Even for these Red Sox, re­peat­ing is the tallest or­der

Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday) - - SPORTS - Twit­ter: @BNight­en­gale BOB NIGHTENGALE

David Dom­browski, the ar­chi­tect of the Red Sox team that steam­rolled the op­po­si­tion in 2018, re­turned from the re­mote is­land of Roatan in the Caribbean last week. He was tanned, re­laxed and had dis­cov­ered you can find new friends in the darn­d­est places.

“It was pretty iso­lated, but there was a gen­tle­man from the Do­mini­can who met me in the men’s room,” Dom­browski says. “He told me, ‘Congratulations. I’m a huge fan. I’m just go­ing to wait out­side for you.’

“Well, I walk out­side, and there’s him and his wife, ready to take pic­tures.” Wel­come to the life of a rock star. Dom­browski, who has led three teams to four World Se­ries berths, says it’s still hard for him to fathom what tran­spired last sea­son. He won his first World Se­ries in 1997 with the then-Florida Mar­lins, only to be im­me­di­ately in­structed to dis­man­tle the team. He built pow­er­houses in Detroit, with the Tigers reach­ing the play­offs five times and win­ning two Amer­i­can League pen­nants, only to come away empty-handed in the World Se­ries.

Now, here he is, sit­ting atop the base­ball world.

“This is a dif­fer­ent feel­ing than I’ve ever had,” Dom­browski tells USA To­day Sports. “I re­mem­ber when we first got to the World Se­ries in 2006 with Detroit, it was a re­ally great feel­ing get­ting there, but when you don’t win, you’re disappointed. There was more to ac­com­plish. That feel­ing never went away. Now, you reach the ul­ti­mate achieve­ment.”

The next mis­sion?

The pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions is try­ing to take the Red Sox where they haven’t ven­tured in a cen­tury: win­ning back-to-back World Se­ries.

This was their fourth World Se­ries ti­tle since 2004, and the good folks of New Eng­land — per­haps a lit­tle spoiled now — want more. They crave his­tory. The last time the Red Sox went to the World Se­ries in suc­ces­sive years was 1915-1916, when Babe Ruth was pitch­ing for them and Tris Speaker was roam­ing the out­field.

The last team to ac­com­plish the feat was the Yan­kees, and that was two decades ago. The 1992-1993 Blue Jays are the only other team to win con­sec­u­tive World Se­ries in the last 40 years.

“It’s hard, no doubt about it,” Yan­kees gen­eral man­ager Brian Cash­man says. “You’ve got to be good. You’ve got to be healthy. You’ve got to be lucky. To repli­cate that on a year-in and year-out ba­sis is pretty much im­pos­si­ble.

“Ob­vi­ously, the ros­ter changes. I re­mem­ber in ’98, we won 125 games, and I traded David Wells, Graeme Lloyd and Homer Bush for Roger Cle­mens be­fore the start of the ’99 spring train­ing. Who the hell would break up a 125-win team but me? I just felt it would make us bet­ter, so we did it.”

The Red Sox, who spent a ma­jor-league­high $239.5 mil­lion on pay­roll last sea­son, were will­ing to at least lis­ten to of­fers this win­ter for cen­ter fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., Rick Por­cello and Xan­der Bo­gaerts but wound up keep­ing them. They lost re­liever Joe Kelly to free agency, and closer Craig Kim­brel remains an un­signed free agent. And a year from now, ace Chris Sale, Hank Aaron Award win­ner J.D. Martinez, for­mer Cy Young win­ner Por­cello and All-Star Bo­gaerts are el­i­gi­ble for free agency.

“Own­er­ship has been great,” Dom­browski says, “but we can’t keep them all. We’re go­ing to have to make some hard de­ci­sions.”

They’ll go into the 2019 sea­son with the high­est pay­roll again, per­haps with­out their All-Star closer. There’s no in­di­ca­tion they’re bring­ing back Kim­brel un­less his price drops.

“Craig did a great job for us. He’s a Hall of Fame re­liever,” Dom­browski says. “But we have not an­tic­i­pated hav­ing a large ex­pen­di­ture for a closer.”

The Red Sox did spend $68 mil­lion to bring back starter Nathan Eo­valdi and an­other $6.25 mil­lion for World Se­ries MVP Steve Pearce.

“It’s nice know­ing we go back to spring train­ing with the ma­jor­ity of the club in­tact,” Dom­browski says, “and to be in po­si­tion to de­fend the World Se­ries ti­tle. We should be con­fi­dent, ex­pe­ri­enced and know how to win. But we also know what we ac­com­plished last year doesn’t re­ally mean any­thing as far as ’19 is con­cerned. You’ve got to start from ground zero. You can’t take any­thing for granted.”

Yep, just ask all of those who have won World Se­ries cham­pi­onships since the Yan­kees in 1998-2000 but never re­peated.

“I’m the wrong per­son to ask,’’ says Cubs pres­i­dent Theo Ep­stein, who won two ti­tles in Bos­ton and one in Chicago but failed to re­turn the fol­low­ing year each time. “We tried mak­ing a lot of changes. We tried not mak­ing a lot of changes. We tried to re­de­fine a nar­ra­tive. We tried to get it out in the open why it’s so hard to re­peat, hop­ing that would help us process it. Noth­ing seemed to work.

“That mo­ti­va­tion can be hard right af­ter you win. I’ve had play­ers tell me it’s hard to fo­cus in­tently early on the fol­low­ing sea­son. Once you get past Open­ing Day and the first few weeks of the sea­son, it feels like you’ve climbed Mount Everest and now you’re all of the way down to the very bot­tom try­ing to take those first few steps again.”

That World Se­ries hang­over is real. The win­ter is shorter. Pitch­ing staffs are fa­tigued. Po­si­tion play­ers’ rou­tines have been al­tered.

“If you go back and look,” Ep­stein says, “there’s some­thing to do with mo­ti­va­tion be­sides the phys­i­cal side, be­cause teams that get to the World Se­ries and lose tend to ac­tu­ally do bet­ter the fol­low­ing year than the teams that go to the World Se­ries and win. So there’s some psy­cho­log­i­cal com­po­nent, a mo­ti­va­tion fac­tor.”

In­deed, just this decade, the Rangers lost the World Se­ries in 2010 to the Giants and were back in 2011. The Roy­als lost the World Se­ries to the Giants in seven games in 2014 and won it in 2015 over the Mets.

Now, it’s the Red Sox’ turn to see if they can defy the odds, reach the post­sea­son for four con­sec­u­tive years for the first time in fran­chise his­tory and be for­ever re­mem­bered as back-to-back champs.

“Those are the teams that stick out,” Dom­browski says. “I look at some teams over the years, and I can’t be­lieve they didn’t win back-to-back. I can’t be­lieve our club in Detroit never won a World Se­ries. It’s just so hard to win in to­day’s world, so when you win back-to-back years, you re­ally stand out. Our goal is to be one of those teams.”


Dave Dom­browski, the Red Sox’ pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions, wants a place in his­tory.


Cubs team pres­i­dent Theo Ep­stein has three World Se­ries cham­pi­onships to his credit — but no two came con­sec­u­tively.

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