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What does it look like when 86 years of pain and suffering are over and a Nation pauses to celebrate?

It looks so good that Fenway fans were on their feet Monday, 45 minutes before the first home-park pitch of 2005.

They were standing on chairs and tables, lined up along the aisles and catwalks all around the old ballpark.

They craned their necks and ducked under elbows to take a snapshot of history. They hugged and laughed in giddy anticipation. This you had to see.

The red banners unfurled down the side of the great Green Monster, bearing the dates that told in shorthand the long and terrible story of suffering.






The red banners flapped in the brisk, cold wind and the trumpets and timpani from Boston Symphony blared and thumped, sailing into the blue April sky, rising in crescendo and then -- boom!

There fell the giant curtain on 86 years of pain.

2004 World Champions, it read. It was real. It was official. It was a banner big enough to cover the famous Fenway wall. And just for poetic justice, there were the Yankees. They sat and kneeled in the visitors dugout, like good boys from Joe Torre's School of Model Citizenship, respectful as everyone from Tim Wakefield to Derek Lowe to Dave Roberts to Kevin Millar to Bill Mueller to Trot Nixon to Jason Varitek walked out to thunderous applause.

"It's a distraction, but it's a necessary distraction," Torre said about the ring ceremony. "It's a moment to celebrate."

The Yankees seemed to get lost in the celebration, sleep walking through an 8-1 loss.

"It's the home opener. We're playing the Yankees. We've got a ring ceremony. All of a sudden, you look up and (Derek) Jeter's in the batter's box," said Boston manager Terry Francona, who returned after missing four games with a viral infection that was feared to be a heart problem.

"It was going quickly. But Wakefield kind of took care of the rest of that for us."

Wakefield (1-0) allowed one unearned run while striking out five in seven innings. Doug Mirabelli homered and Kevin Millar hit a two-run single to give him an early lead.

"Now we can put that to bed and get on with 2005," said Wakefield, the longest-tenured player on the team. "It was a great run last year and it was very exciting to be a part of that. I think once the game started, it's time to move on."

The fans didn't seem to want to do so. Everyone celebrated, including Johnny Pesky -- the gentle soul of the Red Sox past.

"I've been waiting 60 years for this baby. That's the highest thing you can get in this game. You get a ring, you just look at it. I say my prayers every night and thank God," said Pesky, whose 64 years as a Red Sox made him the greatest symbol of long suffering sweetly, finally rewarded.

Indeed, Red Sox Nation is released from its past. Everyone is cleansed except maybe for Bill Buckner, who declined the invitation along with Carlton Fisk and Pedro Martinez.

Still, the huddle of old Sox in center field Monday was impressive: Dom DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr, Rico Petrocelli, Luis Tiant, Jerry Moses, Joe Morgan, Butch Hobson, Rich Gedman, Oil Can Boyd, Dennis Eckersley, Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, Dwight Evans and Carl Yastrzemski, who hoisted the pennant up the flag pole with Varitek.

To witness a World Series ring ceremony in this town on this day meant nothing except that life will never be the same again.

The appearance of Bill Russell and Bobby Orr at Fenway makes it so.

The sharing of championship status with the Patriots, represented by Tedy Bruschi and Richard Seymour, makes it so. And so does that final, unfurled banner: 2004 World Champions.

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