Baseball: Horns beeped, church bells rang as 'The Curse' died

Bud Collins reflects on the reaction as Boston break the jinx that has brought them a nation's sympathy

The moon disappeared on Wednesday night, and so did the "The Curse". Eighty-six years later, the year 1918 could at last be laid to rest. That was the relieved, grateful feeling of 14 million citizens of Red Sox Nation, a state of mind embracing the six states of New England. Generations of frustrated devotees of a baseball team called the Boston Red Sox had come and gone since their guys last won the championship called the World Series in 1918.

The moon disappeared on Wednesday night, and so did the "The Curse". Eighty-six years later, the year 1918 could at last be laid to rest. That was the relieved, grateful feeling of 14 million citizens of Red Sox Nation, a state of mind embracing the six states of New England. Generations of frustrated devotees of a baseball team called the Boston Red Sox had come and gone since their guys last won the championship called the World Series in 1918.

Conquest interruptus had cruelly snatched the title at the last moment from the Bostons in 1946, 1967, 1975 and 1986. In the ultimate best-of-seven game Series, they had always failed in the seventh, and the belief that they were cursed developed, and had a long life.

Boston's historic agony kindled sympathy across the country. They became America's Team - not just Red Sox Nation's - on resurrecting themselves against their traditional tormentors, the New York Yankees, in the semi-final play-off for the American League pennant. Behind 3-0 to the Yankees, the Sox uniquely won four straight - and just kept on going.

And this time the star-crossed team didn't black out while the moon did. Beneath the total lunar eclipse they finally eclipsed The Curse a thousand miles from home in St Louis, beating the Cardinals, the rulers of the National League, 3-0.

When pitcher Keith Foulke retired the last hapless St Louis batsman, jubilation broke out in Boston, and throughout the province. Horns beeped, church bells rang. Thousands of celebrants flooded the streets in the Back Bay neighbourhood near Fenway Park, the Sox den, boogieing and baying at the shadowed moon. One of them, student Jaimee Ryan, kicked up her heels, shrieking: "We've eighty-sixed the 86 years".

The home team turned out to be a house of Cards, unable to even scratch out a momentary lead somewhere during the remarkable four-game sweep: 11-9, 6-2, 4-1, 3-0. The team with the most wins during the regular season, with 105 victories, the Cardinals swung vainly in the face of Boston's pitching,

Only 10 days before the Sox had been mangled in their own playroom, 19-8 to trail the Yankees dreadfully by three games, and all seemed lost to the highest compensated ($190m/£158m payroll), most renowned team in the game. Again.

"We knew if we won that fourth game to stay alive we'd be all right," beamed Johnny Damon, even though no team before had overcome such an obstacle. Resembling a Biblical holy man in beard and shoulder-length locks, Damon, the Curse-busting team's spiritual leader, said: "The Yankees needed only one win but we wouldn't let them get it."

The scruffy, devil-may-care Sox, calling themselves "Idiots" and "Cowboys" were delighted to get The Curse off their backs, even though none of them had anything to do with it.

The Red Sox rookie manager, Terry Francona, said: "I never believed in a curse, but I do know how much people in New England suffered. Grandfathers hoping they'd stay alive long enough to see us win, knowing their fathers hadn't."

A team coach, 85-year-old Johnny Pesky, a remnant of the 1946 losers, wept joyfully, having "prayed I'd see this in my lifetime".

Often the jinx was called "The Curse of the Bambino", stirred up by a book of the same name by The Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy. The Bambino was the monumental George H (Babe) Ruth, perhaps the greatest player of them all. As a pitcher and batsman, Ruth had spurred the Sox to World Series championships in 1915, 1916, and 1918. A rambunctious rascal, the Babe was then unloaded, sold to the Yankees by the Sox owner, Harry Frazee, since vilified.

Whereupon the Babe's presence in New York ignited the Yankees' practically eternal success, a run of pennants, and Boston's woes began.

Some called it "The Curse of Jackie Robinson". Robinson, the first black to crash baseball's colour bar and play in the major leagues, in 1947, had a try-out with the Red Sox shortly after World War II. But he was not offered a contract and signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers for whom he became an all-timer. It was soon clear that the Boston management at the time was racist, the last to employ black players.

Whatever - ding-dong, the wicked old curse is dead. In Santa Fe, New Mexico, a Navajo medicine man named Chester Nez may have helped. He had wafted his blessing on the Red Sox as well as Presidential candidate John Kerry. Around Boston, folks praying for a triple - Sox, Kerry and the the Patriots - have at least one. And the Super Bowl champions, the Patriots, winners of 21 straight games, could repeat.

Beating the Cardinals was particularly satisfying to Curse theorists. St Louis won the 1946 and 1967 Series over the Sox, but this time the Sox were moonstruck, and shot the moon. Some worried the night's karma might be broken when the Cardinals sent a substitute batsman named Hector Luna into the fray. But pitcher Alan Embree eclipsed him in a strike-out.

Bud Collins is a columnist for the Boston Globe and an NBC commentator

www.BudCollinsTennis.com

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