That sure didn't take long.
Remember back to 2004, when Boston was brimming with tales about long-suffering players and fans whose sacrifices and devotion to a baseball team practically shamed the rest of us into taking up their cause? That is so-o-o over. Three seasons and a few hundred million dollars later, there's precious few feel-good stories to be wrung from these Red Sox.
There's wide-eyed local hero Manny Delcarmen, who could come bounding out of the Boston bullpen one of the next two nights with a World Series game on the line, but whose previous entries to Fenway came only because players from those cuddly Red Sox teams of years past donated blocks of tickets to inner-city kids.
``Sometimes I sit and I'm looking, I'm playing with Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, Curt Schilling, all these guys,'' Delcarmen told the Boston Globe. ``Five years ago, I was playing PlayStation with them.''
Then there's the local furniture chain that promised full refunds to any customer who bought merchandise between March 7 and April 16, provided the Red Sox win it all.
``Imagine yourself sitting on that sofa, watching that game,'' Eliot Tatelman, president and CEO of Jordan's Furniture said, ``and knowing it's free if they win.''
It would have been an even better story, of course, if Tatelman hadn't also told the Globe that he bought an insurance policy to cover any potential losses. But that's life in Red Sox nation these days.
Coy has given way to confident, hope to haughtiness and tight budgets to almost unlimited funds. What used to require a leap of faith can now be accomplished simply by shuffling your feet. Even former New York mayor and Yankee Stadium fixture Rudy Giuliani had no problem climbing on the bandwagon.
``I'm rooting for the Red Sox,'' the Republican presidential contender said the other day to applause in a Boston restaurant.
He called his loyalty to Boston temporary - ``I'm an American League fan,'' he said - but Giuliani is simply hoping his newfound affection is rewarded in kind by voters up the road in New Hampshire, thick with Red Sox fans and site of the nation's first primary. So at least he's got an excuse. The same can't be said for all those who climbed aboard just ahead of him.
When Boston beat the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series, it was less about reversing a curse than finding an owner willing to spend enough to knock the pinstripes off the Yankees. John Henry got a taste of what he was in for shortly after buying the team in 2002 and getting his nose bloodied in a bidding war with New York for the services of Cuban defector Jose Contreras. Afterward, team president Larry Lucchino complained, ``The evil empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America.''
But earlier this year Boston sunk its tentacles into Japan deeper than those same Yankees could, laying out $51 million just for the right to negotiate with pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, then doubled down to lock him up for six years. The Colorado Rockies, the last team standing between Boston and all that free furniture, spent $54 million for their entire payroll.
While Red Sox fans are quick to point out that that the Yankees' opening-day tab of $195 million dwarfed their own by almost the same amount, the third-place team in the financial arms race, the Mets, began the season another $30 million back. The Yankees' willingness to spend and spend and spend on free agents, and eat their expensive mistakes if need be, is what aggravated the rest of baseball forever. But at least the franchise and their fans reveled in that role.
Red Sox fans, meanwhile, continue to think themselves as underdogs instead of overlords, even though their ballclub has become nearly as bloated and just as dependent on mercenaries. They gave J.D. Drew a $14 million-a-year deal, for example, they're on their fourth shortstop since the 2004 title, and only eight players off that championship 25-man roster remain.
None of that has kept them from becoming the darlings of baseball's TV networks or selling out enemy ballparks with their own fans, something that only the Yankees and the Cubs, who have the lovable losers tag now all to themselves, manage to do.
---
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org

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