Some well-meaning but silly people thought that the evil spells, bizarre mishaps and totally unaccountable brain cramps that have afflicted the Boston Red Sox since 1918 would suddenly disappear in the World Series just because they erased any and all remnants of such behavior in the American League Championship Series against the Yankees.
Presumably, after just one game of this World Series, such folk have been dissuaded from this romantic folly. On opening night of this installment of the interminable Red Sox quest, Kevin Millar made an unnecessary throw that went into the dugout as a run scored. Bronson Arroyo, for no reason, unleashed a throw into the box seats. And, in a blooper sequence for the ages, left "fielder" Manny Ramirez overran a trickling ground ball single to allow one run to score then, moments later, tried an unnecessary sliding catch on a routine fly ball and failed to glove it, allowing another run to score to tie the game at 9 in the eighth inning.
Sure, Mark Bellhorn won the game, 11-9, for Boston with a two-run homer -- off the right field foul pole -- in the bottom of that inning, his second home run off such a pole in two games. The lucky blow off the Pesky Pole came off Julian Tavarez, who would have been justified in punching a wall and breaking a few bones in his left hand. But he already did that last week.
Still, despite their wacky victory, the subtext of this victory was that the Red Sox played as though they were still a team that has not yet entirely freed itself of its historical baggage. The reason is simple: They haven't.
Ever since the Red Sox ended their eons of humiliation at Yankee Stadium this week, and actually turned the mortification back on the New York Yankees, baseball fans have, for some perplexing reason, been confused about whether Boston has ended its jinx or curse or whatever you choose to call the curious coincidence of not winning a world title for 86 seasons.
Those who are confused have, perhaps, not endured this Red Sox illness at close quarters. For those who have, the distinction is plain. The Red Sox have had two different though equally malevolent black clouds that have hung over their heads since the Coolidge administration. They can't beat the damn Yankees when the chips are down for the pennant. But, on those rare occasions when the Yankees stink and Boston somehow does win a pennant, then they lose the World Series -- always in the seventh game and usually through some self-inflicted blunder.
See, two problems but just one curse or tradition.
As those Red Sox T-shirts say, "Anybody Can Have A Bad Century."
Obviously, the first and more pressing problem has always been the Yankees, since they play in the American League and stand directly in the Red Sox' path every season. This leads to hideous pennant-pilfering events such as the Bucky Dent home run in the '78 AL East playoff or the disastrous Grady Little blunder in Game 7 of the '03 ALCS.
That's why the Red Sox' unparalleled comeback in the ALCS, becoming the first team ever to -- oh, you know -- is so mightily important to Boston's entire franchise future. The Yankees will beat the Red Sox many times in the 21st century. But nobody will ever again be able to say it is because of an unbreakable hex or a Boston inferiority complex or the ghost of Babe Ruth.
However, we are left with a second very substantial consideration: The Red Sox' History of World Series Heartbreak.
Only in '46, '67, '75 and '86 has the second level of Red Sox misfortune reared its head. But its impact on the franchise and its fans has been enormous. Nothing compares to the pain of losing a winner-take-all game for the world championship. Especially when in '46, "Pesky holds the ball," or in '86, Bill Buckner has a grounder dribble between his feet.
The current Red Sox bosses, who took over the team three years ago, have made it very clear that they deem it essential to remove both evil influences -- the Yankees' dominance and the World Series catastrophes. In fact, the new owners even have a (very long) mission statement. It includes, in boldface type, "To End The Curse of The Bambino and Win a World Championship."
So, there we have it. Even though the Yankees no long hold any claim to owning the Red Sox, we're not yet allowed to view the Red Sox as a normal team. They are still in the freakish category.
Nothing, of course, can be easy for the Red Sox. Game 1, for example, should have been a cakewalk. On a cold night with a stiff wind blowing straight in, no ballpark in baseball should be more of a pitcher's paradise than Fenway. From a bandbox, it turns into a canyon. Yet Boston absolutely crushed Cardinals starter Woody Williams for seven runs in an atrocious 21/3 innings. David Ortiz, who has turned into Barry Bonds this October, hit a three-run homer in the first inning. Before Williams left, Bill Mueller, Johnny Damon, Orlando Cabrera and Ramirez had all driven in runs.
Any Boston starter of the last 50 years would have loved such a lead on such a night. The one exception is Tim Wakefield. He's a knuckleballer. And every knuckleballer who has ever lived hates, loathes and despises a wind that blows straight in toward home plate. It takes the flutter off their crazy butterflies and turns the best of 'em into batting practice pitchers.
So, even with a huge lead, Wakefield dragged the Cards right back into the game. Afraid to pitch over the heart of the plate, he tried to aim his knuckler -- almost an impossibility -- and walked four men and allowed five runs in 32/3 innings. For future reference, only one Cardinal got a hit against Wakefield even on a bad night -- Larry Walker, who had a single, double and solo homer.
By the sixth inning, the Cards had come all the way back to tie it at 7 on a night when the Redbirds should have been cooked.
At least we now have a good idea what to expect the rest of this World Series. Whenever the Red Sox seem on the verge of moving out from under their nefarious dark cloud, some perverse force -- like a wind blowing in behind a knuckleballer -- will probably pull them back toward their nightmarish past.
That nasty Yankee mojo is now part of Red Sox and baseball history. But Boston's misadventures in the World Series, especially its self-inflicted ones, are still very much part of the team's present and its collective team consciousness.
What the Red Sox managed against the Yankees -- a complete reversal of more than 80 years of team history -- will have to be duplicated once more. Only this time, the stakes will be even higher.