The unthinkable has happened. The baseball world turned completely upside down the last four days.
The Boston Red Sox have produced the greatest comeback in the history of the game. As for the New York Yankees? Sorry, pinstripe fans. You can't call it anything but the greatest choke.
Around midnight Sunday, the Sox were trailing, three games to none. They were a run down and three outs away -- against legendary Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, no less -- from being swept out of the American League Championship Series.
How four days seems like four years.
Fast-forward to Wednesday night in Yankee Stadium. Derek Lowe pitched six innings of one-hit ball. Struggling leadoff man Johnny Damon belted two of Boston's four home runs, including a second-inning grand slam, and drove in an ALCS-record six runs. Game Seven was no contest.
Boston 10, New York 3.
New England's annual heartbreak finally turned to joy. The Red Sox are going to the World Series after becoming the first team to ever wipe out an 0-3 deficit.
"This one is for all those great Red Sox players and teams who would have been in the World Series were it not for the Yankees," boy-wonder General Manager and Boston native Theo Epstein said as the champagne flew in the raucous clubhouse. "It's for 1949, '78, '03. It's all for them. Now we start worrying about how to win four more games and really do something that's been a long time coming for this franchise."
Yes, the Sox have more work to do. They'll host Houston or St. Louis in Game One of the World Series on Saturday night in Fenway Park. It will be their first trip to the Series since 1986, the year they were one strike away from a championship in Game Six before the infamous Bill Buckner error doomed them to a seven-game loss to the New York Mets.
It's plays such as the Buckner bobble and Aaron Boone's home run in the 11th inning of Game Seven of last year's ALCS that have contributed to an 86-year championship drought and a cursed legacy. But how do you explain this turnaround?
Bounces went the Sox way. So did key umpire's calls. Rivera blew saves on back-to-back nights in the postseason for the first time under manager Joe Torre. Curt Schilling did his best Willis Reed impression in Game Six and pitched despite a mangled ankle.
"We had such a bad memory last year," said designated hitter David Ortiz, who clubbed a two-run homer in the first inning and was named the Most Valuable Player of the series. "A lot of my teammates were just destroyed because we played a pretty good game and lost, and it was a big-time opportunity to get to the World Series. . . . We always kept the faith. We never lost it."
"There's no curses," said catcher Jason Varitek. "Did you hear me? No curse. I've never believed in any of that stuff. Since I've been here, it's been all about the Yankees outplaying us. We finally outplayed them the last four games."
Specifically, the Red Sox shut down the vaunted Yankees offense. New York hit .377 and scored 32 runs in the first three games. In the last four, the Yankees scored 13 runs and batted just .216.
The Nos. 2-5 hitters in the Yankee lineup (Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui and Bernie Williams) were 30 for 57 in the first three games, 13 for 75 in the last four.
Leadoff man Derek Jeter was just 6 for 30 in the series. Rodriguez was only 8 for 31 and finished the series 1 for 15 after his two-run homer in Game Four. The crowd of 56,129 turned surly on Rodriguez following his final two at-bats, showering him with boos after a weak grounder to short in the sixth and a strikeout in the eighth.
The Yankees were never the same after their 19-8 win in Game Three. They lost Game Four in 12 innings and Game Five in 14, both times on game-winning hits by Ortiz after Rivera blew saves that sent the game into extra innings.
"They can put winning streaks together before you blink your eye, and we knew that," Torre said. "That's why I brought in Mariano in Game Four with two innings to go even though we had a 3-0 lead in the series. I thought this was the time to do it because we had the opportunity (to sweep the series)."
But by Game Seven, the Yanks were in deep trouble. Matsui and Jeter combined to cut down Damon at the plate in the first inning on a Manny Ramirez single, but starter Kevin Brown immediately gave away the momentum when Ortiz pounded a room-service fastball into the right-field stands for a 2-0 lead.
"Who's your 'Big Papi' in New York?" Sox first baseman Kevin Millar said of Ortiz. "Everybody in this town knows now."
Brown was lifted in the second after a single and two walks. Javier Vazquez was no relief. Damon turned on Vazquez's first pitch, an inside fastball, for the slam that essentially ended the drama for the rest of the night.
It was just the second Game Seven grand slam in postseason history, the other being Moose Skowron's shot for the Yankees against the Dodgers in the 1956 World Series. Damon, who entered the game 3 for 29 in the series, went 3 for 6. His two-run blast in the fourth, off another first-pitch fastball from Vazquez, made it 8-1.
"It was about time," Damon said. "I had to find a way to contribute something. It was an incredible feeling to see those balls go out. We made history here, and now we want to go make some more."
Lowe baffled the Yankees with his sinker and change-up, retiring 18 of the 21 hitters he faced, including the final 11. Pedro Martinez, Mike Timlin and Alan Embree finished. Embree pitched to one man and got pinch hitter Ruben Sierra on a grounder to second baseman Pokey Reese for the final out as the Sox poured from the dugout and shared a group hug between the mound and the plate.
"When it was 3-0, these players all looked around and said to their neighbor, 'I'm not letting you down,' " Epstein said. "The next thing you know, we're pouring champagne in Yankee Stadium. It's unbelievable."