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Homecoming kings

Fans revel as Sox return as champs

They paid hundreds -- in some cases, thousands -- of dollars to be there. Some fans at Fenway Park paid as much as $100 to park and all sat in 46-degree temperatures, enduring winds that chilled to the marrow.

None of that mattered. The citizens of Red Sox Nation had waited too long to worry about cost, climate, or any inconvenience. This was the day the Sox raised the World Series flag and dropped the curtain on Boston Baseball's Bacchanalia -- a six-month festival triggered by the greatest comeback in sports history and the Hub's first hardball championship since 1918.

The Sox beat the Yankees, 8-1, in the 94th Fenway Park opener yesterday. Tim Wakefield, Boston's clubhouse leader in continuous service, pitched seven strong innings and batterymate Doug Mirabelli cranked a two-run homer in a thrashing of the Pinstripes that thrilled the blue-man (and blue-woman) group in the ancient stands. As if to enhance the fans' experience, Yankees villain Alex Rodriguez committed an error that led to three unearned runs.

But it was the pregame festivities that connected generations of New Englanders, moved grown men to tears (I saw one in the press box), and created a memory guaranteed to be shared whenever two or more Sox fans gather to reminisce about the glory days of 2004.

In a 45-minute ceremony -- lengthy, but not nearly long enough to offset the 86 years and one million-96

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