October 28, 2004

Red Sox Erase 86 Years of Futility in 4 Games

ST. LOUIS, Oct. 27 - This was for the believers. For Ted Williams and Yaz and all the others who spent a career beneath a boulder that kept rolling down a hill. This was an exorcism of 86 years of anguish.

On Wednesday night, Babe Ruth gave up. From Bangor to Brattleboro, Nashua to Nantucket, Waterbury to Woonsocket, the fans of New England can finally say it: the Boston Red Sox are the world champions. Nothing will ever be quite the same.

The Red Sox won the World Series on Wednesday for the first time since 1918, breaking the life sentence they incurred when they sold Ruth to the Yankees two years later. The Red Sox, the franchise that perfected heartbreak, won the title with one of the most dominating performances in World Series history, silencing the St. Louis Cardinals, 3-0, in Game 4 to sweep a series in which they never trailed. They swept the Series after they had trailed the Yankees by 3-0 in the American League Championship Series.

They did it at Busch Stadium, in the same city where Johnny Pesky held the ball in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series, the first of four Series calamities for the Red Sox. They also lost in the seventh game in 1967, 1975 and 1986.

Six playoff losses followed in the next 17 seasons, building the anticipation ever higher in Boston. As the Red Sox' principal owner, John Henry, said before Game 4, "Some people have told me it would be the biggest thing since the Revolutionary War."

The new question in Boston will not be when the Red Sox will ever win the World Series. It might be how many statues to erect at Fanueil Hall. There were many heroes of this World Series, with the starting pitchers standing tallest.

Curt Schilling allowed no earned runs over six innings in Game 2, with blood seeping from his injured right ankle and through his sock. Pedro Martínez, the ace who may have thrown his last pitch for the team, shut out the Cardinals for seven innings in Game 3. Derek Lowe, who earned the victory in the clinching game of all three postseason series this fall, did the same on Wednesday.

Keith Foulke recorded the final out in every Series game. With two outs in the ninth inning on Wednesday, he fielded a grounder from Edgar Renteria, took a few steps toward first and carefully made an underhand toss to Doug Mientkiewicz.

The series was over, and catcher Jason Varitek pounced on Foulke between the mound and the first-base line. The rest of the team poured from the dugout and bullpen, a joyous throng. Curtis Leskanic, a relief pitcher, fell on his back and flapped his arms, making a snow angel on the infield grass.

The Red Sox scored in the first inning of every game. On Wednesday, Johnny Damon got them going, ripping a home run into the Cardinals' bullpen to lead off the game. When the Cardinals tried to respond in the bottom of the first inning, their rally quickly fizzled.

Tony Womack led off with a single, bringing up Larry Walker, the Cardinals' leading hitter in the Series. Walker had not put down a sacrifice bunt since May 4, 1991, but these were desperate times. He bunted Womack to second.

Up came Albert Pujols, the slugger who is considered the best hitter in the National League besides Barry Bonds. But Pujols, who had failed to drive in a run in the first three games, missed another chance when he grounded out to second. Scott Rolen followed with a dribbler up the first-base line, and he dived for first base. But Lowe grabbed it and tagged him for the third out.

For the Cardinals, it was another dreary sequence. And when those hitters came up in the fourth inning, it was no better. Lowe fooled Pujols on a slider for a swinging third strike. Rolen swung at the next pitch and popped out meekly to first. Even Cardinals fans, the most polite in baseball, were moved to boo.

By then, their team was down by 3-0.

The Red Sox, who perfected the two-out rally in the World Series, did it again in the third inning. After Pujols threw out Manny Ramirez on a grounder to first, the Red Sox had runners at the corners with two outs. But Jason Marquis walked Bill Mueller, loading the bases for Trot Nixon.

Nixon likes to swing early in the count, but he let Marquis's first three pitches go by for balls. With a 3-0 count, Marquis left a pitch over the middle and Nixon smashed it off the fence in right-center field. A few feet higher, and it would have been a grand slam.

Two runs scored, and Mueller might have followed but he tripped rounding third. Even so, the Red Sox had jumped on the Cardinals' starter again. Woody Williams, Matt Morris and Jeff Suppan had combined for an 11.91 earned run average in their three starts.

Marquis was better, throwing hard enough to make the Red Sox swing and miss now and then. But he was no match for Lowe, who was frustrating the Cardinals' revamped lineup. After Womack's leadoff single, Lowe retired 13 hitters in a row. At that point, the Red Sox had set down 33 of 35 St. Louis batters.

Renteria doubled with one out in the fifth, bringing up John Mabry, who replaced the hitless Reggie Sanders in the starting lineup.

Mabry struck out, arguing with Umpire Chuck Meriwether that he had foul-tipped the pitch. But the ball was well off the plate; Mabry should not have swung in the first place. Catcher Yadier Molina, who replaced Mike Matheny in the lineup, grounded out to end the inning.

When the Cardinals came up in the sixth, pinch-hitter Marlon Anderson tried to spark a rally by bunting on the first pitch. It went right back to Lowe, who tossed to first for an easy out.

With two outs in the inning, Lowe issued his first walk, bringing Pujols to the plate. But Pujols failed again, popping to second to end the inning.

Once again, the Red Sox had stepped over a trap door. Everything that could go right was. It was utterly unlike the Red Sox, the opposite of everything that had happened in the last 85 years.

Twelve-hundred miles away in Boston, the hometown of General Manager Theo Epstein, the character of a region was changing. Or was it?

"Boston still has its blind optimists and it still has its Calvinistic fatalists," Epstein said before Game 4. "They're entertaining. But they just want to win. All this talk about the Red Sox' experience being different when we finally win, I don't really buy that.

"If we're lucky enough to win one more game, every single Red Sox fan's going to enjoy it and not have to find a way to enjoy it. It's going to come to them naturally. We'll still be the special franchise that we've been."

Still special, but with a few more believers in the flock.

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