Belated crown so decisive, it almost seemed destined

World Series -- Boston Defeats St. Louis, 4 - 0

October 28, 2004|By Laura Vecsey

ST. LOUIS -- Some call it small ball, the way St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa signaled Larry Walker to lay down a sacrifice bunt in the first inning of Game 4 of the World Series last night.

Then there are those who would call it desperation.

The Boston Red Sox had a way of doing that to teams this October, sweeping Anaheim, going down 3-0 to the Yankees and then winning four straight. Now this: a sweep of the Cardinals, the team with the best record in the game this season.

Ah, deliverance has come to Red Sox Nation and deliverance was total -- and, at times, totally insane. An eight-game winning streak to close out the most whined about, written about, talked about, worried about, obsessed about 86 years in sports history.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Sports section stated incorrectly that the St. Louis Cardinals won Game 7 of the 1967 World Series in St. Louis. In fact, the Cardinals won Game 7 in Boston. The Sun regrets the error. The Sun regrets the error.

The Cardinals, who had scored a combined three runs in games 2 and 3 and were facing elimination against the Red Sox, were so eager to get on the board they took the bat out of Walker's hands.

It was a panic move, unwarranted that early in the game, not when the Cardinals' big boppers in the heart of the batting order had been silent and needed some motivation to crank it into gear.

Talk about a sign that the Red Sox would walk unscathed into the Valley of the Curse-less: It was the first sacrifice bunt by Walker since 1991, before he became a three-time NL batting champion.

Walker got the bunt down. Tony Womack advanced to second. But the Cardinals didn't score, with Scott Rolen dribbling a ball off his bat for an infield out.

Oh, to have been the speed bump on the Red Sox's road to the World Series title. What a demoralizing postseason swoon for the Cardinals.

They went down 3-0 and wound up in an elimination game last night with their No. 4 starter on the mound, a pitcher who had not won his Division Series or Championship Series starts.

Come to think of it, St. Louis right-hander Jason Marquis did not complete five innings in either game.

So much for the intimidation factor. So much for the Cardinals' lineup to feel confident that anything they could muster -- which wasn't anything -- would not be undone.

Lucky for the Cardinals, few will remember their worn and tattered pitching staff; their ice-cold bats; their base-running blunders or their general lack of energy, emotion and moxie.

That probably includes their own loyal fans.

The Cardinals were booed at Busch Stadium during this Series, but there wasn't enough venom or momentum to draw upon. Nothing in the hearts and souls and bats could propel the Cards anywhere near the hot spot of this October.

It was all Red Sox -- after Boston achieved its greatest, stated goal.

The Red Sox were right. Their obsession with beating the Yankees, as masochistic as it had been, was worthy of their undivided attention.

Beating them was like parting the Red Sea. So what if it had been the Cardinals who beat the Red Sox in 1946 and '67; that it was the Mets in 1986 who were within one out of elimination when the infamous dribbler made poor Bill Buckner bend when his aching knees could not perform?

A curse is a curse, which is why Bucky Dent's homer at Fenway in that 1978 playoff between the Yankees and Red Sox was the cause of far more angst than anything the Cardinals or Mets or Reds ever did in the Series.

Eighty-six years of futility, all because of the Yankees.

Eighty-six years of an inferiority complex the size of New England, all focused on the Yankees.

Whatever came next for the Red Sox after finally beating the Yankees was bound to be a mere formality.

That doesn't mean the Red Sox took the Cardinals for granted in this Series. Even last night, before Game 4, starting pitcher Derek Lowe and manager Terry Francona refused to think about being on the brink of baseball's promised land.

But beating the Yankees in the American League Championship Series was as big as the U.S. Olympic hockey team beating the Russians in the semifinals of the 1980 Winter Games.

The gold-medal game was a formality. No one much remembers that the United States had to win one more game to win the Olympic title. That it was Finland the Americans beat is almost immaterial.

Did the Red Sox believe in miracles? For 86 years, their better judgment told them do not dare.

Then they became Cowboys, and the Red Sox came within five outs of accomplishing their goal, except that Pedro Martinez was hit hard and the Yankees tied Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS and later won it on Aaron Boone's extra-inning homer. It was just another sign of the Curse.

But the Boston Cowboys found out they were better equipped to kill the curse as Idiots, so Curt Schilling was brought in and he asked his new teammates again: "Do you believe in miracles?" And the answer was yes.

This is how this October is going to be remembered.

All the energy, all the meaning, all the memories will be of what the Red Sox did to the Yankees, finally. The Cardinals were but the Finland of this World Series.

The lore and luster was already established back in the cauldron of the East Coast, at Yankee Stadium, where the Red Sox' celebration was long and hard and long overdue.

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