Baseball: Red Sox wipe out 86 years of pain as Ramirez fires Series triumph

"Yes!!!" The giant, single-word headline in
The Boston Globe yesterday, above a picture of a heap of joyous baseball players, summed up the exultation and relief of a city and of all of that long traumatised tribe of fans called Red Sox Nation.

"Yes!!!" The giant, single-word headline in The Boston Globe yesterday, above a picture of a heap of joyous baseball players, summed up the exultation and relief of a city and of all of that long traumatised tribe of fans called Red Sox Nation.

At approximately 10.40pm US central time on Wednesday night, Edgar Renteria of the St Louis Cardinals hit a simple come-backer to the pitcher. A slow, deliberate throw to first base for the out and the win - and for the first time in over three generations, since Woodrow Wilson was President and John F Kennedy was a toddler, the Boston Red Sox were champions of the world.

Not only did that 3-0 victory in St Louis give the Red Sox a majestic four-game sweep in the best-of-seven series over the Cardinals. It has expunged for ever the supposed hex brought down upon the team when its owner sold Babe Ruth to their subsequent nemesis, the New York Yankees. Boston now sits atop the baseball universe. And if a certain senator delivers next Tuesday their triumph could be the first leg of a Massachusetts autumn double for the ages.

As the last out was made, tens of thousands of fans poured into the streets of Boston tasting a sensation denied to Red Sox supporters since 1918 when the Sox won their last Series. Two years later the "Curse of the Bambino" descended, and not even players as great as Ted Williams, Carlton Fisk or Carl Yastremski could break it. Until Wednesday night.

"We wanted to do it so badly for the city of Boston," said Kevin Mueller, the Red Sox third baseman. Manny Ramirez, the slugger who was voted Series Most Valuable Player and who has now hit safely in 17 consecutive post-season games, was blunter still: "I don't believe in curses, you make your own destiny. We relaxed and we did it," he said, his uniform soaked in celebratory champagne.

In the stands at Busch Stadium in St Louis, one fan's placard said it all: "86 Years Swept Away." In fact, the final triumph for a team who have specialised in making life difficult for themselves, was a breeze. For that, the Sox can thank the woeful showing of the Cardinals, who had the best 2004 regular season record in baseball, but who have been outplayed in every facet of the game these last few days.

That St Louis' starting pitching might be shaky was no surprise, but the failure of the Cards' vaunted middle innings line-up most certainly was. Over the four games, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds, who between them batted in 358 runs in the regular season, combined for just one RBI, and not a single homer. On Wednesday night, when the game and the championship were on the line, they managed one hit between them.

By contrast, for the last 10 days - ever since that nightmarish 19-8 battering by the Yankees in game three of the series for the American League pennant - Boston have played like men possessed. Instead of folding, the team got better and better. Each win was more clear-cut than the last. By the time it was over, they had reeled off eight straight wins, a record for the modern post-season.

Only in the first game of the Series, which Boston took by 11-9 in a comedy of errors, were St Louis competitive. At no point in the four games did the Cardinals ever hold a lead, even for a single inning - a miserable feat last matched by the San Francisco Giants when they were similarly swept in the "earthquake" World Series of 1989 by the Oakland As.

In retrospect, the overall outcome probably hinged on a base running mistake early on Tuesday evening, which cost the Cardinals a certain run. Had they scored, it would have tied the third game 1-1, and perhaps led to a victory in the first of three games in St Louis. Instead, Boston's wobbly ace Pedro Martinez found his groove to pitch seven ferocious and scoreless innings.

The force was with Boston, it was crystal clear - there would be no Boston choke of Series past, no ghastly blunder to wreck everything. In the fourth game they did not give the Cardinals a chance. Johnny Damon, hair flapping beneath his helmet, sent a home run towering into the Cardinals' bullpen in centre right field from just the fourth pitch he saw, and it was all the Sox would need in a four-hit shut-out.

Derek Lowe, dropped from the starting rotation for part of the regular season, pitched seven scoreless innings of his own. Trott Nixon tacked on two more runs for Boston in the third, and the rest - given the woeful hitting by Messrs Pujols, Rolen and Edmonds - was inevitable.

So what next? How will the team and the fans cope, now that they have nothing to complain about? For a while at least the inferiority complex towards the Yankees has been banished. Indeed, Boston's arch rivals are now in the record books as the only team to have blown a 3-0 lead in a series, a feat that should have belonged to the Red Sox by birthright.

Maybe, as another poster proclaimed, this week marks "The Start of a Dynasty," in which the Red Sox replace the Yankees as the dominant force in baseball. But it seems unlikely. More apposite perhaps was the front page of a New York tabloid, getting in a last dig at the old enemy by proclaiming, simply, "2090". In other words, the Sox have another 86 years wait in store before they win it all again.

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