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Johnny Pesky, you're off the hook. Billy Bucks, all's forgiven. That home run by Bucky Dent? Relegated to ancient, irrelevant history.

The Curse has been reversed. The Boston Red Sox have won a World Series. Good thing Stephen King's nearing retirement because you'd have to think, after this, the prolific author and crazed Bosox fan can't possibly maintain his macabre edge.

Repeat. The Red Sox have won a World Series. The Red Sox! A team with a 30-year-old, second-year general manager. A club with a first-year skipper who could be doing stand-up on Comedy Central. A franchise renowned for dragging its faithful followers to the brink of euphoria and then tumbling head over heels right back from where it came.

It's over. It's really over. No more tormenting chants of "1918!" No more regrets over the sale of Babe Ruth. No more sympathy from a country of baseball fans captivated by the plight of the hardest-luck losers pro sports has ever known.

"This is for the fans of Boston," shouted Curt Schilling, the starter who attained mythical postseason status while pitching through injury. "This is for Pesky, Buckner, (Bob) Stanley and (Calvin) Schiraldi."

"For all the guys who put their whole lives into the Red Sox and didn't get to do this, they're here celebrating with us," beer-soaked General Manager Theo Epstein said in the raucous clubhouse. "This is for all of them too."

"I'm sure the people in New England are dancing in the streets," said manager Terry Francona. "I can't wait to go join them."

Boston finished the job Wednesday night in methodical fashion, signaling its readiness with Johnny Damon's leadoff homer and riding the masterful pitching of Derek Lowe, who not long ago had been banished to the bullpen. The Cards were no match, a no-show from Game One until they were swept out the door, listless in a 3-0 loss that deprived the country of the intense drama for which the Red Sox are famous.

Boston advanced to Game Four knowing full well that to prolong this series would be to unleash a hurricane of anxiety. They themselves had instilled the Cards with a modicum of belief, a flicker of wild hope, by becoming the first team in baseball history to rally from a three-game playoff deficit, by rising from the grave to overtake the despised Yankees in the American League Championship Series.

"Today I was talking to the guys and reminding them of what happened with New York," said Manny Ramirez, the Series MVP.

You know darn well what Red Sox Nation was thinking. If its beleaguered franchise could accomplish that unprecedented feat, if this curse-riddled organization could perform the unimaginable, then surely it was within the Red Sox's power, perhaps even their destiny, to turn right around and squander a 3-0 advantage in the World Series. Like that would have come as a surprise.

There were unsettling omens such a reversal could be forthcoming. Word spread here, even before Game Three, that Boston officials had begun planning the victory parade the city has awaited since 1918. It was an assumption, a leap of faith, that encouraged Cardinals fans to take heart.

Busch Stadium is located a quarter-mile from Union Station, and do you know what happened at Union Station? It was at the former train depot that, in November of 1948, Give 'Em Hell Harry held aloft the front page of the Chicago Daily Tribune, displaying the headline that blared, "Dewey Defeats Truman." Throw that glass of ice water on your victory parade.

But the Red Sox couldn't be sidetracked, wouldn't be deterred. Their victory Wednesday night completed an emphatic postseason run for the ages, a record eight consecutive wins after elimination beckoned from three outs away. If Dave Roberts, the former Buffalo Bison, wasn't acquired in a deadline trade, wasn't available to pinch run and steal a base in Game Four, the Red Sox are swept by the Yanks and nothing changes. But he was and he did and everything changed.

"If Dave Roberts can't steal second base, I'm home watching this on television," Francona said.

What the Red Sox have accomplished is incredible, requires time to truly digest, because their season and its preamble was rife with controversies. There was the failed attempt to trade Ramirez, the failed attempt to acquire Alex Rodriguez, the deal that rid the Red Sox of shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, one of the more popular players in the history of the franchise. General Manager Theo Epstein was criticized widely for his gamble, and with justification, for rarely does a club come out ahead when it surrenders the best player in the trade. But Garciaparra had grown into a malcontent, the Red Sox were defensively suspect and the trade for Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mentkiewicz bolstered Boston in the field and fed the clubhouse chemistry.

"I remember last year saying we didn't win the World Series, but give us a couple of years," Epstein said. "Hopefully this marks the beginning of an era of Red Sox excellence."

The Idiots, as the Sox fondly call themselves, were full of pizazz, distinctive, from the long, flowing locks of Damon to the electroshock looks of Pedro Martinez and Ramirez. All it did was mask the relentless desire they had within. While no one would ever dare count the Red Sox in, it proved misguided to count them out.

"This is better than getting $100,000," said the 85-year-old Pesky, a special consultant whose delayed throw home in the '46 Series was blamed for the Sox loss to the Cards. "Well, with what they get nowadays, it's better than getting a million dollars. It's better than money. Schilling grabbed me and picked me up when I came in here. I thought he almost broke my neck, and he was ready to kiss me."

How strange it is that Major League Baseball recently adopted the slogan, "I Live For This." Eighty-six years after the city's last World Series championship, you'd have to say that Red Sox fans are ecstatic to have done just that.

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