BOSTON – A few Boston Red Sox dragged themselves back to Fenway Park early Monday afternoon, squishing across the clubhouse carpet they'd splattered earlier that morning. The place smelled like Las Vegas' morning breath.
With two fingers, shortstop Julio Lugo plucked a wet, sugary "American League champions 2007" cap from his locker floor and handed it to a clubhouse attendant.
"Jay," he said, "I think you need to wash this."
He appeared to have only a vague notion of how it got there. The boys had gotten after it pretty good. Their side of the World Series semis had gone seven games, covered 10 days and left them rolling around on the infield, drinking in a city and its love for their game and this team.
"Feelin' bananas, dawg," Lugo said. "Feel great."
Yeah, they're going to the World Series. And here's the thing: They're a much better team today than they were three weeks ago, two weeks ago, even three games ago. Especially three games ago.
Manager Terry Francona could have done without the drama, the three losses in a row that set up the three wins in a row, the mini-slumps that assaulted his order, the wobbles in his rotation, the issues in his bullpen.
But, look at them now.
They played long enough to get Dustin Pedroia's bat back.
The order came around often enough, and the middle of their lineup was on base enough, to get a pitch or two for J.D. Drew.
Instead of dragging a confused, ineffective Coco Crisp into the World Series, they have a fresh, sharp Jacoby Ellsbury, who reached base four times in Game 7. Crisp might get the call against left-hander Jeff Francis in Game 1, but Francona will look for openings for Ellsbury.
Kevin Youkilis had 10 hits in his final 16 at-bats.
They pitched no one on short rest and they gambled with no starter in a middle-inning salvage job, so the rotation is healthy and in sync.
Even Eric Gagne pitched a scoreless inning.
Through four games of the ALCS, right about the time the Rockies began their baseball retreat, the Red Sox were still waiting for a lot of those things to happen. Now that they have, and seeing as the process ran them on stride into the World Series, short-term Red Sox momentum has the advantage over long-term-but-delayed Rockies momentum.
Only a year ago, the Detroit Tigers sat on their ALCS sweep of the Oakland Athletics for seven days, then committed eight errors and batted .199 against the St. Louis Cardinals, who'd just played seven grinding games against the New York Mets. The Tigers were done in five.
The Rockies, bless their 21-of-22 hearts, might need a couple days to remember which end of the bat they hold.
In the next day or so, the Red Sox will think through their rotation. Beckett gets the ball first, and Francona and general manager Theo Epstein could give Tim Wakefield a long look for Game 2.
Colorado, even a humidor-equipped Colorado, might not be the place to start your knuckleballer. The lack of atmospheric friction (or something like that) has straightened out a lot of pitches in 15 years, and knuckleballers may have gotten the worst of it.
Wakefield hasn't pitched in Denver since 1993, when his two starts for the Pittsburgh Pirates at Mile High Stadium resulted in 17 hits and six walks over 9 2/3 innings, along with a 9.31 ERA.
He is not alone among his floater brethren. A sampling of other knuckleballers shows Tom Candiotti had a 37.80 ERA in one start at Mile High Stadium and a 7.88 ERA in two starts at Coors Field and Steve Sparks had a 12.91 ERA in four appearances at Coors Field. Charlie Hough had a respectable 3.00 in a start at Mile High.
Francona could give Wakefield the Fenway start, then start Schilling and Matsuzaka at Coors Field. They'd probably prefer not to schedule Wakefield twice in the series, but it's worth considering.
Eventually, they'll also get to the DH situation at Coors Field. That is, not having one. Ortiz, whose knee isn't getting better, played seven games at first in the regular season. Assuming he can move around at all, Youkilis and Mike Lowell could end up sharing time at third.
"You're getting a little bit ahead," Francona said Monday. "Those are some things that we can look at today in our scouting report. We haven't had the luxury of sitting around for a week. We got done last night at midnight, so we need some time to get our house in order."