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THE CURSE GETS EIGHTY-SIXED: Red Sox crowning moment tops off postseason run for the ages

ST. LOUIS -- Bye-bye, Bambino. You've had one up on the Boston Red Sox for 86 long years. Hope you enjoyed it. That curse you've zapped them with is over.

The Sox capped the most amazing run in postseason baseball history with Wednesday's 3-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals that completed a stunning four-game sweep of the 100th World Series.

All those missed opportunities over all those years can be forgotten now. Sox fans no longer have to fret about 1946, 1967, 1975, 1986, or 2003. Now they have 2004 all to themselves.

"We did it, man. We broke the curse!" roared outfielder Manny Ramirez, who was named the most valuable player of the series. "I can't wait to go back home with all those crazy people in Boston and celebrate."

All of New England will probably want to attend the victory parade, which reportedly will be held Saturday. Rumor has it that the city is planning to start it all the way in the suburbs along the route of the Boston Marathon to accommodate the millions expected to attend. They might want to take a detour around Heartbreak Hill.

It will be a celebration of this team -- and for all the Ted Williamses, Carlton Fisks and Carl Yastrzemskis who got so close but never got this far.

There was no heartbreak this year. The Sox became the first team in history to win eight straight postseason games, coming back from 0-3 against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series and then staging an epic wipeout in the World Series.

Boston became just the fourth team in history to never trail in a Series, the first since the 1989 Oakland A's. It held St. Louis to a .190 batting average overall and just three runs over the final three games.

Derek Lowe pitched seven shutout innings and combined with Bronson Arroyo, Alan Embree and Keith Foulke on a four-hitter in the clincher. Lowe, left out of the rotation at the start of the playoffs, became the first player in history to earn the win in three series-clinchers in the same year.

"We kept telling D-Lowe that he's the man," said Ramirez, who hit .412 in the Series and equaled the postseason record with a 17-game hitting streak dating to last year. "He believed in us, we believed in him."

This one was essentially over when Johnny Damon took Jason Marquis' fourth pitch over the wall in right-center for a solo homer. The Sox scored in the first inning of all four games.

Trot Nixon's second double of the game, a two-run rope off the right-center field wall that was just a couple of feet shy of a grand slam, made it 3-0 in the third and the Cardinals were toast.

By the ninth inning, the Busch Stadium crowd of 52,037 understood it was witness to history. Many Cardinals fans remained to watch. Boston fans pressed down into the box seats. Many were on cell phones, sharing the moment with diehard loved ones back home.

Flashbulbs were popping all around the stadium with every pitch, lighting up the field as if it were a movie set. It had to be. The Red Sox couldn't really be winning the World Series, could they?

It was true.

Foulke gave up a leadoff single to Albert Pujols. Hey, everyone in the park knew this wasn't going to be easy. But he then got Scott Rolen on a fly ball to right and struck out Jim Edmonds on three pitches.

Boston was one out away. The Sox players were leaning over the third-base dugout railing. The chants of "Let's go Red Sox" echoed from the upper deck.

Shortstop Edgar Renteria -- whose 11th-inning single won the '97 Series for the Florida Marlins over the Cleveland Indians -- took a Foulke pitch for a ball. Then baseball history changed forever at 10:40 p.m. Central time.

Renteria hit a slow topper to the first base side of the mound. Foulke grabbed it, thought about taking the ball to first himself, then measured his underhand flip to Doug Mientkiewicz. When the out was made, bedlam reigned on the field.

"I couldn't believe it," Foulke said. "It was a dream. The ball came back to me and I was like, 'Yeah, I got it.' "

Foulke was buried in a heap of teammates and the pile snaked from the mound past the first-base line into foul territory. Fans surged behind the dugout chanting, "Thank You, Red Sox, Thank You, Red Sox" and "No more curse, no more curse."

"Congratulations Boston Red Sox. 2004 World Champions" said the left-field scoreboard. It was simple but eerie.

"Congratulations Boston Red Sox. 1986 World Champions" was the wording on the right-field message board at Shea Stadium on that fateful night 18 years ago, a message inadvertently posted with one out to go in the 10th inning of Game Six and the Sox holding a two-run lead over the Mets. Boston, of course, never got the final out.

To say the scene in the Sox clubhouse was jubilant might be the understatement of the last 86 years. The champagne, beer and water buckets were flying everywhere.

Damon stood beaming in the center of the room with the championship trophy perched on his head and openly accepted the role as the main target for the sprays.

"Bring it on. More, more," Damon said through the deluge.

When knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, the longest-ranking Boston player, got ahold of the trophy, he wasn't about to let go. Tears in his eyes, Wakefield hugged the trophy to his chest and rested his chin on top of it.

"Other than the day I married my wife and the birth of my son, this means the world to me," Wakefield said.

There were tears for a different reason in the St. Louis clubhouse. A 105-win regular season was rendered moot by the Series whitewash, and the only team with a better record to get swept aside in the Fall Classic was the 1954 Cleveland Indians (111-43 but losers to the New York Giants).

"We survived two playoffs so it's a huge disappointment," manager Tony La Russa said. "It's an outstanding club, one of the neatest clubs to be around in 27 years of managing. They were terrific, but we were short so it was disappointing."

For once, there is no disappointment in New England. The Bambino can't come from the grave to haunt the Sox anymore.

"Every year our fans go to Fenway Park, they come out and support us, but they never get a championship," Nixon said. "Now they walk around with their Red Sox hat wherever they go, with their chests puffed out. They've helped push us all."

"We can't reverse what was a long time ago," said manager Terry Francona, who took the Sox over the top in his first season. "I'm sure there are a lot of people in New England that are dancing in the streets right now. For that, I'm thrilled."

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