DENVER — DENVER -- They started this season as a World Series favorite, a team with a $143 million payroll, a rabid fan base and a roster brimming with highly-paid, veteran talent.
Last night, before an energetic but ultimately crestfallen crowd at Coors Field, the Boston Red Sox made good on all of that promise with a 4-3 victory against the Colorado Rockies in Game 4 to complete a World Series sweep and secure the franchise's second title in four seasons.
After blowing a 2-2 fastball past Colorado pinch hitter Seth Smith for the Series-ending strikeout, Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon threw his glove high into the Denver sky and then leapt into the bear hug of Red Sox catcher and captain Jason Varitek.
Within moments, a dancing, jumping, screaming group of Red Sox shuttled around the infield.
Papelbon predictably secured the last five outs, though Colorado pinch hitter Jamey Carroll nearly tied the game with one out in the bottom of the ninth with a long fly ball to left that Jacoby Ellsbury caught while leaping at the wall.
The Red Sox's heroes of Game 4 deftly represented the mix of youth and veterans that meshed perfectly on a team that won 96 games in the regular season and its last seven in the playoffs.
Cancer survivor Jon Lester, in his first postseason start, threw nearly six innings of shutout ball. Boston's first run was scored by Ellsbury on a single by New England baseball's ultimate Mr. Clutch, veteran David Ortiz.
Mike Lowell, a soft-spoken leader who came to Boston as a trade throw-in, homered and scored two runs and was named World Series Most Valuable Player.
Another pending free agent, Mike Timlin, picked up two key strikeouts.
Little used outfielder Bobby Kielty homered in the eighth, which proved to be the winning run, and the dominant Papelbon finished it up.
All-Stars and bench guys, kids and old men, together they won a championship.
The Red Sox became the 23rd team in World Series history to take a 3-0 lead, and the 20th to complete the sweep. It's the second time in four seasons they have done so, becoming the first team since the New York Yankees in 1998 and 1999 to win eight consecutive World Series games.
Not bad for a franchise that had endured an 86-year title drought from 1918 to 2004.
"The thing with this team is we all feel very special about each other," infielder Alex Cora said. "You ask anybody in the clubhouse about Mike Lowell, they'll say he's a great person first. Everybody in this clubhouse feels that way about everyone."
The upstart Rockies, in contrast, have the indignity of joining the 2005 Astros as the only teams to have been swept in their first World Series appearances. That, after capturing baseball's anything-can-happen imagination by winning 21 of their previous 22 and taking a 10-game winning streak into the World Series.
Befitting their season, the Rockies refused to go away, closing to within one run in the bottom of the eighth on a two-run home run by Garrett Atkins to left against suddenly mortal Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima.
But it wasn't enough. Not against Boston.
As hot as the Rockies might have been, the Red Sox were simply a better team in nearly every facet, outscoring Colorado 29-10 in the sweep.
"We had our backs against the wall," said Red Sox outfielder J.D. Drew, referring to his team's 3-1 deficit to the Cleveland Indians in the American League Championship Series. "And to get the team to gel like this that is really special."
For much of last evening, the teams were entangled in an old-fashioned pitchers' duel between two men who had overcome life-threatening illnesses to come back and pitch in the World Series.
Lester, 23, was treated for lymphoma last year and spent half of this season working his way back to the majors. Colorado's Aaron Cook, 28, missed part of 2005 after surgeries to relieve blood clots from his lungs in 2004.
The biggest obstacle facing Cook last night, however, was rust. Colorado's Opening Day starter, Cook was shut down after his start Aug. 10 due to an oblique injury. He hadn't pitched in a major league game since - the longest layoff in between starts for a World Series starter since the Yankees' Bob Grim went 112 days before taking the mound in Game 5 in 1955.
Yet Cook nearly matched Lester pitch for pitch. He gave up a run in the first and another in the fourth, when Lowell doubled and then made a great headfirst slide to score on an RBI single to right field by Varitek.
Cook (three earned runs on six hits in six-plus innings) left in the seventh after surrendering a homer to Lowell to start the inning.
He just couldn't outpitch Lester. Only once, in the second inning, did the Rockies have two runners on at the same time against the young left-hander.
Tulowitzki and Holliday, key cogs of the Rockies' offense, were hitless in six at-bats against Lester last night.
After issuing a two-out walk in the sixth, Lester was pulled for Delcarmen, who ended the inning with a strikeout. The Rockies didn't score until the seventh, when Brad Hawpe homered against Delcarmen.
The 41-year-old Timlin bailed out Delcarmen that inning with clutch strikeouts of Kazuo Matsui and Troy Tulowitzki.
From there, Okajima struggled, but Papelbon officially broke the hearts of 50,041 at Coors Field while sending Red Sox fans throughout New England into a euphoric state.
It was a fitting end for the big-money, big-expectation Red Sox, who all year have watched inexpensive, homegrown players such as Lester, Ellsbury, Papelbon and second baseman Dustin Pedroia excel once they were given an opportunity.
A final victory fueled by the perfect combination of youth and experience.