Kathy Farrell could be forgiven for entertaining the possibility that her beloved Boston Red Sox might be cursed. During an April game at Fenway Park, she stumbled in the bleachers and fractured her wrist, which later required surgery. Boston lost to the New York Yankees that day, 7-3.
But on Wednesday night, with the Red Sox trailing arch rival New York in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, there was Farrell, 31, in a packed bar called the Sevens, with a blue-and-red cap on her head and her scarred wrist curled around a beer.
"Oh, I was fine, and they'll be fine," said Farrell, a yoga instructor, whose hat was embroidered with the year 2004 -- in response to Yankees fans' taunts about 1918, the year the Red Sox last won the World Series. "Like they always say, this should be the year."
Famous for their zealotry and notorious as gluttons for punishment, legions of Red Sox fans this week joined in what has become an agonizing annual ritual of rooting on a team with a penchant for spectacular collapse.
With the Red Sox trailing their best-of-seven series to New York two games to none, events seem to be proceeding as usual, with the series shifting Boston for Game 3 on Friday.
The Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in January 1920, leading some to believe that he jinxed his former club for eternity. The Yankees have since been champions 26 times.
But after yet another in a long line of heartbreaking playoff-series losses last year (to New York, no less), this season felt different, even to hardened pessimists. Always a strong hitting team, Boston stocked up on top pitchers, including right-hander Curt Schilling, who led the major leagues with 21 wins.
They finished the season second to New York for a record seventh straight year but beat the Yankees in 11 out of 19 games, including a midseason classic punctuated by a bench-clearing brawl.
And earlier this week, a wrecking crew demolished the Watertown, Mass., house in which Ruth's ex-wife once lived. Developers, who plan to build two townhouses on the lot, told reporters at the scene they were hoping to bury bad luck in the rubble.
So great was the fervor this summer among fans -- known across New England as Red Sox Nation -- that local movie houses showed games to packed, paying audiences. Fenway Park was sold out every game for the first time since it was opened in 1912. A documentary about last season's meltdown earned nearly $400,000 at the box office. Its title: "Still We Believe."
Even at the height of a presidential campaign that includes native son John F. Kerry, politics -- often dubbed Boston's unofficial religion -- has taken a back seat to baseball.
Ratings on local stations for Wednesday's Game 2 telecast showed that 37.9 percent of area households watched the Red Sox. That was about double the number that tuned in to the final presidential debate, according to Boston's Fox affiliate, which broadcast the game.
But now confidence -- which seemed to peak with a fate-tempting Boston Herald headline earlier this month that read "Go Yanks! We Want to Kick Your Butts on Our Way to the World Series" -- is waning.
Since 1985, only two of the 15 teams facing a similar two-game deficit have come back to win a league championship series.
The mood is particularly despondent in an Internet chat room called the Sons of Sam Horn (named for an obscure former Red Sox player), which doubles as a support group for the devout and disappointed.
A week ago, Schilling posted bold messages -- "Why not us?" was one rallying cry -- to members, who refer to Yankee Stadium as "the toilet" and the team that plays there by an abbreviation of an unprintable obscenity. Then Schilling injured his ankle and the Red Sox lost the first two games of the series, giving fans a new reason to curse their fate.
"I am so sad/angry/worried, I don't know whether to laugh at the irony of it all, cry and be depressed or kidnap Mariano Rivera," wrote a poster calling herself "gaelgirl," referring to the Yankees' star relief pitcher.
For the faithful, certainly, all hope is not lost. Just ask Sister Margaret Marie Murphy, a nun for 60 years and a Red Sox fan for even longer. Murphy, in her late seventies, says her belief in the team has never been stronger, even though it has yet to win a World Series in her lifetime.
"They seem to be in a bad spot, but we're rooting for them, hoping for them and, of course, praying for them," said Murphy, who watched about 45 games this year on TV at St. Anthony's convent in Somerville, Mass., across the Charles River from Boston. The rest she listened to on the radio, she said.
Under a light drizzle, Fenway Park was quiet Thursday, with souvenir shops all but empty. One store manager attributed that to the team's lackluster recent performance.
"It's just the calm before the storm," said Andy Urban, 32, of Watertown, Mass., who came looking for players' autographs, as he said he has done just about every day of the season since he was 15 years old. "As long as there's one out left, they always have a chance."