Misery finally over for Boston fans

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:36 AM ET

For 86 years, The Curse has been so convenient. It explained away everything.

One decade of catastrophic Red Sox history piled upon another, every heart-breaking twist of the dagger traceable back to the day Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees after the 1918 World Series.

Seems every New England novelist, or novelist-wannabe, is a fourth-generation Red Sox fan, driven to bare his tortured soul in a self-absorbed tome, in which the ballteam plays only an incidental role to the self-important author. We all know that every Boston fan thinks he has a baseball book inside him. And that's a good place for it.

Far be it for the literati to search their vocabularies for a clinical word to describe why the Red Sox have gone 86 years between drinks. I'll take a wild stab and say "pitching," but that's just me.

But no, the romantics don't like it that simple, preferring to confer their most profound loyalty on those most fallible. In baseball, the most tragically fallible have always been the Boston Red Sox.

"Baseball is not a life and death matter," wrote then-Boston Globe cityside columnist Mike Barnicle in 1977, "but the Red Sox are."

And their fans are conditioned to their miserable existence. They have come so agonizingly close many times since 1918, a state of being epitomized by the Game 6 debacle in 1986 at Shea Stadium against the Mets.

Three times in that potential clinching game, the Red Sox had the lead and lost it. In the 10th inning, Dave Henderson hit a homer and Marty Barrett singled in Wade Boggs to give Boston a 5-3 lead.

In the bottom of the inning, the first two Mets, Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez, went quietly. Then a single by Gary Carter. Another single by Kevin Mitchell. Yet another single by Ray Knight plated Carter. The Sox led by one run.

After fouling off several pitches, Mookie Wilson hit a slow roller up the first base line. Normally surehanded Bill Buckner was playing behind the bag. Pitcher Bob Stanley was late breaking off the mound to cover first. Instead of fielding the ball cleanly, Buckner, realizing he was going to have to go to the bag himself, took his eye off the ball a fraction of a second early and it slithered between his legs. Wilson was safe, Mitchell and Knight scored. Game over, series tied 3-3.

The Mets won Game 7, 8-5, overcoming another Boston lead but it is Buckner's Game 6 error that lives on.

SO EASY

Now, 18 years later, Buckner is off the hook. Oh, he'll still be remembered for that play but now there will be no spotlight illuminating his dubious place in history.

And what Boston fan, or anybody who cares about baseball, for that matter, would ever have believed that when the curse was broken, it would be this easy? Four times previously -- 1946, '67, '75, '86 --they had been in the World Series and lost every time, excruciatingly, in a seventh game.

Four straight over the team regarded as the best in baseball this year, the St. Louis Cardinals. A four-game sweep and not a one-run game in the bunch. Eight wins in a line to finish a season that was three outs from extinction eight innings into Game 4 of the ALCS.

After Boston fell behind 3-0 to the Yankees in the ALCS, there was a guy with a sign behind third base at Yankee Stadium for Game 4.

The sign said: "You're not Cursed. You just stink."

Not any more, pal. Not any more. Boston is, finally, at the pinnacle. From here, the elevator goes only one direction.

Which begs the question, 'What now?'

After nearly a century of deprivation, how in the world will Red Sox Nation deal with this bounty? This is a question that has relevance in Toronto, where Maple Leafs Nation (a Red Sox branch plant) has been waiting on a Stanley Cup for the better part of four decades, yet can't get enough of their beloved Buds.

Just how does a town like Boston, so accustomed to heartbreak from its heroes, change its psyche? How does it digest its new persona as a city of champions?

I know I'm out on a limb on this one, but I have a funny feeling, just a hunch, that maybe somebody will write a book about it.

"The journey begins in (name a year, any year), my first autumn of despair as a Red Sox fan ..."


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