As Boston Red Sox first basemen Doug Mientkiewicz squeezed the ball in his glove for the final out of the 2004 World Series, you could almost hear a collective sigh of relief coming from an entire nation - Red Sox Nation. After 86 years of close calls, of losing four different World Series seventh games, of watching the other team always be the ones to celebrate in the end, the Boston Red Sox are finally the last ones standing, the champions of the baseball world.
Using strong pitching, timely hitting, and a gritty never-give-up attitude, the Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals 3-0, winning the series 4-0. With their eighth straight playoff victory, the previous four coming at the hands of their regional rivals the New York Yankees, the Red Sox also broke the record for most consecutive victories in the post-season.
In fact, the speed of the final victory seemed to stun Red Sox fans, including many who made the trip to St. Louis to support the team. It seemed at first that they didn't want to believe it had actually happened after so many years of defeat.
Red Sox supporters interviewed after the game recounted how even with a 3-0 lead, they held their breaths and feared for the worse when Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols hit a single in the bottom of the last inning. Others fans aid they were just speechless and couldn't talk when asked about their feelings. Some of those celebrating the victory around Fenway Park in Boston openly cried.
But that didn't last long, and soon euphoria replaced disbelief. Fans in Boston carried signs that read "Our grandparents and parents thank you." One local Boston TV announcer, with a huge grin on her face, told viewers to turn on their VCRs because she was about to say something that had never been said on TV in the Boston area before: "The Red Sox are World Series Champions." TV, of course, had not been invented the last time the Sox won the series in 1918. And within a half hour of the Red Sox victory, a long line of fans looking for sports memorabilia had formed outside souvenir shops near the Sox's famed Yawkey Way.
Online at the popular Sons of Sam Horn chat site, which has become the unofficial Internet home for Red Sox supporters around the globe, one fan, who called himself "Lithuanian Sox Fan" thanked Red Sox owner John Henry for putting the team together. "You did everything you said you would and more ñ thank you. Other than my wedding, and the birth of my two beautiful children, this is the happiest night of my life. Thank you. "
In another posting, that showed the depth of the feeling for the Red Sox felt by those in the region, a staff sergeant in the United States Air Force said that even if he had to go overseas again to serve his country, and didn't come back, "my life will have been full in large part because of what you & this team have done. I salute all of you!"
In fact, the value of the Red Sox triumph to the region is hard to describe to those who are not Red Sox fans. The Sox's decades-long inability to win the Series became a badge that the entire region seemed to wear. Now that stigma is gone and replaced by a feeling of triumph.
Not everybody, however, was happy with the victory. The New York Daily News, still smarting after the Red Sox came from three games down to defeat the New York Yankees 4-3 in the American League Championship Series, had a picture of the Red Sox celebration and the headline "See you in 2090." It was a somewhat snarky reference to the 86 years between Wednesday night's victory and the Red Sox's previous one in 1918.
Police kept a close eye on the 80,000 fans who celebrated in the vicinity of Fenway Park after the victory. When some fans became unruly on Massachusetts Avenue, near the Monitor's offices, police moved in and arrested 18 people. Red Sox management and Boston city officials said that a parade would be held for the World Series champions on Friday.