At long last the sports fans of Boston have a championship to celebrate. Finally, finally, finally. They poured out of the bars and into the streets Wednesday night and let loose. They pumped fists, screamed, hugged, howled at the eclipsed moon, and who can blame them? Yes, sir, it’s been a while since they’ve been able to celebrate like this.
Almost nine months.
The Red Sox shut out the Cardinals 3-0 in St. Louis Wednesday, completing a stunning four-game World Series sweep of a team that won 105 games during the regular season. It was the first major sports championship for Boston since the Patriots won the Super Bowl in February.
And, by the way, it’s the first World Series title for the Red Sox since 1918.
Being a Red Sox fan will never be the same, at least not while anyone old enough to read these words still breathes. Lifetimes worth of losing, of frustration and heartache, of almosts and never-weres, are washed away. “Pesky holds the ball!” and “Behind the bag!” may not be forgotten, but they’ve been tamed.
Every team kicks away a golden chance at a championship now and then. Even these Cardinals, with all their championships and their happy, well-adjusted fans, had 3-1 leads in the 1968 and 1985 Series and lost them both. These things happen all over and become part of the rich tapestry of a team’s history.
In Boston, they’ve come to define the very soul of fandom.
Chicago’s teams have gone longer without a title. The White Sox last went to the World Series in 1959 and last won it in 1917. The Cubs last played in the Fall Classic in 1945 and haven’t won since 1908. But somehow it’s different in Chicago. The White Sox and Cubs are mere losers, only hapless. The Red Sox are tragic.
To be a Red Sox fan is to carry a burden, to know, absolutely know, that no matter how bright the dawn, tomorrow will bring a new darkness. To root for the Red Sox is to know that success is fleeting, and worse, any success just makes the inevitable defeat all the more painful.
Until now. Now it’s all changed. This time the Sox blew a big lead in Game 1 of the Series, then got the lead back, blew that, and still won. Two well-pitched games later Sox fans found themselves with a 3-0 lead, staring at needing one win in four games.
And they scarcely knew what to do about it other than worry that if there was anything worse than blowing a 3-0 lead in a seven-game series, it had to be blowing a 3-0 lead in a seven-game series the week after you’d become the first team ever to overcome a 3-0 deficit in a seven-game series. And guess who had a chance to pull that one off.
Not this time. Johnny Damon pulled a Jason Marquis pitch into the right-field bullpen to lead off the game, and that was all the Red Sox needed. They added two more in the third on a Trot Nixon double. Derek Lowe, shaky all year but terrific in October, threw seven shutout innings. The Cards went quietly. Three relievers and two innings later Edgar Renteria earned the odd distinction of being the last batter in two different World Series. He’d won the ’97 Series as a Marlin with a base hit.
This time he bounced one back to the mound and was thrown out by Keith Foulke. The Sox leaped on each other. Twelve hundred miles away the fans roared into the streets, changed forever. The Red Sox had finally done it, had finally buried the ghosts of 1918 and Babe Ruth and all those years. “We forgive Bill Buckner,” read a sign in the Busch Stadium stands. The Red Sox were champions at last.
In other words, they’re just another team now. The sackcloth and ashes are so 2003.
There’s something beautiful, almost holy, about rooting for a team that, for all the close calls, hasn’t won in so long. Any Red Sox fan will tell you that what they’ve wanted for as long as they can remember was a championship, that they’d give up anything to get one, anything.
And now that they have one, they’re just going to want another.
One day soon this orgy of relief and joy, these tears shed for relatives who lived and died without seeing this moment, it’s all going to seem a little silly.
The Red Sox have a huge, heavily populated home region and a cash register of a stadium, and they outspend everyone but the Yankees. If the Red Sox continue to shrewdly parlay their financial advantages into talent-rich rosters — exactly what the Sox did this year and exactly what they complain about the Yankees doing — they have a chance to win quite a bit more in the coming years. Don’t be surprised if a decade or so from now the Red Sox are looked upon as Evil Empire II, the Yankees North.
Remember that the World Series MVP, Manny Ramirez, would have been a Texas Ranger this year if the Red Sox had been successful in their attempt to trade for Alex Rodriguez, baseball’s highest-paid player.
And don’t forget that less than a decade ago, the Yankees — who outmaneuvered the Sox by getting Rodriguez — were a hustling, likable bunch riding a wave of camaraderie to their first championship in 18 years. Eighteen years without a championship is 86 in Yankee years.
Things are already changing. “I really hope the Sox lose,” read an e-mail that arrived after Game 3 from a “lifelong Sox fan” who lamented the new breed of Red Sox rooter who hasn’t endured years of losing and doesn’t know who Mookie Wilson and Bucky Dent are. Lines are being drawn even as we speak, boundaries between true fans and bandwagon jumpers, the latter defined as anyone who became a Sox fan after the person speaking did. “You don’t remember Yaz? Newbie.”
There’s nothing quite like winning, but if you really have a flair for it — and they did in Boston these last 86 years — losing has its charms too.
Which brings us to the Cardinals, a 105-win juggernaut that steamed into this World Series, fell on its side, wheezed and expired. This team that could beat you so many ways, with power, with small ball, with pitching and defense, never looked like it had a chance after that Game 1 rally fell short. The pitchers got rocked, the hitters were quiet.
The Cards are the first team to win 105 games and lose the World Series since the 1969 Baltimore Orioles, who won 109 before losing to the Miracle Mets in five games. The 1998 Braves, with 106 wins, and the 2001 Mariners, with 116, lost in the League Championship Series. The other five teams that have won 105 since the schedule expanded to 162 games have all won the World Series.
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa has now taken three teams that won at least 103 games to the World Series and lost with all of them, winning one game in the process, in 1988 with the 104-win A’s against the Dodgers. Two years later the A’s won 103 and got swept by the Reds. In between La Russa won his only championship, leading Oakland to a sweep over the Giants after winning 99 in the regular season.
Maybe it’s something La Russa’s doing or not doing in the postseason, or maybe it’s just bad luck or the statistically insignificant number of games involved. But with La Russa closing in on a decade in St. Louis, the Cardinals haven’t won the World Series in 22 years and counting.
Twenty-two years isn’t a lifetime or anything. But it’s a start.
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