SUDBURY -- Has the blood of a teenage boy lifted the Curse of the Bambino?
To the other 35,039 people packed into Fenway Park Tuesday night, it looked like just another foul ball. Manny Ramirez, who had already hit two home runs in the game, stepped up in the bottom of the fourth with two on and one out and lofted a fly ball down the right-field line that sliced in front of the Pesky Pole and landed in the stands.
As soon as he hit it, Ramirez looked down in mild frustration. Anaheim right fielder Vladimir Guerrero raced toward the stands, stopped short of the foul line, and glanced up impassively. NESN play-by-play announcer Don Orsillo stated flatly, ''That will go up in the seats."
But on a night when the moon was nearly full, when the Sox continued their epic surge, and when the Yankees suffered the most lopsided defeat in the history of the storied franchise, Ramirez may have unwittingly done what countless others have failed to do before him. He may well have broken the curse under which the team has labored since Ruth was sold to the Yankees in 1919.
A 16-year-old boy stood up in Section 9, Box 95, Row AA, with hopes of catching the ball. But he wasn't just any teenager. No, this was Lee Gavin, who has lived his entire life in a rambling farmhouse on Dutton Road in Sudbury that is best known to anyone west of Boston as the house where Babe Ruth lived.
On this last night of August, Gavin, a right fielder on his summer league team, positioned himself in the aisle, raised his arms in anticipation of catching his first-ever ball at Fenway Park, and BAM! The ball sliced through his hands and hit him square in the face. The impact punctured his top lip and knocked his two front teeth into a deepening pool of blood on the cement ground.
As he described it, ''They went flying. I was thinking, 'Great, I lost the ball.' "
Security immediately descended on him to help. First one tooth was found, and then another. A nearby spectator handed Gavin the ball as the boy was led out. Within moments, a kid who arrived at the game by limousine as part of a friend's birthday celebration left by ambulance. And maybe, just maybe, he took the dreaded curse out the door of the ballpark with him.
If he did, it's none too soon. Three years ago, Pedro Martinez, frustrated with all the talk about how the Sox would be forever relegated to the role of the Yankees bridesmaid, declared, ''Wake up the damn Bambino and have me face him. Maybe I'll drill him in the ass." It was bravado at best. Ruth is dead, not asleep.
Regardless, college kids have painted over signs on Storrow Drive pleading to ''Reverse the Curse." Kevin Millar is regularly on the airwaves pushing Brigham's ''Reverse the Curse" ice cream. One man scoured the bottom of a Sudbury pond with sophisticated scanning equipment a few years back in a failed bid to find a piano once owned by Ruth. Somehow, he believed, that would have reversed the curse.
But on Tuesday night, Ramirez, the team's reigning slugger, may have done it in the same effortless way he swings a bat. Unintentionally, with a simple foul ball, he bloodied the face of a kid who lives in Ruth's house. A better symbol of the Babe this city will never have.
Yesterday, sitting on the front porch of Ruth's house on a bucolic Sudbury street, young Lee was only too happy to be assigned the role of the sacrificial lamb. A junior at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School and a lifelong Boston fan who can quote every batting average on the team, he wore a Red Sox shirt with his name stitched across the back, and held the ball that hit him Tuesday night, smeared with his own blood.
Asked what he thinks of the curse, he nodded his head and said softly, ''I believe in it."
So does he also believe his spilled blood has helped to lift it? At this, he smiled and said, ''I hope so."
As he explains it, ''All I was trying to do was trying to get the ball, and it happened to me of all people. That's a rarity. The whole thing, the Yankees doing so badly, the full moon, me getting hurt."
Many mothers might be distraught at their son's injury due to a baseball that had traveled some 300 feet before plunking him in the mouth. By yesterday, Julie Gavin seemed to have gotten over any distress. Actually, she agreed that her son might have somehow helped his team.
''I'm not sure why he didn't catch it," she said. ''He's a good player. But look at how bad the Yankees lost that night."
Lee's father, Dennis, said he doesn't believe in the curse, but did note that Lee attended Tuesday's game with a friend named Jarrett Lowe, who has a brother named Derrick.
Coincidence? Is it also a coincidence that Lee wasn't sitting in the seats down the left-field line, where his father has season tickets, but instead down the right-field line where the ball landed? Is it a coincidence that Ramirez is his favorite player?
Dennis and Julie Gavin bought the old 15-room farmhouse some 20 years ago when it was in a state of disrepair. They have painstakingly renovated it, as well as a towering barn in the back, and their kids grew up playing baseball on Babe Ruth's old lawn.
Home ownership has brought some notoriety. People often slow down as they drive by. Once or twice a month, they might hop out of their cars and pose for a picture on the front lawn.
In 1986, the year the Sox last made the World Series, Babe Ruth's daughter, Dorothy, since deceased, stopped by the house where she grew up to reminisce. Ruth bought the farm in 1916 and sold it upon his divorce in 1926. At one point during her visit, Dorothy told Dennis Gavin to roll back a rug in the living room and pointed out some burn marks on the floor -- the spot where the Babe used to knock his pipe against his armchair and let his ashes fall.
In the end, Lee's fine about taking a hit in the face for his team. He received two stitches on his upper lip, and the best news of all is that crack Fenway medics pushed his teeth back into his mouth and doctors at Brigham and Women's secured them in place. A couple of root canals, his dentist says, and he'll be as good as new.
Now that a kid from the house of Ruth has been smacked in the face with a Ramirez foul amid the Sox pennant drive, perhaps the team will be better than ever -- at least since 1918.