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A Ruthian Comeback

Red Sox Top Yankees, 10-3, Head to World Series

By Sally Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 21, 2004; Page A01

NEW YORK, Oct. 20 -- It's all in their heads . . . isn't it? The Curse of the Bambino, that amalgam of jinx, superstition and despair that has dogged the Boston Red Sox for nearly a century, was reduced to just so much human imagining on Wednesday night by a scruffy lot of ballplayers who cared more about their hair than they did about history, except for the kind they were determined to make.

The curse wasn't officially broken when the Red Sox defeated the New York Yankees in Game 7 to win the American League pennant and advance to the World Series. But it was certainly dented.

Danny Arelo, right, of Pawtucket, R.I., leaps up from his seat with the other fans at a Boston watering hole after the Red Sox scored in the first inning of their American League Championship Series win over the New York Yankees. (Steven Senne -- AP)

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The Red Sox became the first team in 101 years of postseason baseball to rally from a three-games-to-none deficit and win a series. They beat the curse into submission with their bats, with a spectacular barrage of home runs into virtually every deck of Yankee Stadium, to defeat the bitter arch-rival Yankees, 10-3.

Six of their runs came from one player, their center fielder with Samson locks and rough beard, Johnny Damon, who hit a grand slam in the second inning and a two-run homer in the fourth. Twice in this agonizing series, the Red Sox had fought back from the brink of elimination by forcing the Yankees into extra innings in games that lasted more than five hours. But their final victory was a laugher.

"A lot of people were counting us out," Damon said, "but not us."

Before the game started, Red Sox Manager Terry Francona made it clear that talk of curses and jinxes was absurd -- the game would be won with bats and gloves. "The reason we are here is to win, not to dream about winning," he said. His players promptly made good on his words.

Damon's slam came against Yankees right-hander Javier Vazquez, who was placed in the unenviable position of entering the game with the bases loaded. The Red Sox had driven starter Kevin Brown from the game after just 1 1/3 innings. Vazquez delivered the pitch, an inside fastball. Damon snapped his bat around and drove the ball straight to the right corner bleachers.

It was sweet redemption for Damon, who had entered the game with just three hits in 29 at-bats. His slump was cause for serious concern among Red Sox fans, who worried that Damon had played with fate by trimming three inches from his hair earlier in the series.

"We're coming back home, and we're going to party for a while," Damon added. "And then we're going to have a great World Series."

"Stick with us," he added. "Never count us out."

But the issue of Damon's hair and its effect on his hitting was nothing compared to the issue of the Curse in the minds of Red Sox fans. In 1920, Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees for $100,000 cash and a loan. Ever since, this has been regarded as a blunder of cosmic proportions. So much so that the gods of baseball have seemed to be punishing the Red Sox -- this was just their fifth pennant since 1918, which was the last time they won a World Series. The Yankees, meanwhile, have won 26 world championships.

But this time the team infamous for its heartbreak and postseason collapse is the Yankees, the first team in baseball history to squander a 3-0 lead. With each successive Red Sox rally, the tension ratcheted, belief quietly built among the Red Sox and public interest in this bitter historical feud mounted steadily.

Relations between the teams are always fractious, and never more so than in postseason. This series will be remembered for both the highly pitched feelings and the way those translated into the high quality of play. On Monday, the Red Sox beat the Yankees, 5-4, in a 14-inning marathon, the longest postseason game ever at 5 hours 49 minutes. The prime-time baseball coverage averaged a 14.6 national television rating. "Monday Night Football," by comparison, had a 7.7 rating.

At least outwardly, the Red Sox seemed an unlikely team to mount such a comeback. They are an unkempt lot, all facial hair and strange habits and mannerisms. Before games, they have been known to watch "Animal House" together. Francona can sometimes hear their exuberant screaming and the loud music from the dugout.

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