BOSTON - It was as if Red Sox Nation had been liberated from Yankees oppression, and last night was the beginning of a new independence.
Game 1 of the World Series started as a celebration for the Boston Red Sox. It ended as an edge-of-your-seat thriller.
The St. Louis Cardinals made two impressive comebacks, and the Red Sox needed a two-run, eighth-inning homer from No. 9 hitter Mark Bellhorn to pull out an 11-9 victory before 35,035 at Fenway Park.
Boston will send Curt Schilling and his mended right ankle to the mound tonight for Game 2, and St. Louis will counter with Matt Morris.
The Cardinals may have played in the shadows of the huge Red Sox-New York Yankees rivalry this month, but they proved they won't be pushovers in this series.
Larry Walker went 4-for-5 with two doubles and a home run, as they turned a 7-2 Boston lead into a 7-7 tie by the sixth inning.
Then, after the Red Sox got RBI singles from Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz in the seventh, the Cardinals capitalized on two Ramirez defensive gaffes to tie it again in the eighth.
Ramirez, who patrols the Green Monster in left field with all the grace of Cookie Monster, had a laughable inning, just moments after driving home the go-ahead run.
Leading 9-7, Red Sox manager Terry Francona turned to closer Keith Foulke with two on and one out. Edgar Renteria singled to left, and Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo held up the stop sign for pinch runner Jason Marquis.
But Ramiez mishandled the ball for an error, allowing Marquis to score.
Walker followed with a flare to shallow left, and Ramirez tried making a charging catch. But just before the ball got there, he stumbled with his left knee taking a huge divot from the grass.
The ball deflected off his glove, and his left forearm, and bounced away, as the Cardinals rounded the bases. Roger Cedeno scored the tying run, and St. Louis came very close to taking the lead.
With men on second and third, Foulke walked Albert Pujols intentionally, loading the bases. But Scott Rolen popped to third for a huge second out, and Foulke struck out Jim Edmonds to end the inning, setting the stage for Bellhorn's heroics.
The Red Sox won with the same dramatic flair as they did in running the table against the Yankees after dropping the first three games of the American League Championship Series.
Boston started viewing itself in new light after that series. Having gone 86 years since their last world title, Red Sox fans can't help but believe this really is the year.
These words were overheard in a Boston tavern Friday night: "Take 1918, add the numbers for Manny Ramirez (24), Jason Varitek (33) and David Ortiz (34), then subtract Nomar [Garciaparra's 5], and what do you get?"
But if this really is the year, the Red Sox are going to have to pitch and play defense better than they did last night.
Starter Tim Wakefield lasted just 3 2/3 innings and issued five walks. The Red Sox had a costly throwing error from first baseman Kevin Millar in the Cardinals' three-run fourth inning, and another from reliever Bronson Arroyo in the Cardinals' two-run sixth.
This series figured to be a show of offensive force, and that's exactly what last night was.
Both starting pitchers were gone by the end of the fourth inning.
The Red Sox jumped on Woody Williams for four runs in the first inning, with three of them coming on postseason home run No. 5 for David Ortiz.
Staring at that deficit, La Russa was undeterred. His team won 105 games this season playing the game a certain way, and he wasn't going to change now.
So when the first two batters reached against Wakefield in the second inning, La Russa had his No. 7 hitter, Tony Womack, lay down a sacrifice bunt.
The strategy worked. For one run. Mike Matheny followed with a sacrifice fly, but So Taguchi struck out to end the inning.
With one swing, Walker did just as much damage in the third inning, as he drilled his fifth postseason homer, trimming Boston's lead to 4-2.
After taking a couple punches, the Red Sox got offensive again in the third, sending all nine batters to the plate as they stretched the margin to 7-2.
But with a stiff wind blowing at his back, Wakefield lost control of his knuckleball in the fourth. He walked the first three hitters to load the bases, and then the Cardinals caught a big break.
Matheny hit a fly ball to shallow right field. Catching the ball about 225 feet from home plate, Trot Nixon made his best throw, but first baseman Millar cut it off, allowing Edmonds to score.
Millar thought he had a play on Reggie Sanders at third base, but his throw went wide of third baseman Bill Mueller, into the Cardinals' dugout. The umpires awarded Sanders home and Womack third, and when Taguchi followed with a grounder to Mueller, he threw to first for the second out, allowing Womack to score.
Those three walks were costly for Wakefield, as St. Louis trimmed the lead to 5-2. Francona yanked Wakefield that inning, hoping Arroyo could restore some order.
Arroyo did just that until the sixth, when the Cardinals completed their comeback with two more runs. With two outs, Edgar Renteria and Walker hit back-to-back run-scoring doubles, knotting the score at 7.
The St. Louis comeback wouldn't have been possible without the exceptional performance of Danny Haren, who replaced Williams and turned in 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.