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'Bring us a World Series'

At long last, Johnny Pesky's prayers for his beloved Sox are answered

Posted: Thursday October 28, 2004 3:16AM; Updated: Thursday October 28, 2004 3:18AM
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Dom Dimaggio, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky
Dom Dimaggio (left) and Bobby Doerr (center) joined Johnny Pesky for Game 2 of the World Series at Fenway Park.
Elsa/Getty Images

ST. LOUIS -- In Portland, Ore., a little more than 85 years ago, not even a year after the Boston Red Sox beat the Chicago Cubs to win the World Series, a boy was born.

John Michael Paveskovich grew up, fell in love with the game of baseball and, years later, played professionally for the Sox. He was a good little infielder, too, an All-Star in 1946. He hung around the game, managing the Sox briefly in the early '60s. He's been part of them, it seems, all along.

Just a few months after Johnny was born, the Sox sold the great Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, a move that, as everyone knows, altered the baseball universe, tossing the Sox into a wallow of bad luck and ineptitude and -- if you believe in those sorts of things -- curses that would last nearly a lifetime. The skid actually started before the Babe was sold, way before Johnny got there. It carried on for the seven-plus years he played for the Sox. And through his managerial tenure. And, of course, it persisted afterward. For years and years. For generations.

And then Wednesday came. On a cool October evening in the nation's heartland, the Sox threw off nearly nine decades of frustrations by beating the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4 of the World Series, completing an unlikely sweep and claiming their first Series title since 1918.

Johnny Pesky, 85 years young, was there. Front and center. Smiling.

He knew all along he would be.

"I dreamt about this day," he said in the joyous Red Sox clubhouse after the game. "I said my prayers every night to the big guy: 'Bring us a World Series.'"

In Game 4 of the 100th World Series, Pesky's prayers and the prayers of generations of Red Sox fans were finally answered. It was a celestial, almost otherworldly occasion. It was even marked, late in the game, by a lunar eclipse.

The heavenly display was a mere sideshow compared to the earthbound one, at least in the eyes of the Red Sox Nation. The Sox, after making history by dispatching the hated Yankees in a come-from-behind win in the American League Championship Series, beat the Cardinals 3-0, four-hitting the most powerful lineup in the National League. It was a fitting finish to a short, markedly one-sided and otherwise completely forgettable Series.

This was not the type of Series the Sox were expected to play. This was a Series without sweat, for the most part, and without tears, at least until afterward. There was tension in every game, but that was more the result of the weight of waiting 86 years rather than pressure from the Cardinals.

In the end, the Cardinals were no match for the Red Sox. It wasn't even close.

Led by the divine starting pitching of Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe -- and by closer Keith Foulke, who all but shut down the Cards in all four games -- the Sox held St. Louis to a .190 average over the course of the four games. The Sox starters in Games 2, 3 and 4 -- Schilling, Martinez and Lowe -- didn't allow a run in 20 innings.

Cardinals slugger Jim Edmonds had one hit in the four games, a measly bunt in Game 1. Scott Rolen, the All-Star third baseman, was hitless in 15 at-bats, one of the worst World Series showing since the Cardinals' Dal Maxvill went 0-for-22 in the 1968 Series.

Meanwhile, the Sox hitters did just enough against the Cardinals' mediocre pitching. Wednesday, a leadoff home run from Johnny Damon started things. Right fielder Trot Nixon added three doubles, knocking in the other two runs. Manny Ramirez, the MVP of the Series, added a single and hit .412 in the four games.

The Sox, so sloppy in the two wins in Boston, played the two here in St. Louis flawlessly. The Cardinals never had a chance.

"That's what perseverance is. You go through some tough times and you fight through it," Nixon said afterward. "And now, it's over. It's over."

By that, Nixon meant the curse, if that's what it was. And the waiting. Suddenly, everything the Sox have had to endure for almost a century, everything that generations of New England baseball fans have had to shoulder, was lifted on this one heavenly night.

"Every time you don a Red Sox uniform, you have to talk about the history," Nixon said. "Everyone thought it was a curse. Now that's just a five-letter word."

Hundreds of Red Sox fans, many of whom traveled from the Northeast, chanted in the stands afterward as champagne-soaked players hugged each other, family members and anyone else who came around.

A sign in Busch Stadium read "Bye Bye Bambino."

Another one read "We Forgive Bill Buckner."

"We're finally winners," Lowe said. "We're not the happy guys that come in second."

In the middle of it all was Pesky, answering questions, accepting congratulations, wondering at it all. A TV man ushered him from the clubhouse out to the field, and when the fans saw him, they began to chant. "JOHN-ny PESK-y, JOHN-ny PESK-y."

He leaned over, turned his ear to them and began waving his arm to the beat, a conductor and his heavenly choir.

In a flash, big designated hitter David Ortiz was there to envelop the tiny Pesky in a bear hug. Damon joined in. Kevin Millar gave Pesky a huge and heartfelt hug. And then veteran Tim Wakefield, the knuckleballer, came over and handed Pesky the World Series trophy.

Everyone posed for the cameras. And the moment, thusly, was recorded for the history books.

"If I was a poet laureate, I couldn't find the words," Pesky said.

It was OK. The Sox said it all.

John Donovan is a senior writer for SI.com.