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An uplifted Johnny Damon is in the middle of a bubbly celebration as the Red Sox get swept up in the excitement.
An uplifted Johnny Damon is in the middle of a bubbly celebration as the Red Sox get swept up in the excitement. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)

The possible dream

Amazing Red Sox end 86 years of frustration with Series sweep of Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- Hail the lovable idiots. Bless the baseball gods. Raise a cup to the good souls in Red Sox lore -- from Ted Williams and Joe Cronin to Gary Waslewski and Pumpsie Green -- who chased but never captured the game's greatest prize.

The Red Sox are champions of the world.

Avengers of 86 years of raw yearning, Terry Francona's raggedy renegades last night liberated generations of Sox fans from the purgatory of their unrequited dreams when they buried the Cardinals, 3-0, before 52,037 under a canopy of clouds beneath a Blood Red Moon at Busch Stadium to win their first World Series since 1918.

"All the waiting and all the great faith they have finally paid off in the end," principal owner John W. Henry said amid a sudsy celebration for the ages in the Sox' clubhouse. "It took us a while but we got it done."

Whatever it was -- a drought, a curse, a confluence of misfortune and mismanagement that endured longer than Soviet communism and doctors making house calls -- it's over. The end came on the 18th anniversary of their last great heartache, losing the '86 Series to the Mets.

"This is for anyone who ever played for the Red Sox, anyone who ever rooted for the Red Sox, anyone who has ever been to Fenway Park," said general manager Theo Epstein, the kid from Brookline, Mass., who grew up to build a champion. "This is bigger than the 25 players in this clubhouse. This is for all of Red Sox Nation past and present. I hope they're enjoying it as much as we are."

Party on, New England. At 11:40 p.m. EDT, the Sox returned to the pinnacle of the national pastime when Keith Foulke retired Edgar Renteria for the final out to complete a spectacular four-game sweep of a St. Louis team that posted the best record in the majors (105-57) in the regular season.

The historic triumph touched off a delirious celebration from the infield in St. Louis to the far reaches of New England. While the Sox jumped all over each other in joy, great-grandparents who were old enough to remember Babe Ruth helping the Sox win their last World Series and star-struck school children whose memories run little deeper than the Manny Era reveled back home.

"Thank you, Red Sox!" hundreds of fans chanted nearly an hour after the game as the celebration spilled back onto the field.

All across America, the Sox of yesteryear smiled along, from the '46 teammates to the classes of '67, '75, and '86, whose broken dreams the freewheeling boys of '04 fulfilled. One of the elder statesmen, Johnny Pesky, joined in the clubhouse celebration.

One and all, they could thank the resurgent Derek Lowe for helping them across the threshold. Cast aside in early October, Lowe returned by mid-month to pitch the clincher of the American League Division Series against the Angels, win Game 7 of the Championship Series against the Yankees, and shine in the biggest challenge of his career as he silenced the Cardinals for seven innings to triumph in the World Series finale.

"I can't wait till next year when we go back to Yankee Stadium and don't have to hear that 1918 chant anymore," Lowe said. "There were a lot of guys who fought for this organization for a lot of years and never won. I hope they enjoy this because they're part of history."

The affable sinkerballer became the first pitcher in history to win the clinchers of three postseason series in the same year.

"It's going to hit home probably in a week when we go home and settle into our own houses and realize what we just did," Lowe said after pitching perhaps his last game in a Sox uniform.

The Sox captured their sixth world championship -- and swept their first World Series -- after Johnny Damon got them rolling by launching a home run off Jason Marquis leading off the game. Trot Nixon (three doubles in four at-bats) provided the rest of the production by doubling home two runs in the third inning.

"A lot of people thought it would never happen," Damon said, "so to be able to celebrate and carry that trophy, that's what it's all about."

To reach the promised land, the danger-defying Sox emerged from the gateway of baseball's boneyard -- a 3-0 deficit against the Yankees in the ALCS -- by staging the greatest comeback in the history of the game.

Lest there be any doubt about the enormity of their resurgence, Henry, one of the most brilliant number-crunchers in high finance, crunched the numbers on the eve of their elimination game against the Yankees. By his calculations, the chances of the Sox escaping the ALCS jam were 6.25 in 100.

"Pretty damn bad," he said in layman's terms.

Then the Sox stuck the Cardinals in a similar hole, forcing them to try to become the first team since the 1970 Orioles to play a fifth game after dropping the first three of a World Series. And the Cards got no help from Lowe, who surrendered only three hits and a walk over seven scoreless innings in a performance as masterful as his two predecessors, Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling.

"We're world champions," Schilling said. "There's no living player who can say what we can say today: We're the world champion Boston Red Sox."

Schilling won his second World Series ring, Martinez his first.

"The ring is meaningless, it's a material thing," Martinez said. "But the feeling that the people are going to have in Boston is indescribable."

As efficient as he was effective, Lowe fired only 85 pitches over seven innings before he yielded to a pinch hitter, Kevin Millar, in the eighth. Millar had a chance to break the game open with the bases loaded and none out, but he struck out before Damon bounced into a fielder's choice, erasing Bill Mueller at the plate, and Orlando Cabrera struck out to end the threat.

With Lowe gone, Bronson Arroyo got the first out in the eighth inning before he walked pinch hitter Reggie Sanders. Francona summoned Alan Embree, who caught pinch hitter Hector Luna swinging at a 94-mile-per-hour heater and retired Larry Walker on a weak pop to short.

Foulke, the most valuable addition to the team this year other than Schilling, did the rest, finishing off the Cardinals for the fourth time in as many games.

The Sox never trailed in the Series, becoming the first team to lead from start to finish in a World Series since the 1966 Orioles against the Dodgers (the '89 Giants never led against the A's but tied them once).

The Sox worked the magic partly by feasting on the Cards in the first inning, as they did at times against the Yankees. Thanks to Damon's homer, the Sox scored in the first inning for a fifth straight postseason game and for the sixth time in their seven playoff games. The shot also marked the fourth time in the last five games the Sox homered in the first inning.

Damon's homer was the 17th leading off a first inning in World Series history and the first since Derek Jeter hit one for the Yankees in Game 4 of the 2000 Subway Series against the Mets. The last Sox player to homer leading off the first inning in a World Series was Patsy Dougherty in Game 3 of the 1903 Series against the Pirates.

The Cardinals reached third base only twice in the finale, first after Tony Womack laced Lowe's third pitch of the game over the leaping Cabrera for a single leading off the first inning. Womack advanced to second when Walker dropped his first sacrifice bunt since May 4, 1991, and took third when Albert Pujols grounded out to second.

Up came Scott Rolen, who was hitless in the Series and warned his good friend, Francona, before the game not to touch him again, hoping to change his fortunes. But no good came of it as Rolen tapped a slow roller along the first base line and was erased by Lowe diving toward first base.

Things broke Boston's way in the third inning after Manny Ramirez, the Series MVP, singled to extend his postseason hitting streak to 17 games, tying Hank Bauer and Jeter for the all-time record. After David Ortiz capitalized by doubling Ramirez to third, Jason Varitek bounced a grounder to the first baseman, Pujols, who fired home to erase Ramirez on a fielder's choice. But with runners at the corners, Mueller walked and Nixon scorched a two-run double off the center-field wall for the final runs of a glorious night for the Sox.

"I'm sure there are a lot of people in New England who are dancing in the streets right now," Francona said. "For that, I'm thrilled." 

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