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Monday, October 27, 2014

Ten years ago today, Cards and the Curse were both put to rest

Red Sox prove Al Gore right.

Excerpted from "Miracle at Fenway"

It is hard to imagine how winning a World Series could be anticlimactic for a team, especially a team that had not won one in 86 years. But that was absolutely the case for the 2004 Red Sox. They had completed the greatest turnaround in sports history and had exorcised the demons of their past all in one week, and nothing they did against the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals was going to top it.

Of course if they lost to the Cardinals, well, that might be another story. If they fell short again in the World Series, as they had in 1946, 1967, 1975, and 1986 – always in seven games – wouldn't Yankee fans still be able to taunt them about 1918? People still remembered the '67 Impossible Dream Red Sox fondly, as well as the '75 team led by rookie phenoms Fred Lynn and Jim Rice. But those teams hadn't gone all the way, so the Red Sox were still thought of as the franchise that couldn't win the big one.

If St. Louis won, this would be Hendu 2.0.

In the end, there would be no need to worry about such possibilities. The 2004 World Series was one of the most one-sided in history.

The Red Sox won four straight games and never trailed for a single inning. St. Louis had a 105-57 record during the regular season, the best in baseball, and had a Hall of Fame manager in Tony LaRussa. They had two 40-homer sluggers in Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds, a deep starting pitching staff with four 15-game winners, and a strong bullpen anchored by closer Jason Isringhausen and his 47 saves. Three Cardinals – center fielder Edmonds, catcher Mike Matheny, and third baseman Scott Rolen (who also hit 34 homers) – won Gold Gloves for their fielding brilliance.

Against the Red Sox, this group looked like the 1962 Mets.

There were two times in four games that the Cardinals had an opportunity to make the 100th World Series a real contest. In Game 1 at Fenway Park, the Red Sox took a 4-0 lead in the first inning thanks to another David Ortiz home run, off Woody Williams, and by the end of the third inning had a 7-2 advantage Then St. Louis battled from way back, much as Boston had done in the ALCS opener at Yankee Stadium. They chased Boston starter Tim Wakefield with three fourth-inning runs, and in the sixth tied the game, 7-7, with two more against Bronson Arroyo.

A powerhouse club -- until it counted.

Boston went back ahead, 9-7, in the seventh on RBI singles by Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, but the Cards struck again in the eighth, getting two runs on a pair of errors by Ramirez in left field. They had men on first and second with only one out in a 9-9 game, and the heart of their order coming up in Pujols, Rolen, and Edmonds. But just as Curt Schilling was brought to Boston to beat the Yankees, Keith Foulke now did what he had been acquired to do. After intentionally walking Pujols to load the bases, he got Rolen to pop out to third and struck out Edmonds.

In the bottom of the eighth, after an error by usually sure-handed shortstop Edgar Renteria, Mark Bellhorn stepped in – batting under .200 in the postseason, but with home runs in two straight games – and made it three in a row with a two-run blast off Julian Tavarez and the Pesky Pole in right. Foulke set St. Louis down in the ninth, and Boston had dodged a big bullet with an 11-9 win.

When Curt Schilling woke up at sevenon the morning of Game 2, he told reporters after the game, he couldn't walk or even move. “I honest to God didn't think I was going to take the ball today,” he said. “I didn't think I could.”

He did, and what he did with it further sealed his legend.

A champion's salute.

Jason Varitek, perhaps fueled by one of his regular visits to Trutony's Deli in Newton before heading into the ballpark, hit a 400-foot triple to deep center in the first inning to give Boston a 2-0 lead. Schilling made the advantage stand up, throwing six innings of four-hit baseball and allowing just one unearned run. The Sox showed patience at the plate, drawing six walks to go with eight hits, and won, 6-2, to take a 2-0 lead in the Series heading to Missouri for Game 3.

St. Louis was a much friendlier environment for Boston fans than New York. Folks could wear their Red Sox hats and shirts and jackets and not worry about being ridiculed or challenged to a fight. Lynne Smith, known back home as “The Fenway Hat Lady” because she literally wore the ballpark – or a miniature model of it, complete with Green Monster and lights – on her head, was asked numerous times by fans at Busch Stadium to take photos with them, and was happy to oblige.

Suppan's blunder was costly.

The third inning of Game 3 marked the second and last opportunity the Cardinals had to make this a competitive series, and once again they couldn't take advantage. Starter Pedro Martinez, making what would turn out to be his last appearance in a Red Sox uniform, got early support on a Manny Ramirez home run in the first inning, and had a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the third. Then St. Louis showed some life. Pitcher Jeff Suppan (yet another former Red Sox faced by Boston in the postseason) managed an infield single, and Edgar Renteria hit a ball to right field that Trot Nixon misplayed into a double.

With men on second and third, and nobody out, the Cardinals had a chance to do some major damage against Martinez, who had already endured some tough moments in the playoffs. When Larry Walker hit a ground ball to second base, Boston's strategy was to concede the run and get the sure out at first base. Bellhorn, playing deep at second for this reason, threw to first to get Walker.

