Sweeping Beauty

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Red Sox October: Red Sox players celebrate after beating the Cardinals to win the World Series

In baseball, and just about everything else, things rarely go according to plan. After losing the first three games of the American League Championship Series to the Yankees, the Red Sox were supposed to crumble entirely. After beating the Yankees in seven games, some figured the Sox would falter to the St. Louis Cardinals as they did in 1967 and 1946. If the script had played out true to Greek Tragedy, the Cardinals would have come back from a three game deficit to win Game 7 in Fenway Park, doing unto Boston what Boston had done unto New York.

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Throw out the script. The Boston team that seemed left for dead in July rallied in October to write a whole new heroic tale. And Sox fans everywhere can safely bid farewell to a painful history that had come to be known as a truth foretold. After lashing the Yankees in four straight games, the Red Sox went on to slaughter the Cardinals in a four game sweep. Boston’s height of glory came when they vanquished their archrival at Yankee Stadium on October 20. The Cardinals were an after dinner mint of sorts — and even the Sox didn’t chew on it gracefully. Both teams had low moments in the brief series, but the Sox pitching prevailed leaving the Cardinals empty-handed at the plate. So it was that the Boston Red Sox of 2004 became world champions of baseball.

Scores of fans traveled from around the country to St. Louis to watch their team reverse the curse. When Sox closer Keith Foulke made the final out, thousands of Sox fans erupted in joy and a throng of “B” hats lurched towards the Sox dugout. Players sprayed champagne and hugged their children and wives. The fans soaked up the victory — some hollered, some bawled their eyes out and some just stood gobsmacked by the sight of something that they thought they would never live to see.

For so many, the victory rushed upon them like a river of emotion that floated them back to their youth. Amid the cheers and chants at Busch Stadium, many yelled out the names of loved ones who had passed away — Sox fans and players of past generations who seemed to deserve the win as much as anyone else. As 84 year-old Johnny Pesky, who has been a part of franchise since 1939, walked through the stadium fans hugged him and thanked him. Was he ever so revered as a player? On this night he might as well have beaten Babe Ruth’s homerun record. “This is for my father and stepfather and all those guys who kept watching,” said Bob McCauley, 54, who had traveled from South Boston to see his team win. “I was seventeen in 1967 and the loss to the Cardinals in the World Series was killer for me. But this changes everything.”

It was a familiar sentiment. Steve Leahy, 39, from Providence, Rhode Island had lost his 75-year-old father barely a week ago. “He’s up there and he’s behind this and that’s why I’m here,” said Leahy. “My fiancé told me I had to go to the game because dad would have wanted me to be there.” Leahy said that his father passed away shortly after game 5 when the Sox beat the Yankees in the 14th inning. And there were countless others like Jeff Shneider from New York who had attended the 1975 World Series when Boston lost to Cincinnati, as well as 1986 against the Mets. Now he was in St. Louis with his son Kyle, who was barely 13. “I never thought I would be around to see this,” Jeff said. “All the others are gone,” referring to his parents and uncles who had lived and breathed Red Sox air for so long. Even many of the Cardinal fans seemed content with the humiliating loss: “If anyone deserves it, it’s the Sox,” said one longtime St. Louis resident.

That brand of Midwestern hospitality took Sox fans by surprise. The vitriol of the Yankees-Red Sox series had evaporated; here, it was pure baseball, fans enjoying the game and cheering for their team. By comparison to the scene at Yankees Stadium when the archrivals played, this was more like a college reunion. Until, of course, the inevitable moment during the celebration when Boston fans cast aside their manners and started chanting “Yankees Suck!” The Yanks may have been out of sight, but they weren’t out of mind. One sign read: “Plane Ticket: $350, Game Ticket: $750, The Yankees Watching the Sox in the WS: PRICELESS.”

The Yankees obsession may seem foolish, especially in light of such an amazing championship, but it also makes some sense. Painful losses—like the Aaron Boone moment of 2003—often seem like the relative that no one wants to talk about. Chalk up enough of those, as the Red Sox have, and the frustration is bound to seep out somewhere. For the Boston fans, the Yankees plot line adds to the sense of justice and fairness that so many felt after winning it all. Some wondered what life would be like without their wound, their heartbreak. The truth is that the heartbreak isn’t really gone. It just suddenly somehow makes sense. Or as one fan said: “Everything—67, 75, 86—it was all worth it.” How often in life do we get to look back at our grueling moments of pain and anguish and have them make sense? But in this World Series race the enemies had been defeated and everyone from Bill Buckner to, well, Bill Buckner had been vindicated.

The beauty of baseball players is that they immerse themselves in the game. And they seem oddly impervious to the knots that tie up fans. They dream of winning the World Series from their earliest days of Little League, and they drive toward that goal in spite of curses or anything else for that matter. For the Red Sox, that dream is now a reality. No more curses. No more close calls. No more 1918. No more … For now, they can enjoy victory and sit on top of the world until next spring when the snow melts, the stadiums reopen and baseball starts anew.