BOSTON – Theo Epstein, his dress shirt already drenched by celebratory champagne, took a chug from a bottle of Bud in the Boston locker room. Then he tried to shake the tiny hand of Nelson de la Rosa, who at 28 inches is the world's shortest actor.
That's when a bucket of water came hurling at the Red Sox general manager – the boss be damned – and everyone had to duck for their lives.
About that time, on the other side of the room, Johnny Damon was asked if his migraines had flared up during Boston's three-game sweep of Anaheim in the American League Division Series.
"No," he smiled, "But I might have a little hangover tomorrow."
Folks, meet the Boston Red Sox, major league baseball's loosest and perhaps best team. And they are not mutually exclusive titles.
When the Red Sox blew a 6-1 lead in the seventh inning Friday, its fan base's collective stomach began to churn out of fear that "here we go again." Boston is about to kick away the game, the series, the season.
That's the fans' psyche when the Red Sox play ball in October at Fenway Park.
But in the Boston dugout there was no fear. There were no nerves. There was not a single waver of confidence.
The Sox shrugged, held off the Angels and with a 10th-inning, two-run homer by David Ortiz, advanced to the ALCS in near-perfect fashion. "I think when you have idiots on the team like Kevin (Millar) and me, you don't (panic)," said Damon. "We're loose, we're happy-go-lucky. All we bring to the park everyday is to always play hard and have fun.
"And we'll have to try to have a little more fun tonight."
This collection of "idiots," as Damon likes to call them, may possess the perfect personality for a franchise that wallows in past failures like no one else.
The clubhouse is a steady stream of fraternity foolishness. There is every haircut this side of Marge Simpson's beehive. If there are any team rules, they are regularly broken. The players openly talk about going out and getting smashed.
The team's unofficial mascot is de la Rosa, a tiny, 22-pound actor who is good friends with Pedro Martinez. One day Martinez brought him around, everyone laughed and he became part of the family. When manager Terry Francona first met de la Rosa he reportedly looked in his back for batteries.
But that's the Sox locker room. It is the kind of place where Epstein, a somewhat reserved, Ivy League sort, has de la Rosa approach him and with complete seriousness shakes his hand and deadpans, "It's nice seeing you again."
With these Red Sox everything is normal.
Which is why they are so dangerous. The talent this club possesses is obvious. It boasts a meat grinder of a lineup – a relentless combination of battlers and power guys. The Sox scored 25 runs in three games and had runners on base in 21 of 29 innings.
On the mound against the Angels, the Sox trotted out their expected pair of aces – Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez – but wound up getting their best performance from none other than Bronson Arroyo (two earned runs in six innings).
Sure the bullpen – especially Mike Timlin – looked shaky Friday, but overall the ALDS couldn't have gone much better for Boston.
With the ALCS not starting until Tuesday, the Sox will have a rested pitching staff. Francona will have the option of sending Schilling out for games 1, 4 and 7. Pedro could handle games 2 and 6.
How do you like them apples?
The mood on the club is impressive. There are no Calvin Schiraldis sweating on the pitching mound. No unforced errors in the field. No overwhelmed-from-anxiety at-bats.
Blowing a five-run lead isn't a cause for panic. It is a good reason to make a dramatic comeback to really give them a reason to party.
The Sox just don't care. About the past. About the pressure. About proper behavior.
Not even Epstein, who got drenched, made fun of and is subject to bizarre situations like greeting tiny actors.
"They are all individuals," he shrugged, laughing a bit at the absurdity of it all. "They are 25 guys expressing themselves 25 different ways. We're not going to tell them to dress a certain way or cut their hair a certain way."
Good thing. No one would listen anyway.
- Theo Epstein
- Nelson de la Rosa