BOSTON – As late-inning runs kept scoring against the Cleveland corpse, a frenzied Fenway sang and swayed at a comeback so complete, so cutthroat, the most stunning thing happened: the Red Sox morphed into the Yankees.
After eight decades of chasing down their New York rival, they've now replaced them as the monsters of October. They trail significantly in championships won and excellence sustained, but they're presently a team as relentlessly powerful as confident and clutch.
Sunday it was an 11-2, Game 7 clubbing of the Indians, sending Boston back to the World Series to seek its second title in 89 – or four – years. Only this time the Sox enter with none of the baggage and few of the questions that always plagued this franchise.
Now they are the team with so much talent and tenacity that if you get them down you need to drive a stake through their heart. If not, they'll come back and break yours.
They'll do to you just what they did to Cleveland, blasting their way out of a 3-1 series hole by a combined score of 30-5; a devastation that left the Indians mumbling under their breath about collapses and cursed decisions.
The Red Sox, the team that forever used to dig their own grave, now just dances on their opponents'.
"I think that in games of a huge magnitude, our guys don't get overwhelmed," said manager Terry Francona. "They do what they're supposed to do. (If) you have the talent, it'll show through."
Whatever you once knew about the Red Sox is gone. This is no cuddly underdog, no loveable loser trying to change history.
This is Goliath. This is the bully heading into Wednesday's World Series against the white-hot Colorado Rockies.
Not that single soul here at this old ball park, which hit delirium without the need of waving towels or scoreboard prodding, is apologizing for any of it, either. Nor should they.
At some point between breaking curses and delivering them, the Sox, on a national scale at least, went from mostly loved to mostly loathed. Whether it was the pink hats, the pseudo-celeb fans or that weak Drew Barrymore movie, whether it was the big contracts or their vocal backers filling enemy parks, whatever lovable magic the Sox cast back in 2004 is mostly gone.
Die-hard fans are tired of them. Casual ones will be wooed by a new kid on the block.
But after all those years of trying to beat the Yankees, becoming them – in swagger at least – is the greatest accomplishment of all.
It's Boston with the proven playoff stars (David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez), the ultra-clutch pitchers that can always save you (Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon) and the huge performances from second-tier guys (Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia). On a week when the Yankees fired their manager and are dealing with a potential fleeing of free agents, the contrast is stark.
"It's almost like 'The Bronx is Burning,'" Francona said the other day.
And then came a Sunday at Fenway like no other Sunday at Fenway; no other do-or-die playoff game before it.
Big October nights and the failures they delivered tormented this fan base for generations, the stories handed down through the years so that it was angst, not anticipation that would sweep through the city.
This, however, was extended party, a keyed in fan base trying to raise their team up, but rarely expressing any concern even when opportunities fell early.
Fenway felt different. It sounded different. It was a scene straight out of the old Bronx.
This was a team leaning on a starter who looked shot just four days ago, a guy who rather than worry over, they emotionally propped up until he himself even believed.
"After our three straight losses, the team kept telling me to get ready to pitch in Game 7," said Daisuke Matsuzaka, who shook off some struggles to pitch five innings of two-run ball. "I felt with the momentum we had going into the game, there was no way we were going to lose."
This was an offensive explosion led by a rookie second baseman whose bat had gone silent earlier in this series, only to deliver five RBIs and cite everyone else's positive energy.
"You know, I think the veteran guys have kind of instilled (a) belief in us," said Pedroia.
This is a franchise that was famous for being eliminated – often in ghastly fashion. They no longer fear these situations (like in 2004, when they were down 0-3 against the Yankees), they seem to crave them.
"When your season is almost over, we're down 3-1, you get that sense of urgency that we're going to play every inning, every pitch, everything as hard as we can," Pedroia said.
That's what the championship franchises do. Not just teams, franchises.
Boston's never been that.
But that's what it's become, the giant awakened just before it was too late, the team running up the score to punctuate a sweep back from the brink, the huge fan base bouncing out of a wild stadium to party the autumn night away, worried about nothing, sure of everything, just salivating over who's next.
Four falls after rewriting history, it's a new day here for this old team; a new deal completely.