BOSTON — The pain of all those years since 1918, and the lamenting of generations of Boston Red Sox fans, has dissipated in the past decade. The local nine is usually good, often very good, and memories of 2004 — when the Red Sox’ first World Series championship in 86 years soothed an entire region — has made all that overwrought burden evaporate. Unless you are a toddler, the Red Sox have won a World Series in your lifetime.
But the next two days offer the possibility of new experiences, too. When the Red Sox broke the “Curse of the Bambino” and took the 2004 World Series, they celebrated at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, where they finished off a sweep of the Cardinals. Three years later, when they put further distance between themselves and their past by sweeping another World Series, they hugged and popped champagne at Coors Field in Denver, where in the late innings Colorado Rockies fans were completely drowned out by the pockets of Boston faithful, suddenly awash in good fortune.
So, as the public address announcer will say Wednesday night, “Welcome to Fenway Park.” Just twice in the past 95 years have the Red Sox had the opportunity that is before them against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 and, if necessary, Thursday’s Game 7: Win the World Series in the stadium they have self-appointed “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark.” In 1967, they lost to the Cardinals and Bob Gibson in Game 7, and in 1975, a game after Carlton Fisk’s homer off the foul pole gave Fenway its signature moment, they lost to the Cincinnati Reds, also in Game 7.
“This is a place our guys love to play,” Boston Manager John Farrell said.
It is, though, a ballpark that can affect the outcome of games in ways both fortunate and not, and Red Sox history is filled with moments when Fenway taketh away. In 1978, the Red Sox hosted a one-game playoff against the New York Yankees, and the dagger swing came from shortstop Bucky Dent, who hit a total of 40 homers in 12 major league seasons. But in the seventh inning of a game the Red Sox led 2-0, Dent lifted Mike Torrez’s pitch over the “Green Monster,” the 37-foot-high wall just 315 feet from home plate in left field — a flyball out elsewhere, a three-run homer at Fenway.
The Red Sox, though, believe it is a great place to play. They went an American League-best 53-28 at home this year, and they are 5-2 in the postseason at what is the oldest ballpark still in use. And this generation of players knows nothing of the cold nights in a half-empty yard that characterized long stretches of this franchise’s history. On April 11, the Red Sox — coming off a 69-win disaster of a season a year ago — failed to sell out a Sunday afternoon game against Tampa Bay. That ended a streak of 820 games, including regular season and playoffs dating back a decade, that all the seats at Fenway were sold.
Yet in none of those games during the streak could the Red Sox win the World Series in front of their home fans, which they did in 1918, beating the Chicago Cubs. In 1967, they had a chance because they beat the Cardinals in Game 6, but Gibson threw a three-hitter in the clincher, and the “Impossible Dream” season ended with Gibson striking out George Scott. Fisk’s homer in the 12th inning of the sixth game of the ’75 Series — a game that also included an improbable, game-tying three-run homer from a pinch hitter named Bernie Carbo — forced a decisive seventh game. But in the top of the ninth, Joe Morgan’s two-out single off Jim Burton broke a tie, and when Boston great Carl Yastrzemski flew out to end it, the Reds celebrated on the Fenway field.
When the Red Sox next appeared in the World Series, in 1986 against the New York Mets, they actually came home with a two-games-to-none lead, but dropped two of three at Fenway Park before returning to Shea Stadium where — well, something about Bill Buckner, Mookie Wilson and a groundball seems to have happened.
The particulars of the past matter greatly to those who will file in here Wednesday. They don’t matter at all to the teams — “with no disrespect to history,” Farrell said.
But the fact that the Cardinals return after playing here twice last week — and winning once, when Wacha started Game 2 — is of some comfort to St. Louis. Neither the ’04 Cardinals nor the ’07 Rockies got the chance to come back after dropping the first two games.
“Guys have played their whole career or dream about being in this atmosphere where fans are excited, into it, the place is packed and alive and buzzing,” Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny said Tuesday. “. . . I think there is a little bit to be said about the familiarity of the situation concerning the field, and the boys wondered how Fenway would look, how it would play, different questions about Boston in general. So right now, we have a better feel of their club, a better feel of their field.”
There may be no accounting for the atmosphere. The Web site StubHub.com, which sells tickets on the secondary market, listed Game 6 standing room tickets for $990, a right field box seat for $11,002. Vivid Seats, another secondary ticket marketplace, reported that an average ticket for Game 6 will go for $2,052, with a median ticket price of $1,512.
What if the Cardinals win, and it comes to Game 7 Thursday?
“From a historic perspective, when you consider that an event like this hasn’t been here in a couple of generations, possibly, there’s a lot of people that are willing to take some extra cash and try to be a part of it,” Farrell said. “We don’t take for granted the passion that our fan base has or that our fans have. And I think our guys get it.”
They may not get everything that has preceded this moment, or how rare it might be. But they get what’s at stake, and they can guess what it might be like.
“I’m telling you,” Boston slugger David Ortiz said, “it’s going to get loud out there.”