BOSTON, April 11 -- For a city where baseball has caused more than its share of heartache, Monday was about as close as a spring afternoon can get to perfect redemption.
A cool and nearly cloudless Red Sox home opener at Fenway Park. The unveiling of a fluttering banner and megawatt World Series rings to consummate Boston's first championship since 1918. And an 8-1 thumping of the New York Yankees -- their perennial partner in baseball's most bitter rivalry -- who applauded from their dugout during the pregame ceremony.
Double the fun: Fans packed Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox receive their rings for winning their first World Series in 86 years and then beat the Yankees.
(Michael Dwyer -- AP)
It was a day replete with nostalgic, if heavily produced, glimpses of this city's sometimes painful, sometimes euphoric sporting lore.
One by one, the players received their jewelry, serenaded by white-coated members of the Boston Pops and Symphony Orchestra.
Afterward, a collection of retired Red Sox greats, whose own World Series quests had fallen short over the decades -- including Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski and former league MVP Jim Rice -- emerged from a doorway in the left field wall like the ghosts of baseball past in the movie "Field of Dreams."
"I never dreamed anything like this would happen in my lifetime," said Johnny Pesky, 85, who joined the Red Sox as a spry middle infielder 63 years ago and still works with the team. He helped hoist the championship flag before the game.
"I was just so happy to be here to see it."
Celtics legend Bill Russell and former Bruins star Bobby Orr threw out the ceremonial first pitches, joined by current New England Patriots defensive stars Richard Seymour and Tedy Bruschi. In one of his few public appearances since suffering a minor stroke after the Patriots won the Super Bowl in February, Bruschi sported a Red Sox jersey with Manager Terry Francona's number 47.
The game itself was something of an anticlimax, an exception to the close-fought battles and playoff-like intensity that mark even early season meetings between the Red Sox and the Yankees.
During pregame introductions, Boston fans saved some of their loudest ovations for New York closer Mariano Rivera, who blew two saves against the Red Sox in last year's AL Championship Series and two last week and acknowledged the sarcastic cheers with a wide smile.
Boston took a 2-0 lead on a second-inning home run to left by catcher Doug Mirabelli. An inning later, a bases-loaded single by first baseman Kevin Millar plated two more Red Sox runs.
Some sloppy Yankees fielding broke the game open in the fourth. After Mark Bellhorn singled, third baseman Alex Rodriguez let Johnny Damon's dribbler slip under his glove. The next batter, Trot Nixon, lofted a lazy fly ball to right that Gary Sheffield misplayed into a two-run double. Manny Ramirez then singled home Nixon.
Meantime, Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, the longest-tenured member of the Red Sox who was making his first start in a home opener, stymied the Yankees over seven innings, yielding just one unearned run on five hits.
"We got a ring ceremony. All of a sudden you look up, and [the Yankees' Derek] Jeter's in the batter's box. It was going quick, but Wakefield kind of took care of the rest for us. He was fantastic," said Francona, who returned to the team after missing five games to undergo medical tests after falling ill in New York a week ago.
For the Yankees, Monday underscored the stark reversal of fortunes of a team that won 26 championships during Boston's 86-year drought, but none since 2000.
"They certainly deserved everything they got today," New York Manager Joe Torre said after the game. "Even though you certainly envy what's going on and you're a little jealous of it, you can't ignore it. You know, I think everyone was curious just to see what the Red Sox would do on the day they got their World Series rings."
Several Red Sox players said they felt that Monday brought a fitting end to the five-month celebration this region has enjoyed since last October's cathartic triumph over the Yankees in a grueling, seven-game AL Championship Series, and the World Series sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.
"We were able to celebrate 2004 and now we can put that to bed and get on with 2005," Wakefield said.
Boston fans, who any other year might already be racked with anxiety over the team's 3-4 record to start the season, seemed to cherish one last occasion to celebrate last season. Dozens camped outside the park for more than 48 hours to purchase tickets made available hours before the first pitch.
Brothers-in-law Joseph Hir and Michael Cronan said they paid about $1,300 for a pair of tickets. "Last year was almost a religious experience," said Hir, 39, who lives in Sandwich, Mass. "I needed to be here for all the Red Sox fans who came before. Every year they said wait till next year. This is next year."