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Why this is the best Red Sox team I’ve ever seen

I cannot tell you how happy these guys make me. Or, I can, and do.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Boston Red Sox
J.D. has a lot to do with it.
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

The All-Star Game doesn’t “count” anymore, in the sense of determining home-field advantage for the World Series, but it was pretty cool that, this year, the first American League batter to see and throw a strike was both from Boston. That wasn’t all: there was one more Red Sox in in the starting lineup, one more on the bench, and had the game come to a save situation, a Sox pitcher would have thrown the last pitch, too. Boston guys were everywhere, like in a dream, and befitting a dream season.

This is the greatest year I can remember for the Red Sox -- better than 2004, 2007 or 2013, and certainly better than the last two good seasons, both of which resulted in division titles. It’s not just that the team is necessarily better than the rest of them, though there is a good argument they are — it’s that the team is both probably better than the rest of them and fully out of the Yankees’s shadows, for the first time in forever. At extremely long last, the franchise-defining rivalry is as close to even as it’s ever been, and if New York’s stranglehold on history is unshakeable, its attempts to grab the league by the throat this year have been thwarted by not just the Sox but the Astros, Indians and others.

Frankly, after last year’s playoffs, it seems like a miracle that we’re here. The Yankees made it within one game of the World Series, falling only to an incredible Houston Astros team that dispatched Boston in four games one series earlier and would beat the Dodgers one series later to win it all. The Sox played pretty well, but it looked like a gulf was set to develop between them and the Yankees that only stood to get longer in the 2018/2019 offseason, when Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, among others, are set to become free agents. And this was *before* they got Stanton, the avatar of the Paul Bunyan-esque power hitter.

As recently as this spring it looked like the Yankees were set to do the Yankees thing and overcome a hot Boston start to take control of the division. The Sox kicked ass in April, the Yankees did it in May, and given our goldfish brains, it looked like the writing might be on the wall. All that’s happened since then is the Sox have won almost as many games as there have been days in the year, led by perpetual Cy Young Award contender and future Hall of Famer Chris Sale and two of the top three MVP candidiates in the American League in Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. This doesn’t even touch on Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Benintendi or Xander Bogaerts, any one of whom would be the best player on a dozen other teams in the league.

Martinez alone is a perfect example of the transformation. He grew up a Red Sox fan, having seen them win titles, and was all but fated for the Sox this offseason. To him, Boston has never been anything but good for very long. He was 17 during the 2004 World Series. If he is the man who put them over the top this year, he’s also the exact age of someone you’d expect to be willing to put the past behind them.

But the Yankees’s strength isn’t just the past. They’re stacked, of course, with Stanton, the incredible Aaron Judge and their own Cy Young candidate in Luis Severino. They probably have less talent the Sox right now, but they have every resource available to get more and, of course, they will. That’s how it has always been and always will be. But something fundamental about how these two teams has changed, permamently, and it took nearly a decade and a half and three World Series titles for Boston for it to happen. It is finally about the players right now, both within the rivalry itself but to the world at large. To cite an otherwise crazy man, Mystique and Aura have retired, had kids and watched those kids grow up in a world where Yankees dominance is a thing of the past.

The history is still there. It just seems irrelevant, like tying the fate of the Washington Nationals to the history of the Montreal Expos, who disappeared right around the time the Sox were ascendant. It would be crazy, right? Well, yes, but it would have seemed less crazy 5 years ago, less than that 10 years ago and downright sensible the day the Nats opened for business.

Similarly, tying the Red Sox to the Sox of the past made sense just after 2004 -- to some people -- in a way that simply does not exist now. At Yankee Stadium in 2005, gone were the 1918 chants and “Babe/Bucky/Bucker/Boone” shirts, replaced with less elegant but still pointed “There was no curse, you just sucked the whole time” ones, which, fair. I’m guessing those were still around in 2007 but not in 2013, at which point it had been established the Sox were here to stay. Led by David Ortiz, they probably did the hardest work in putting the “curse” to rest, but with Big Papi still involved, it could still be chalked up to his singular magic.

This team has no established World Series winner on whom to lean, just an incredible roster, the relatively recent history of the Red Sox being awesome and its present-day status of being better than that. The 2004 title didn’t wipe away the past. It just cauterized the wound the years had inflicted on us, and began the healing process. The 2007 title helped a lot, and by 2013 we were ready to pull off the bandage once and for all.

The scar’s still there, but you can barely see it. It’s like the Curse of the Bambino never happened, and not just because it actually never happened. The Red Sox are as good a team and organization a there is in baseball, and -- finally -- no one is thinking about the time they weren’t, to the point that Yankees fans aren’t even thinking it. They still hate us, but they hate us as true equals and vice versa. It’s all I ever wanted, and it’s as wonderful as I ever dreamed.