Not Your Father's Red Sox

And it's only because this group gets it that GM Theo Epstein and the men who run this team did something over the winter that you practically never see anymore:

They won the World Series and then brought everybody back.

OK, not quite everybody. Eric Hinske, Eric Gagne and Doug Mirabelli aren't here anymore. But Sean Casey is really the only high-profile addition. And 22 of the 25 Red Sox who appeared in a postseason game last October are still wearing this uniform. If you hadn't thought much about how unusual that is in modern baseball, well, think again.

Of the 21 other teams that won a World Series since 1985, only one — the 2002-03 Angels — brought back this many returnees, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. So you just don't see this. And what's especially notable in this team's case is that you didn't even see it in Boston the last time the Red Sox were trying to repeat.

As beloved as those 2004 Red Sox may have made themselves in New England, eight of them didn't come back — including Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Orlando Cabrera and the guy who caught the last out of the World Series, Doug Mientkiewicz.

So because nothing this organization does nowadays is an accident, it's telling you something that it didn't make a single significant change to this group.

"We didn't, but we didn't really want to," says Francona. "I don't think we were stuck in a rut. We won, and we like our players."

We'll never know what might have happened, of course, had they not won the World Series. Would they have made that Johan Santana trade? Might have. Would they have been able to carve out that below-market contract to keep the World Series MVP, Mike Lowell? Maybe not.

The priorities would have been different. The perspective would have been different. The perceptions would have been different. And repeating would have been some other team's goal.

But the sliding doors slid the way they slid. The big decisions were made. And now the new Red Sox look almost identical to the old Red Sox. But whatever forces converged to make that possible, this team didn't bring everybody back just so it could stage a fun little reunion tour, like The Police or Van Halen.

No, there will be changes. They're just more evolutionary changes. Jacoby Ellsbury moves into center field full-time. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz join the rotation for the long haul. Manny Delcarmen is ready to slip into a more prominent setup role.

"We needed to get a little younger," Francona says — and they've accomplished that.

But the core of this team remains unchanged. And there's a danger in that, too. Can a group of players that has been there, won that, possibly be as driven to win again? Isn't that just human nature? So aren't the Red Sox taking a gigantic chance in thinking that this group can recreate the formula to do it again?

"I don't think so," says first baseman Kevin Youkilis. "I think it's a good thing. It's only a good thing if you have the right guys, but we have a lot of hungry guys. We have guys who are hungry every day. We don't have guys who think one World Series is good enough. Our guys here want to win 10. And that's the kind of guys you need."

That is indeed the kind of guys you need. But that's not all you need. The 2004 and 2007 Red Sox didn't just win because they had chemistry and character. They won because they cornered the market on dominating pitching, early and late.

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