Time for Red Sox fans to worry

Somewhere in heaven my dad and grandfather must be wringing their hands with worry about now, wondering when the other shoe will drop on their beloved Boston Red Sox.

It's not supposed to be this way.

The Red Sox won again Tuesday night, defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 4-1 to take a 3-0 lead in the 2004 World Series. That means one more victory and the Sox have their first championship since 1918.

Babe Ruth was on that 1918 team. Two years later he was sold to the New York Yankees, who have gone on to win 26 championships since. Meanwhile, the Red Sox have known nothing but heartbreak in 86 years, more often than not at the expense of the hated Yankees.

Their futility has come to be known as the "Curse of the Bambino." And it could end tonight ... or Friday, or Saturday, or Sunday.

Then again … we're talking about the Red Sox.

The curse was alive and well last October when the Red Sox held a 5-2 lead in the eighth inning and still lost the pennant to the Yankees. This October, the Yankees went up 3-0 in the American League Championship Series and were poised to sweep the Red Sox in front of their fans.

Somehow, the Red Sox rallied in their last at-bat, and kept rallying that night and for three more nights. They won four straight times to earn a most unlikely trip to the World Series. Such a comeback from three games down had never been done before in a seven-game series in any sport except hockey, where it's happened twice, once during World War II.

And now the Sox are in the same position the Yankees were a week and a half ago -- a win from a sweep.

So it's time to worry.

You have to understand the folklore that goes along with rooting for the Boston Red Sox. I grew up with it. Torment is a given. It's not just losing, it's getting so very close and then having your heart ripped out. It has come to be as inevitable as the sun rising.

And yet within the Red Sox Nation there exists an eternal optimism, a consistent loyalty to this team that borders on obsession that I've never seen quite matched in sports. My parents always insisted I wasn't actually named after the most famous of all Red Sox, but the coincidence certainly was convenient. I am told I had a Red Sox uniform and a Ted Williams glove before I could walk.

The Yankees were always the bad guys. That mindset was instilled deeply in me. They had every advantage, got every umpire's call. Everything went their way. Dad would say if they had been cheating, at least their remarkable good fortune could be explained.

And the Red Sox would be on the brink of glory, and then it would evaporate before our eyes. It would always be something weird. My father could never believe Cardinal Enos Slaughter could score all the way from first base on a single to beat the Sox in the '46 World Series. He saw it on a newsreel in a movie theater and still didn't believe it.

Bill Lee in 1975 and Roger Clemens in 1986 each were winning World Series-clinching games for the Red Sox only to have to come out of the games because of blisters on their pitching hands. The Red Sox lost both in the last inning.

Light-hitting Yankee Bucky Dent hit an unlikely homer to beat them in a playoff in '78, as painful a moment as Fenway Park has delivered. Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner had a ball roll through his legs in the '86 Series to beat the Sox after they had come within one strike of the World Series championship several times, as painful a moment as any Red Sox fan has known.

Even last year, Yankee players said they kept telling each other "wait for the ghost." He showed up yet again.

It's happened over and over. That's what makes the events of these last two weeks so incongruous. What the Red Sox pulled off against the Yankees last week is considered perhaps the greatest comeback in sports history. And this was the Red Sox … against the Yankees!

And now, one more game? Can this be for real? Think about what this means. Should the Red Sox win the World Series, the curse is dead. The dynamic of the greatest rivalry in sports changes dramatically. The Yankee mystique will never be the same.

That is unless the curse shows up right now. If it does, it would deal the Red Sox their most crushing moment -- Bill Buckner times four if you will. If St. Louis wins the next four games, the Yankees suddenly are vindicated from their awful collapse. It will not be unique.

The tormented Sox fans would be tormented again. It will be as it has been for 86 years. Fans of any other baseball team up 3-0 in a World Series would be reveling in the moment. And I'm sure the Red Sox Nation is waiting to bust out as well. But there is so much history, the torment has been so prevalent. In the backs of their minds, maybe even more toward the middle, Sox fans have to wonder:

Does the Bambino have them just where he wants them?

Ted Williams is a senior Web producer at mcall.com. His column appears weekly.
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