Killer instinct

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

DENVER – On one side, Jacoby Ellsbury, the best rookie slasher since Freddy Krueger first terrorized Elm Street, talked about the art of finishing off a series. On the other side, Dustin Pedroia, also a nightmare of an out, talked about how the Boston Red Sox play pace car in every game, daring their opponent to keep tempo.

And in the middle, after the Red Sox waxed the Colorado Rockies 10-5 at Coors Field to take a never-before-avenged 3-0 World Series lead, the sage philosopher rose from his chair and talked about dessert.

"We don't want to eat the cake first before your birthday," Manny Ramirez said.

Sartre he ain't.

Yet the truth he speaks. The Red Sox can sense their second world championship in four years, seeing, feeling, touching, hearing and, yes, tasting it. And Game 3, best of all, personifies their 2007 incarnation: They punch, and if you dare punch back, they apply a steel-toed boot to the windpipe.

These Red Sox are not Idiots; they are killers. The distinction is important, because an entire new generation of Red Sox has joined the clubhouse and embraced the philosophy. On Saturday night, Ellsbury became the first rookie in more than 60 years to smack four hits in a World Series game. Pedroia added three more. Daisuke Matsuzaka earned the victory. Hideki Okajima recorded the game's biggest outs. Manny Delcarmen and Jonathan Papelbon locked down the Rockies for the final two innings.

None was with the Red Sox in 2004.

"And they carried the team," Ramirez said.

The Red Sox's baby brigade doesn't end there. Kevin Youkilis, another 20-something masher, sat on the bench because National League rules prohibit the designated hitter and David Ortiz played first base. Should the Rockies beat rookie left-hander Jon Lester in Game 4 on Sunday night, they'll score a Game 5 date with 27-year-old Josh Beckett, the best postseason pitcher on the planet. Oh, and Clay Buchholz, the rookie who threw a no-hitter in his second major-league start – maybe the best of the Red Sox's youngsters – didn't even make the postseason roster.

Forget, for a moment, about this season. It is over. No team has recovered from a 3-0 deficit in the World Series, and only the '04 Red Sox have at any level of the playoffs. Game 3 showed all of baseball the team that Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and his lieutenants have built, and it is a machine: the stars and the complements, the gray-haired and the peach-fuzzed.

"Throw age out of the equation," Papelbon said. "Age means nothing to me, and I don't think it means anything to anybody in this clubhouse. If you can play at this level, you can play at this level bar none. We're obviously showing that as a young group of guys."

Ellsbury, 24, differs from the rest. They proved themselves for at least a full season. Though he hit .353 in 116 at-bats, Ellsbury spent most of the year in the minor leagues and played only a cursory role in the postseason's first six games.

Halfway through the American League championship series, with Coco Crisp slumping, Ellsbury found himself the full-time center fielder. And with Youkilis on the bench for Game 3, manager Terry Francona moved Pedroia to the No. 2 hole and inserted Ellsbury at leadoff, his usual spot in the lineup. Before he arrived at the stadium, Ellsbury removed his glasses and popped in his contact lenses, Clark Kent ready to play Superman.

Which, come the third inning, he did. To lead off the inning, Ellsbury sliced a double down the left-field line. By the time he came up again almost a half-hour later, the Red Sox had scored five runs off Rockies starter Josh Fogg, and for good measure Ellsbury stroked another double into the left-center gap to score the sixth run of the inning and chase Fogg.

"It's not just false bravado or acting like he's confident," Francona said. "He should be confident. He's a good player and he knows how to play the game."

Between Ellsbury's bookend doubles, Pedroia beat out a bunt single, Ortiz doubled, Ramirez was intentionally walked, Mike Lowell singled, Jason Varitek singled, Julio Lugo walked and Matsuzaka – hitless in four major-league at-bats – slapped a two-run single to left field. The Red Sox struck like a serpent and wagged their collective tongue for good measure.

Because Matsuzaka was cruising. He shut out the Rockies through the first five innings, looking more the great early-season ace than the iffy $103 million investment. Some innings were quick, like the eight-pitch second, and others he strained. In the fourth inning, Todd Helton kept sending Matsuzaka fastballs into the stands. Sixth pitch, seventh pitch, eighth pitch. Finally, on the at-bat's 12th pitch, Matsuzaka unfurled an 82-mph curveball that kissed the outside corner for a called strike three.

Only in the sixth inning did he struggle with a pair of walks, and Javier Lopez allowed both runners to score. The Rockies didn't stop there. Okajima, who pitched so brilliantly in Game 2, relieved Mike Timlin in the seventh inning with two runners on. His first pitch halved the plate, and Rockies slugger Matt Holliday tattooed it 437 feet to dead center field.

Boston's advantage dwindled to 6-5, and after Todd Helton's single, Okajima bore down. He struck out Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe, retired Torvit Torrealba on a harmless ground ball and escaped from the evening's lone tense moment.

Ellsbury made sure of that. With runners on first and second, he looped his third double of the night down the right-field line to score Julio Lugo for a 7-5 advantage. Pedroia doubled in two more runs. The crash cart was out, and it still wasn't enough to save Colorado.

"The way our lineup showed up when we were put through that point of adversity was the turning point," Papelbon said. "Our bullpen had to battle. We're going to have to keep battling, no doubt. But our lineup did a special job of going out there and keeping that momentum in our dugout."

That dugout embraced Ellsbury as though he had been there all season. When Ellsbury arrived for a week June 30, the Red Sox players knew about his speed and bat control, about him topping all of their prospect lists. What they learned then, and throughout the month of September, was that Ellsbury blended in well because he shared their modus operandi: get them before they get you.

"You earn respect by how you play the game," Lowell said. "I don't think it matters whether you're a rookie or you've been in the league 15 years. Those guys come to play."

All of them, actually. Papelbon worked out of Delcarmen's two-on, two-out jam in the eighth inning and shut Colorado down in the ninth, and the Red Sox positioned themselves for the third World Series sweep in four seasons.

And much of that will ride on Lester, the youngest of all the Red Sox at 23 years old. At this time last year, Lester was undergoing chemotherapy for non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The cancer went into remission, Lester returned July 23 and he went 4-0 for the Red Sox during the regular season.

Knocking out the Rockies with one well-placed boot? For Lester, that's nothing.

Come to think of it, it's nothing for these Red Sox, either.