Red Sox 3, Cardinals 0
-- If there really was a Curse, it is forevermore broken. If Bill Buckner, Bucky Dent, Aaron Boone and the rest were truly part of some vast conspiracy to perpetuate a region's unending anguish, it has been snuffed out. If there ever was a tangible reason the Boston Red Sox went 86 years without a World Series title -- each decade marked by its own signature calamity, an awful shared history handed down through generations -- it is true no longer.
More than likely, there was no curse, no conspiracy and no reason, other than the fact there has never been another Red Sox team like this one -- the one that smothered the St. Louis Cardinals, 3-0, in Game 4 of the World Series, the one that swept away the winningest team in baseball in four games, the one that will be hailed in New England for as long as baseball is played there.
"We broke the curse," said left fielder Manny Ramirez, who was named the series' most valuable player after hitting .412 with four RBI. "Next year, we'll do it again."
Veteran right-hander Derek Lowe, the longest-tenured Red Sox player, tossed seven scoreless innings Wednesday night as Boston won its eighth straight game this postseason, becoming the latest Red Sox starter to dominate the Cardinals' fearsome, steel-cored offense.
"We're finally winners," Lowe said. "We're not the happy guys who come in second."
When the final out was secured, and the weight of all that history rose off their backs, every last self-described idiot in the Red Sox dugout and bullpen streamed onto the Busch Stadium infield, commencing a fittingly raucous celebration as a stunned crowd of 52,037 looked on. Catcher Jason Varitek collapsed to his knees in the infield grass. Ramirez climbed the mound and stood proud and tall.
Heaven only knows what was taking place in the streets of Boston, where there will be a championship parade on Friday.
"As passionate as [those fans] are," Varitek said, "they deserve it."
One of the longest and most storied championship droughts in sports history is now over. The Red Sox last won the World Series in 1918, when two of their four wins were credited to a young lefty named Babe Ruth.
Had these Red Sox followed the scripts of their ill-fated predecessors, the ending would have been fraught with peril, disaster and gore -- a ground ball between their first baseman's legs, a monumental homer by some weak-hitting opponent, or some other calamity too gruesome to imagine. Red Sox fans could have been forgiven for suspecting their three-games-to-none lead was just the setup for the latest cruel joke that fate was preparing to play on them.
But not only did the Red Sox win, they never even made their fans sweat. Center fielder Johnny Damon led off the game with a homer off Jason Marquis, Trot Nixon added a two-run double in the third inning, and that was that. The Cardinals never again brought the tying run to the plate.
For the Cardinals, the end launched a painful winter of soul-searching. They led the majors with 105 wins this season -- no NL team with that many wins had ever been swept in the World Series -- with a combination of offensive might and seamless fundamental play.
Yet, the lasting images of the Cardinals from this series will be of futility and ineptitude -- sluggers who could not drive in runs, a parade of mediocre pitchers unable to miss bats, atrocious base running, indefensible decisions. Surely, it will go down as one of the worst World Series performances in history.
"They outplayed us in every category," said Manager Tony La Russa, who became the first manager to be swept in a World Series in both leagues.
In Wednesday night's first inning, to cite one mere example, after Tony Womack's single set the table for the Cardinals' big hitters, Larry Walker decided it would be a good time for his first sacrifice bunt in 13 years. Two batters later, Womack was stranded at third when the inning ended. La Russa later said Walker was trying to bunt for a single.
"I'd give up a hit to Womack every inning," Lowe said, "if Walker is going to bunt."
The loudest the crowd ever got came in the top of the eighth, when closer Jason Isringhausen pitched his way masterfully out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam. For an instant, the Cardinals had a molecule of momentum. But the Red Sox bullpen never let them sustain it. The final out in the bottom of the ninth was a comebacker to the mound, which closer Keith Foulke flipped to first base, initiating euphoria.
The Cardinals did not lead for a single one of the series' 36 innings. On Wednesday night, they found themselves trailing after only four pitches, when Damon tattooed a fastball from Marquis into the Cardinals' bullpen in right. Marquis survived that, plus Nixon's two-run double in the third, to throw six serviceable innings, the Cardinals' longest start in the series.
Meantime, Lowe, a free-agent-to-be making perhaps his final Red Sox start, retired 13 straight batters at one point, and he was the winning pitcher in all three of Boston's clinchers this postseason.
The degree of Boston's domination was staggering. In Games 2, 3 and 4 combined, starters Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez and Lowe held the Cardinals to no earned runs in 20 innings. Cardinals sluggers Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds -- likely to be three of the top five vote-getters in league MVP balloting -- batted a combined .133 in the series, with one RBI.
"That," said second baseman Mark Bellhorn, "is world championship pitching."
As the late innings flew by, amazingly, there was scarcely a whiff of danger for the Red Sox, nary a disaster in sight. And as the end drew near, instead of collapsing, the Red Sox played as if overtaken by a focused calm, as if all at once they understood what transcendence they had achieved and what misery they had ended.