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Red Sox find a winning mix

The Baltimore Sun

DENVER -- Boston Red Sox reliever Mike Timlin asked for a brief reprieve to put on his scuba goggles, then he stood in the middle of the visitors' clubhouse at Coors Field early yesterday morning and gave the go-ahead.

Immediately, Boston's 25-year-old reliever Manny Delcarmen pointed an opened bottle of champagne and sprayed it like a hose, all of its contents splashing onto the 41-year-old Timlin's chest. The veteran waited for the kid to finish being a kid in his first world championship celebration before they hugged.

Red Sox captain Jason Varitek watched the scene unfold, summoned Delcarmen and handed over the sparkling World Series Commissioner's Trophy like an unwieldy, sterling-silver baton.

Symbolic gestures superbly appropriate for a club that has turned players in their prime, veterans in decline and hungry 20-somethings into a potential juggernaut.

"It is just a tremendous mix of extremely young players and some extremely old players," said Varitek, 35. "And I'm in the middle."

Note to the Orioles and the rest of the major leagues: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

It's not just that these Red Sox have won two titles in four seasons after being baseball's running joke for 86 years. Or that each time they swept their National League opponent in four games, including outscoring the white-hot Colorado Rockies, 29-10, during the past week.

But it's that they did it with the perfect blend of experience and youth. And that, with the exception of a couple of tweaks, this club will look the same for at least the next two years.

"It could be tremendous," Timlin said of the Red Sox's future. "The young guys that occupy this team when the veterans leave, they will be stars."

Consider that only two significant members of the 2007 team, starter Curt Schilling and third baseman Mike Lowell, are free agents this winter. The other pending free agents are replaceable reserves, such as Bobby Kielty and Eric Hinske, or old-timers such as Timlin and knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. Furthermore, at the end of 2008, Varitek is the only key cog that isn't potentially under the club's control.

The safe money is that Lowell and Varitek will re-sign - and so might Schilling, Timlin and Wakefield to one-year deals. If the Red Sox want to find replacements, however, they have the revenue to build on the majors' second-largest payroll.

"We are stable in the sense that we have a core of veterans and young guys coming up," club president Larry Lucchino said. "We've still got to work to make various acquisitions in the offseason. There are 29 teams that want to knock your block off."

That was the case in 2004, too, when the Red Sox won the World Series with a stable of 30-somethings. But because it was older, it had the look of a one-and-done club.

What the Red Sox accomplished in scouting and development after the 2004 World Series, however, is nothing short of amazing. Since then, their farm system has produced pitchers Jon Lester, 23, Clay Buchholz, 23, and Delcarmen; outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, 24; second baseman Dustin Pedroia, 24; and closer Jonathan Papelbon, 26. And they dealt highly touted shortstop Hanley Ramirez and three other prospects to the Florida Marlins to get ace Josh Beckett, 27, and Lowell, 33, the 2007 World Series Most Valuable Player.

They rebuilt and reloaded simultaneously.

"We're trying to make progress. That is our biggest challenge," general manager Theo Epstein said. "Trying to compete at the highest level at any individual season, and then also keeping more than one eye on the future and developing players who can win in Boston. So we're trying to build something that can sustain success, balancing the present and the future."

Perhaps winning breeds strong team chemistry. Or maybe a club needs the right types of players to create that winning chemistry. But whatever the formula is, these Red Sox seem to have it - from the eight carryovers from the 2004 version to the green and grinning rookies. The generation gap isn't a barrier.

"The main thing is, they are a good group of guys. That's what makes a good team," said Lester, who won Sunday's Game 4 clincher, his first postseason start. "It's not the talent, it's not the payroll. It's the group of guys that come in here and the friendships you build. I mean it when I say there is not one bad guy in this clubhouse."

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