The last Red Sox manager who reached the World Series expressed a memorable measure of relief after his team survived Game 1 at Shea Stadium in 1986.
Had any of his moves blown up like a trick cigar, John McNamara said after the Sox edged the Mets, 1-0, "My body might be in the Charles River."
Terry Francona did all he could yesterday to avoid a watery fate by pulling on his uniform at 10:10 a.m. and preparing for the first World Series in the Hub since McNamara's Sox plunged in seven games against the Mets. Francona's happy band of bad boys did the rest as they overcame a wobbly outing by Tim Wakefield and a goofy array of defensive gaffes to outlast the Cardinals, 11-9, before 35,035 in the Fens in an ugly affair that all but shattered the image of a Fall Classic.
Style points mattered little to the Sox after Mark Bellhorn blasted a cathartic, two-run shot off Pesky's Pole with one out in the bottom of the eighth to break a 9-9 tie and erase an embarrassing pair of costly blunders by Manny Ramirez in the top of the inning.
"This team has a lot of heart and character," Bellhorn said. "Somehow I think we had the confidence to come back, so we did." Bellhorn struck a 1-and-2 slider off righthander Julian Tavarez at 11:56 p.m., moments after Jason Varitek reached on an error by St. Louis shortstop Edgar Renteria.
The Cardinals committed one error and the Sox made four, tying a World Series record set by the Brewers against the Cardinals in Game 6 of the 1982 World Series.
"That was not an instructional video to send to the instructional league," Francona said on the 18th anniversary of Boston's last victory in a World Series game. "That was a little rough. We did some things wrong, but we persevered and we won."
The winner of Game 1 has won six of the last seven World Series and 59 of 99 overall. And, as everyone knew, the Sox were chasing their first world championship in 86 years.
One down, three to go, with Curt Schilling poised to take the mound tonight in Game 2.
"Every little boy always dreams of playing in the World Series and winning a game," Bellhorn said. "I know I did, but I'm not here to try to be a hero. We're just here to try to win four games."
With the Sox clinging to a 9-7 lead in the eighth, their chances of securing the first win suddenly turned dicey when Ramirez almost singlehandedly let it slip away by committing a pair of errors. First, he bobbled a routine single by Renteria, allowing Jason Marquis to score and pull the Cardinals within a run. Then he tried to make a sliding catch on a shallow fly by Larry Walker, only to let the ball bounce off his glove as he caught his cleats on a drain and cartwheeled out of control, allowing the tying run to score.
"I caught my shoe," he said. "I shouldn't have dived. I should have kept running. I would have caught that ball easy, but thank God everything is fine."
Indeed, the Sox feared Ramirez may have suffered a serious injury when his legs splayed on the play. But Ramirez was fine, as were their championship hopes after they committed the spree of errors and left 12 runners on base.
"We made four errors and left a lot of guys on base, but you know what, we did exactly what we wanted to do," Johnny Damon said. "We won, and everybody pitched in."
The happy ending allowed the Sox to enjoy a laugh at Ramirez's expense.
"He just went from silver to bronze to green glove on those plays," Dave Roberts said.
After the chaos created by Ramirez's goofs, Keith Foulke salvaged the victory by getting the final five outs. The Cardinals brought the tying run to the plate before Foulke got Yadier Molina to pop out and fanned Roger Cedeno.
"A lot of weird things happened in that inning," Foulke said of the eighth, "but you've got to get the job done."
The Sox can hardly risk another defensive collapse in their push toward the the promised land.
"Obviously, it's going to be tough if we go out and play sloppy, but it was a weird game," Foulke said. "It's probably not going to happen again."
While Wakefield and the Sox' defense faltered, the mightiest offense in the game rescued them. Before Bellhorn struck, Senor Octubre, David Ortiz, led the way by launching a three-run shot in the first inning -- the first World Series homer in the Fens since Carlton Fisk's historic blast in Game 6 of the '75 Classic -- and singling home another run in the seventh to match Carl Yastrzemski's '67 club record for RBIs (four) in a World Series game.
"Who's your Papi?" the grateful crowd chanted as the Sox tried to avenge seven-game losses to the Cardinals in '67 and '46.
Ramirez, despite his frolics in the field, helped by breaking out of his postseason RBI drought and knocking in a pair, including a go-ahead run to snap a 7-7 standoff in the seventh. Ortiz followed with a bad-hop single off Tony Womack's collarbone for a two-run lead.
"We helped [the Cardinals] get back in the game a little bit," Francona said, "but we get grinding away at our at-bats."
In their history-making run for glory -- the Sox surged past the Yankees to win the American League pennant by becoming the first team since the birth of the national pastime to come back from an 0-3 deficit in a best-of-seven series -- they pinned their hopes on Wakefield, a groundbreaker in his own right.
Wakefield became the first knuckleballer to start a World Series game since Cleveland's Gene Bearden threw a 2-0 shutout against the Boston Braves in 1948. But Wakefield was unable to match Bearden's bravura performance as he lost the touch for his signature pitch and surrendered five runs on three hits, five walks, and a hit batsman over just 3 2/3 innings, departing with a 7-5 lead.
The conditions were brisk enough -- the game-time wind chill was 41 degrees -- that Wakefield and St. Louis starter Woody Williams may have suffered as much as ice cream sales. Kevin Millar all but forecast trouble for the hurlers, citing his experience playinng in icy conditions for minor league teams in Calgary, St. Paul, and Portland, Maine.
"As an offensive player, I love the cold because the pitcher usually doesn't have as good a feel for his stuff," Millar said, standing in the teeth of strong northeast wind before the game.
Indeed, Williams immediately appeared to have trouble getting a feel as he repeatedly blew on his hands. And Damon made things difficult for him, capping a 10-pitch at-bat by poking an opposite-field double to the corner in left leading off the first inning, the start of a long night for Williams.
Thanks largely to Ortiz's homer and a three-run rally in the fourth, the Sox led, 7-2, when the sky began to fall. Unable to spot his breaking ball, Wakefield opened the inning by firing 12 of his first 13 pitches for balls to load the bases. Mike Matheny promptly made Wakefield pay by lofting a sacrifice fly to right. Then Millar exacted an additional toll by firing a relay to third on a couple of bounces into the stands for an error, helping the Cardinals creep back to within 7-4. The error was the first of the postseason by a Boston infielder, and it also led to another run when Womack, who advanced to third on the wild throw, scored on So Taguchi's ground out. That kept the Cardinals in contention, trailing, 7-5.
"I didn't have a grip on the ball," Millar said. "I never should have thrown it, but I tried to make the play anyway. That was my fault all the way."
Wakefield lasted only one more batter, yielding to Bronson Arroyo after he issued his fourth walk of the inning, to Renteria, tying a World Series record shared by 11 pitchers. And the Cardinals tied it when they scored twice off Arroyo in the sixth.
Still, the Sox prevailed, as frightening as it was at times.
"We set out to win today so it's a really great day," Francona said. "But we did make some mistakes that we need to clean up."
Gordon Edes and Jackie MacMullan of the Globe staff contributed to this report.