Well, how did this happen? I mean, this was a franchise that supposedly was haunted for eternity by pinstripes in general and the Bambino in particular. But nobody remembers those spooky times anymore for the Red Sox -- you know, except those with too much time on their hands, historians taking a break from the real world or Yankees fans yearning for their version of the good ol' days when their team actually was better than the Red Sox.
Speaking of those historians, there is Doris Kearns Goodwin, who regularly finds time to root like crazy for the Red Sox between studying the inner workings of past presidents. I just finished reading "Blood Feud: The Red Sox, the Yankees and the Struggle of Good versus Evil," and Goodwin described in the book how Red Sox Nation evolved after its team spent October 2004 making "ridiculous" just another word. That's because Red Sox Nation did the unprecedented back then by roaring back from a 3-1 deficit to the Yanks to win that best-of-seven American League Championship Series. Then the Red Sox did the unthinkable against those Cardinals by snatching the club's first World Series in 86 years.
The Red Sox even did so with a sweep. Said Goodwin to "Blood Feud" authors Bill Nowlin and Jim Prime, referring to those 2004 Red Sox, "The players' exuberant faith in themselves was contagious. It changed the character of the fans. We were no longer afraid of what the next batter or the next inning might bring. Whatever happened, they would see us through. And they surely did, bringing us the greatest victory in sports history, one that, with luck, maybe has forever altered our temperaments as Red Sox fans."
We still have to go a tad longer in life to reach "forever," but Goodwin has been omniscient so far. For instance: As a whole, Red Sox fans aren't into doom and gloom anymore. Why should they be? Two seasons ago, there was their September collapse with much emphasis on fried chicken and beer in the clubhouse. Then came last year's free fall to the bottom of the AL East. So all the Red Sox did this season was finished tied with the Cards for the best record in baseball at 97-65 along the way to capturing the division and the AL pennant.
They've done so with the best hitting team in the Major Leagues, impressive pitching and more Curse-killing stuff. For instance: They have this beard-growing deal in which they are refusing to shave until they hoist the Commissioner's Trophy. Plus, they've been the focal point of the Boston Strong slogan that became a rallying cry for those around the city and elsewhere earlier this year after the Boston Marathon bombings.
The Curse of the Bambino? Remember? I'm getting to it.
For now, I'll mention that the 2004 Red Sox had their so-called "Idiots," and it was a term the Red Sox used back then to signify that they had a group of players who didn't know any better while ignoring curses, goblins and Yankees to win it all. Three years later, the Red Sox had some of those "Idiots" remaining to complement the likes of Dustin Pedroia, Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell doing their things enough in October to push the Red Sox to a second World Series championship in four years.
So much for the Curse. But about the Curse. It goes back to the Bambino, otherwise known as Babe Ruth, and you know the story. When the Red Sox sold the pitcher turned slugger to the Yankees in the winter of 1919 -- reportedly so the Red Sox's owner at the time could finance a Broadway play -- the Curse of the Bambino was born. While Ruth set the foundation for the Yanks' explosion toward 40 AL pennants and 27 World Series championships, his former team went 86 years without capturing a World Series, and they regularly did so in odd ways.
Ever hear of Bill Buckner? Enough said.
Let's go further back than that. And remember: The Red Sox once were a baseball powerhouse. They went 16 years through the Babe's last season in Boston in 1918 winning five World Series championships in five attempts. Granted, the Red Sox reached the World Series three times between 1967 to 1986, but the Curse was alive and well back then. No World Series championships during that stretch. Just excruciating endings.
In 1967, the Red Sox's Impossible Dream season finished with a thud, because their hitters couldn't do anything against the fastballs of Bob Gibson in the seventh and decisive game at Fenway Park. In 1975, there was the drama of Carlton Fisk's home run in the 12th inning of Game 6 at Fenway Park, but the Reds had the final thrills on the Red Sox's home field the next night in Game 7. Then there was 1986 and Buckner, along with the inability of the Red Sox to win a another Game 7.
There also were the slew of times when those pinstripe folks kept the Red Sox from reaching the World Series.
Two words: Bucky Dent.
Two more words: Aaron Boone.
So here are the Red Sox, opening this year's World Series at Fenway Park on Wednesday night, and they are the favorites. Wow. Guess there really is a Great Pumpkin and Mr. Claus.