New York Yankees fans have but one weapon left in their arsenal of abuse for Boston Red Sox supporters. So, of course, last night as their last resort, they used it. As they trudged out of Yankee Stadium--disappointed, disbelieving and even discombobulated by the stunning turn of events and the final thrashing--the guys in blue hats kept turning back and screaming at the Red Sox celebrants: "Until you win the series, it's still 1918."
If the baseball gods offer up one more act of mercy next week, that taunt--the relentless reminder of the last time the Red Sox won the World Series--will have been heard for the final time in New York. Which leaves me with a rather devilish notion. The BoSox actually open the 2005 season back in the Bronx. How about we retire that juvenile "Yankees suck" refrain, especially since the events of the past four days speak for themselves. Instead, every Red Sox fan shows up for Opening Day with a sign that reads: 2000.
Admittedly four years isn't easily confused with 86 years. But in the world of George Steinbrenner, four years without a championship is an eternity--a burr in his butt that will surely lead to one of The Boss's other favorite sports, head-rolling. Though manager Joe Torre's moves or, at times, lack of them, provoked a fair amount of criticism this past week, he remains St. Joe and likely to be spared. That leaves General Manager Brian Cashman as the odds-on fall guy. After all, everybody knows the postseason is a pitcher's game. And the Yankee's failed miserably to fill the void when Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite and David Wells all departed after last season. The Yankees' starting pitching acquisitions all flopped miserably, and the team never shored up what was ultimately one of the thinnest bullpens in the league. When the most expensive team in history has to rely on a Devil Ray reject in critical situations, it gets what it deserves.
It was a historic victory for the Red Sox, not only the first baseball team ever to come back from three games down, but also Boston's first significant act of one-upmanship over New York (Mets, of course, included) in the modern baseball era. It provoked a frenzied celebration among the several thousand Red Sox fans who had braved the belly of the beast. While the Yankees, upright and pinstriped, have always been exemplars of the game's best traditional values, the new Red Sox, the self-proclaimed "idiots," have a much more finely honed sense of humor, if only in self-defense. So a few Red Sox players, including the team's leading fool, Kevin Millar, disappeared into the dugout and returned onto the field wearing 1918 Red Sox uniforms.
While the matter of 1918 won't be resolved fully for another week, baseball Talmudists were busy debating another critical aspect of Red Sox history: is the curse, the so-called curse of the Bambino, still alive? Those who believe in it say the curse--for trading Babe Ruth to the Yankees a year after he led the Red Sox to that last 1918 championship--pertained to never winning another series. The modernists--and I count myself among them--say the curse has really been about the balance of power between the two teams after Ruth went from Boston to New York. As rivals, even in recent years, the Red Sox have been strictly pretenders. But last night, in no uncertain fashion, Boston drove a stake through the heart of that curse in the most cursed of places. The curse is dead. (Long live the curse of Kevin Brown.)
Of course, it is not in the nature of Red Sox fans to linger in joy mode for too long. While the victory over the Yankees purges a lot of psychic pain, we New Englanders are always looking for the next bad dose. The greatest potential for a series disaster lies with the Houston Astros and their ace pitcher and most notable Red Sox quisling, Roger Clemens. Nobody disputes that Clemens ranks among the very greatest pitchers of all time (and one who will enter the Hall of Fame in a Red Sox uniform).
Despite Clemens's stellar 13 years here, Boston fans tend now to recall his conspicuous failures to come up big in the postseason. Like the time he suffered one of the Piazzaian mind glitches and went ballistic, getting himself tossed out of a critical playoff game against the A's. But our biggest grievance stems from the infamous World Series Game 6 against the Mets back in 1986, the last time Boston saw a World Series. The whole baseball world recalls Billy Buckner as the immortal goat of that blown series. But Red Sox fans, who never forget or forgive, accept manager John McNamara's account of Game 6 as gospel: that after seven innings with Boston leading in both the series and the game by the same count of 3-2, Clemens, the Red Sox's greatest pitching ace, asked to be taken out because he had a blister. Or to put it another way, Clemens wimped out and put the fortunes of Red Sox Nation in the hands of a callow rookie. For a wee little blister, a series was lost, and our torment has endured another two decades.
And now there's the prospect of Clemens returning to Fenway and breaking our hearts in reverse. Indeed, if Clemens and his Astros beat the St. Louis Cardinals tonight, Clemens would be on schedule to pitch Game 7 of the World Series at Fenway Park. I've only been back in Boston for a couple of hours, but in the e-mails and phone calls, I can see the dread starting to spread. Our Red Sox team may be too idiotic to brook such fears. But we are Red Sox Nation, and fear is our faith. We're never truly happy unless we're miserable, obsessing about the next inevitable horror show.
Fenway Park is our, to coin a word, excruciate--something anyone who witnessed those extra-inning classics against the Yankees will instantly understand. So on Saturday night bring on Clemens or bring on those Cardinals, who just happened to beat the Sox--both times in seven games--in two of Boston's last four World Series (1946 and 1967). Nobody here can wait. Let the next wave of suffering begin.