- Howard Bryant, ESPN Senior Writer
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DENVER -- There was a period of about 60 years when you could count on two things about the Boston Red Sox being in the World Series.
The first is that they would play seven long, twisting games.
The second is that in the end they would lose, historically and heartbreakingly, the kind of losses that would live in memory, increasing the longing for that ultimate victory in fans who for generations simultaneously doubted its existence. They would suffer, and bookshelves from Maine to Massachusetts were filled with heartache.
These facts are immutable, as immutable as the new history the Red Sox are writing for themselves in this first decade of the millennium. It was evidenced by Saturday night's teasingly predictable 10-5 win over Colorado in Game 3 of what is appearing to be a very tidy and seamless World Series.
Boston has not lost a World Series game since Game 7 of the 1986 World Series, when the Red Sox lost a 3-0 lead that chilly night at Shea Stadium. They've played seven Series games since, first wiping out the Cardinals in four anticlimactic games in 2004 to complete their title march, then winning the first three games of this one. The Rockies and Red Sox have played 27 innings. The Rockies have led for all of 3½ innings. The fear and delicious possibility that Colorado could actually defeat Boston -- expected tension that makes a series great -- has existed for one inning, when the Rockies cut a 6-0 lead to 6-5 Saturday night as Matt Holliday turned around a Hideki Okajima changeup for a three-run homer in the seventh.
At that moment, the Red Sox no longer resembled a child pulling the wings off a fly. But as soon as the fly fought back, out came the swatter in the form of an in-your-face, three-run beat-down in the top of the eighth to make it 9-5. And playtime was over.
Since John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino purchased the Red Sox in 2002, a major component of their organizational style has been to compete with the New York Yankees. The past few years, most teams have shied away from the $120 million payroll level, but the Red Sox and Yankees routinely eclipse $130 million. The cumulative effect is, at least in terms of financial muscle, a two-team league. They sign the players they want and lose players only because they have decided to spend their money elsewhere.
Off the field, the Red Sox have engineered a successful campaign to cast themselves as less offensive, less capitalistic, more accessible and less advantaged than the Yankees. By positioning themselves as the anti-Yankees -- it was Lucchino, after all, who gave the Yankees the Evil Empire nickname -- the Red Sox are portrayed as the good guys. After all, if there is an Evil Empire, there must be an outgunned, outmanned rebellion to complete the metaphor, a Luke Skywalker to George Steinbrenner's Darth Vader.
It is a clever ruse but, at the same time, an intellectually dishonest one because the Red Sox and Yankees are equals; to every other team in baseball, the Red Sox are an empire. It should not be forgotten that the collective payrolls of the Rockies and Indians, at $115 million, do not come close to matching Boston's $143 million output, which doesn't even include the $50 million the team spent for exclusive rights to negotiate with Game 3 winner Daisuke Matsuzaka.
The only difference between the two clubs is the Red Sox's desire to seem somehow less powerful, less ruthless in pursuit of victory and more likable then their New York counterparts. They want to be that strangest of creatures, the smiling behemoth.
Through tough and determined play on the field, the Red Sox have adopted a Yankees-like personality in the most difficult moments of October baseball. In the Yankees' three consecutive title runs from 1998 to 2000, their World Series record was 12-1. The Red Sox, as mentioned, are 7-0.
In 1998, there was not a single moment after the seventh inning of the first game of the World Series when it appeared the Padres had a chance to win that series. The same was true the next year, when the Yankees followed the 1998 sweep of San Diego with a quick, four-game destruction of Atlanta. In 2000, the game Mets retained some dignity by not being swept, but still lost in five games.
The Red Sox have taken on a similarly devastating look, and it should be noted that the accomplishments of the men in uniform are starting to take on a frightening formidability. Mike Timlin nears his fourth World Series title; Manny Ramirez -- who is appearing in his fourth Series -- will have his second title. So will David Ortiz and the rest of the Red Sox who were on the 2004 team. Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell will also secure their second titles. Terry Francona is the most successful manager the Red Sox have had since World War I.
This complete and total personality change is jarring, especially to those who remember and lived the history. In 1946, the Red Sox were the best team from dawn to dusk, so good in fact that they had to sit around while the Dodgers and Cardinals played a three-game playoff. Ted Williams got hit in the elbow during a tune-up game and hit .200 in the World Series against the Cardinals. Johnny Pesky hesitated while Enos Slaughter scored from first base in Game 7, and the Red Sox lost.
It was true in 1967, forever the most important season in the franchise history, when the Red Sox were the Cinderella club that faced the powerhouse Cardinals in the Series, fought them for seven games before succumbing to Bob Gibson at Fenway Park. Even in defeat -- especially in defeat, actually -- baseball in Boston was reborn.
In 1975, long considered the greatest World Series ever played, the Red Sox lost in seven, but not before the names Luis Tiant, Bill Lee and Carlton Fisk bred a new generation of worshippers.
And in 1986, the Red Sox won the first two games against the 108-win Mets, led 3-2 in games, led with one strike left in Game 6, lived Bill Buckner's tragedy and blew a 3-0 lead in Game 7 before losing.
As of today, that 8-5 Game 7 loss to the Mets is an interesting trivia question, for it was the last time the Red Sox lost a World Series game.
Those memories of battle, triumph and loss have been erased. These Red Sox have not produced moments beyond victory. There are no epic clashes, only Curt Schilling and Beckett, Ortiz and Ramirez -- and now even Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury -- imposing their October will on teams that once appeared dangerous and now look hopelessly overmatched. During these combined runs of 2004 and now 2007 with possibly just one game left, the Red Sox have broken with their past.
The Red Sox are now immersed in a new history. Now when they qualify for the World Series, it is safe to expect two very different things.
The first is that they will win quickly. If you're looking for a nail-biter, try a Patriots Super Bowl.
The second is that the games will not be exciting, or historic, or legendary. Fisk and Buckner, Tiant and Jim Lonborg, sympathy and sentimentality have been replaced by a cold, hard efficiency and excellence that does not lend itself to suspense or mythology. The Red Sox have been transformed from Greek tragedy to industrial machinery. And certainly, on the cusp of a second World Series title in four years, it doesn't appear anyone in Boston is complaining.
Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He is the author of "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston" and "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball." He can be reached at Howard.Bryant@espn3.com.