FREE AT LAST.
FREE FROM THE YOKE OF CRUSHED EXPECTATIONS, AUTUMN'S bitter brew of annual defeat. Free from the unholy tyranny of Yankees dominance, the 26-0 scorecard, the mocking chant, "1918!" Free from the infamous Curse of the Bambino.
The Boston Red Sox are the 2004 world champions.
Red Sox Nation is free at last.
BELIEVE! That was the word on the massive banner in Fenway Park during the Series. And Boston did. All season. Something was different this year. The tough talk and bravado, honed to an art form by battle-hardened Sox fans over the generations, had substance to it in 2004. It started with the off-season deals made by Theo--a G.M. with rock-star status enough to need only a single name--who signed a warrior, Curt Schilling, from under George Steinbrenner's pen. Later Theo addressed the Sox' other pressing need, adding closer Keith Foulke. Suddenly, on paper Boston's pitching staff looked stronger than the Yankees', whose Game 7 win over the Sox in the 2003 ALCS was the most recent, and haunting, ghost in Boston's terrifying attic of collapses.
And what a ghoulish attic it was. So close, so often. Four World Series appearances since the Sox' last championship, in 1918 ... four Game 7 losses: 1946, 1967, 1975, 1986. A heartbreak for every age. It's said that being a Red Sox fan is its own religion, that to cheer for them is to enter a world of floods and trials of Job. Old Testament stuff. How excruciating to live through plagues like the one brought on by Bucky Dent in '78, famines like the one caused by Bill Buckner in '86, afflictions like the one visited upon the Nation by Grady Little with his decision to stick with a gassed Pedro Martinez against the Yanks in 2003, five outs away from the pennant.
No Bosox fan is untouched by these memories. No family is unscarred. Fathers visit these trials upon their sons and daughters, taking them, year after year, back to the scene of the crime. Sold-out Fenway, Updike's miniature bandbox, beloved home of the stricken and oppressed. They build backyard shrines to the Red Sox, miniature plywood Green Monsters throughout suburban Boston, painstakingly recreated in every detail, right down to the Morse code initials of Tom Yawkey and his wife. ( NFL quarterbacks Matt and Tim Hasselbeck grew up with a mini-Monster in their yard in Norfolk.) They are daily reminders to young Wiffle-ballers that, come autumn, the first falling leaf will lead to grief.
"It's about faith," a man from New Hampshire neatly summated from the tent he'd pitched outside the ticket office of Fenway Park, where he was in line for World Series tickets. "We're never given a reason to believe, yet we believe."
They say that revenge is a dish best served cold. Eighty-six years the Red Sox waited. It took that long to find the winning recipe, a gashouse gang of goofballs who called themselves the Idiots. Manny Ramirez, sole resident of Planet Manny. Pedro (Who's Your Daddy) Martinez. Neanderthal man, Johnny Damon. A different hairstyle for every position.
When they finally started serving out the humble pie, say this for the Sox, they invited the right teams to the table. The Cardinals, the winningest team in baseball in 2004, at 105-57. The Yankees, they of 39 pennants and 26 World Series titles. ( Boston fans actually rooted for the Yanks to beat the Minnesota Twins in the first round of the playoffs, believing it wouldn't be the same to win a World Series without first spitting in the eye of the tiger.) And the Anaheim Angels, 2002 World Series champs.