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Derek Lowe is a free agent but he has a big reason to want to return to the Boston Red Sox.

"I hope I can come back. I've always said I wanted to," Lowe said after pitching the Sox to their 3-0 World Series-clinching win Wednesday night over the St. Louis Cardinals. "Besides, I can't wait till next year to go back to Yankee Stadium and not hear that '1918' chant anymore."

A big reason the Sox will no longer hear the taunts of 86 years of frustration is because of their starting pitching. Tim Wakefield, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez and Lowe combined to post a 1.90 earned run average in the Series. St. Louis didn't manage a single earned run off the starters in the final three games.

"We knew we were playing a potent offense and the pitching staff took it personally to see if we could shut them down," Lowe said. "We did a lot of studying. We had a game plan and we tried to stick by it as much as we could."

"Derek pitched his butt off," catcher Jason Varitek said. "I'm so proud of that guy. Phenomenal job."

Lowe won the clinching game of the division series against Anaheim in relief and became the first player ever to throw three series-clinchers in one year with sensational starts against the Yankees in Game Seven of the American League Championship Series and the Cardinals. That appeared unlikely when Lowe was sentenced to the bullpen at the start of the postseason.

Manager Terry Francona told Lowe near the end of the regular season, prior to a meaningless game in Baltimore, that he was going to at least start the postseason in the bullpen. Lowe, who won 14 games during the regular season but was winless in his last five starts, was livid.

"He's a competitor and nobody wants to do that," Francona said. "We told him he had a day to pout, yell or whatever because he was going to have something to do in the playoffs. We just didn't know how much. But to his credit, he did what he was supposed to do. He didn't pout. He got himself ready and look at what he did."

"It's a very special team," Lowe said. "It's not about me. It was about the team. I was mad at the time but I had to prove again that I could be the pitcher they expected."

Lowe did just that and he's hoping to hear some silent crowds next year. Or least some that have more reverence toward the once-cursed Red Sox.

"A lot of guys fought this for a lot of years and never won one," Lowe said. "I hope we invite a lot of them back so they can enjoy this. They're a part of history. I won a couple big games and that was great but it's about the Boston Red Sox: 2004 World Champions. That just sounds so good, so much better than all that other stuff."

The Sox will get to raise their championship banner at their home opener next April 11. The opponent that day: the New York Yankees.

The Cardinals returned Tony Womack to the leadoff slot and moved Edgar Renteria back to No. 6 in the order. Womack was dealing with back spasms and a bruised collarbone for the last week.

It made no difference. St. Louis had just 24 hits in the series -- the fewest since Baltimore had 23 against the Mets in 1969 -- and 11 of those came in Game One. Cleanup man Scott Rolen was 0 for 15. Jim Edmonds was 1 for 15.

Boston's 86-year championship drought is only the third-longest in baseball history. Pity the poor folks in Chicago. The White Sox haven't won one since 1917 and the Cubs are still winless since 1908.

The Sox became the third straight wild-card team to win the World Series, joining Anaheim (2002) and Florida (2003). The Marlins also won in 1997 as a wild card.

Boston is the sixth straight team that's built a 3-0 lead and completed a Series sweep. The last time a team led, 3-0, and lost Game Four was in 1970, when Baltimore fell to Cincinnati. But the Orioles earned the title the next day in Game Five.

The clinching game marked the first time in history four pitchers have combined on a Series shutout.

Work is going at a feverish pitch on the Cardinals' new stadium, set to open in 2006. It's located in the parking lot of Busch and will be so close to the old stadium that it's unlikely Busch can be imploded. The old park will have to be taken down piece by piece, delaying some ancillary features of the new park from being ready until 2007. . . . Four F/A-18 Hornet jets flew over the ballpark prior to Game Three. One of two Navy officers perched on the stadium roof coordinating the flyover was Lt. Commander Jim Beer, a Buffalo native who is a maintenance officer based in Atlanta. Said Beer in Wednesday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "I'm a fan of the Yankees and whatever team is playing the Red Sox." . . . Some of the best appearances by the Cardinals during the series were the Hall of Famers they trotted out here for ceremonial first pitches. Tuesday night, it was Stan Musial throwing to Bob Gibson. Prior to Game Four, Lou Brock threw to Red Schoendienst. . . . The AP reports that the Red Sox voted shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, traded July 31, a full World Series share. "I voted him to have a full share because he was a big part of us getting to the point we got," Tim Wakefield said. "And I think he deserves it."

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