But Suppan, seeming confused, stopped midway to home plate – and then tried to go back to third. David Ortiz, playing first base because of the lack of a designated hitter in the National League ballpark, spotted Suppan in no man's land and gunned the ball across to third baseman Bill Mueller, who tagged Suppan to complete the unusual double play. Pujols grounded out, and the game – and effectively, the series – was over. Martinez wound up pitching seven shutout innings, and Boston won, 4-1.

Pedro did his part...

Derek Lowe, like Martinez a free agent who was unsure if he would be with Boston in 2005, got the start in Game 4. This gave him the unique possibility of winning the deciding game of all three playoff rounds after being demoted from the starting rotation before the postseason. A victory would be the ultimate way of both proving his full worth to the coaching staff and setting himself up for a big payday.

Johnny Damon helped Lowe on his way by homering in the first inning, Boston's fourth straight game scoring in the opening frame. Trot Nixon added a two-run double in the third, one of his three doubles on the night, and the 3-0 lead stood up. Lowe wound up going seven three-hit innings (the exact line turned in by Martinez the day before), and Arroyo, Embree, and Foulke held St. Louis at bay the rest of the contest. did Lowe.

Back in Boston, fans watched or listened to the final innings in living rooms, bars, bedrooms, and anywhere else they could. Parents kept their kids up or woke them for the ninth inning, among them Ken and Shelley Leandre. Their son, Jordan, was the four-year-old cancer survivor who had delighted the crowd with his National Anthem rendition before Game 5 of the ALCS.

“I felt like Jordan had been a good-luck charm,” says Ken Leandre. “He used to sit in front of the TV and point at the screen and say he was 'throwing out magic' and the next thing you know, Manny or Ortiz would hit a home run. We loved that he had something he loved and could have a good feeling about instead of the hospitals and needles.”

Leandre was lucky (again).

The good luck charm within the Red Sox team itself was Johnny Pesky, the shortstop-manager-coach-legend who had been employed by the Boston organization for most of his 65-plus years in baseball. The Sox made sure Johnny got to St. Louis for Game 4, which he watched from the stands with Dr. Charles Steinberg and Pam Ganley Kenn, who helped him with his public appearances and looked at him like a grandfather. When the game moved into the late innings with the Red Sox ahead, the trio got up to make their way down to the visitor's clubhouse at Busch Stadium.

Then, as they were leaving their section, fans began politely clapped for Pesky as they would a war hero. It meant a tremendous amount to him, because in a way he was an old warrior here. After all, it was in this city in 1946 where he had been accused of “holding the ball” and costing the Sox a World Series title. He now felt all was being forgiven.

St.Louis fans gave Pesky his due.

By the ninth inning, Pesky was in a small room off the main visitor's clubhouse watching the last moments of the game unfold on a video monitor. And Keith Foulke, who in 11 games and 14 innings pitched during the postseason allowed just seven hits and one run, was getting the chance he had joked with Francona about back in Yankee Stadium [to get the final out of a big series].

After Pujols singled to lead off the ninth, Foulke retired Rolen and Edmonds. Edgar Renteria stepped in and took the first pitch for ball one. Up in the booth, Joe Castiglione got ready to make his call:

Swing and a ground ball, stabbed by Foulke. He has it, he under-hands to first...and the Boston Red Sox are the World Champions! For the first time in eighty-six years, the Red Sox have won baseball's world championship! Can you believe it?

On the field, Jason Varitek leaped into Foulke's arms for a hug. In the visitor's clubhouse, Johnny Pesky stood up, raised his arms in triumph, and hugged Pam Ganley Kenn. “If I was 50 years younger, I'd have probably been jumping up and down like a crazy man,” he said later. When the players made their way into the clubhouse, moments later, Schilling, Millar and others embraced Pesky as well.

A hug for the ages.

Jeff Idelson, president of the Baseball Hall of Fame, was also in the clubhouse – seeking artifacts that fans could enjoy for years to come at Cooperstown. His wish list was to get something from Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez – named MVP of the World Series with a .412 average – Orlando Cabrera, David Ortiz, and Derek Lowe.

“There’s a tempo to it, because you want to let people celebrate,” Idelson explains. “ It’s about understanding people and getting them at the right moment. You don’t want to say something like, “Hey, take that champagne out of your hand and go get this for me.”

Idelson already knew Curt Schilling from when he had visited the museum with his kids, so he went up and asked if he could have the cleats that he had inscribed with “KALS” to raise awareness about Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's Disease. Schilling said sure.

“Then he said, 'Do you want the sock too' – meaning the bloody sock,” recalls Idelson. “I said sure, we'd love the sock. He didn't have it there, so his in-laws drove it up to the museum a few weeks later.”

Hall of Fame hosiery. 

Next Idelson got a hat from Martinez, and a bat from Ramirez. He asked Cabrera for his glove, and got that too – along with a hug. “Cabrera's whole family was there,” recalls Idelson. He couldn’t believe I was asking him for his glove, and he was so proud. 

"He said it was one of the great moments of his life.”

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