gilliam, 4
    Harry Hooper, 4
    Amos Strunk, 4
    Gene Tenace, 4

  • Manny Ramirez makes it hard to defend him. In the sixth, after topping a groundball to third, Ramirez knocked his helmet off about six steps down the line, caught it and carried it through the bag. On the heels of Saturday night's awful route home, which also included helmet follies, I have to politely suggest that while Ramirez can wear his hair any way he pleases, he needs to find some way to integrate a helmet into the design, or at least become better about how he discards it along the way. He looked ridiculous too many times this postseason.

  • I climbed to the top of the Rockpile before the start of the game, watching the Star-Spangled Banner-a sweet, straightforward version by Trisha Yearwood-with people who can only be described as true fans. You don't sit this far from the action unless you really want to watch your team play. In the run-up to the game, this was a towel-waving mass of humanity, sitting in seats that normally go for under $10, but had been marked up to $65 for the Series, and to heaven knows what on the secondary market.

    The last two seats on the Rockpile were occupied, oddly enough, by husband-and-wife Red Sox fans who had driven down from Utah. He had become a Sox fan during the Impossible Dream season of 1967, although his Lynn Redgrave-lookalike wife claimed that they also rooted for the regional team in purple. Whether this was sincere, or to placate the purple-and-black crowd around them, is a judgment call.

    What isn't, though, is that the Rockpile is one of the neat traditions in the game, something the Rockies ported from Mile High Stadium and sustained as a block of low-cost seating, available to the walkup crowd. Here's hoping that the inevitable post-pennant price bumps don't impact that policy.

  • The Rockies' defense, such a key to their success this year, made one final appearance in the eighth. Troy Tulowitzki snared a one-hopper while backing up, flipped sidearm to Matsui covering, who got the force and threw to first while stepping away from the bag. Todd Helton picked the Matsui throw out of the dirt to complete a highlight-reel double play.

I'm headed back to New York for a few days, then on to Phoenix for Baseball HQ's First Pitch Arizona, four days of AFL games and baseball talk with a great group of people. This space will be filled a bit less frequently over the next few weeks, but I'll be here with a report from Arizona, awards talk, and inevitably, analysis of what is going to be an active and expensive offseason. Thanks to everyone who read our postseason coverage, from John Perrotto's on-the-spot reportage to the nightly World Series chats to David Laurila's Q&As from the park and all the analysis from everyone on staff.

I want to single out our partners at Sports Illustrated and SI.com, especially editors Chris Stone and Jake Luft, for their support. They made it possible for me to attend my first World Series, and I make no apologies for the fact that I experienced the last week first and foremost as a fan, rather than as a journalist, analyst, or contractor. I had more jaw-to-chin, hayseed-in-the-big-city moments than I can recount, and I loved every one of them. If being at a World Series-or any ballpark-ever loses its thrill, I'll give up this gig faster than Jacoby Ellsbury can go from home to first.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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