Baseball: Boston fight Bambino's curse

America's most durable sporting soap opera begins anew today. Will this be the year when the curse is lifted and the Boston Red Sox finally win the World Series, the prize that has eluded them since 1918? The Sox open the American League play-offs in Anaheim tonight against the Angels after their best regular season since 1978 - even though they were pipped to the AL East pennant by their eternal rivals, the New York Yankees.

The Red Sox have laboured under "the curse of the Bambino" since that Series win. In 1919 new management sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees for $100,000. Boston have not won a Series since.

This time they surely have a chance of laying history's ghost. Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz have been baseball's most formidable offensive duo in 2004, while the arrival of Curt Schilling alongside Pedro Martinez has given the Sox pitching real depth.

First, though, they must overcome Anaheim before facing their nemesis - assuming the Yankees get past Minnesota in the other AL divisional series. That is no certainty, given that the Yankees must twice face the Minnesota Twins' Johan Santana, the AL's best pitcher.

If the Sox can defy history, the Series match-up traditionalists would like to pit them against the St Louis Cardinals, who open the National League play-offs with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In the other divisional series, Atlanta Braves take on Houston Astros, who ended the season with a seven-game win streak to snatch the NL wild card.

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