Boston hopes if the Sox can make it here ...

The Red Sox face off against the Yankees Oct. 13 in the House that Ruth

Frank Sinatra never sang about Boston.

Not that Old Blue Eyes would have really fit in here, where lines at Dunkin' Donuts have been known to stretch out the door and loiterers in Harvard Square are more likely to talk about lab rats than the Rat Pack.

All the same, there's a part of Boston that longs to be "King of the Hill, A No. 1."

Sure, it's got Emmy-winning TV shows like "Ally McBeal," movie stars like Matt Damon, and one of the top symphony orchestras in the world. But what's that to New York, home of virtually everything else - from "Seinfeld" to the Guggenheim Museum to the Metropolitan Opera?

And on the issue that cuts deepest for most true Bostonians: New York has the Yankees and Boston has the Red Sox.

No right-thinking Bostonian would ever exchange the Sox for the despised Pinstripers, but the long and oft-chronicled relations between the Beantown Nine and New York have always tilted southward. Since 1919, the Yanks have won the World Series 24 times; the Red Sox haven't won it once.

But tonight, as the Sox face the Yankees in the first game of a series to determine who goes to this year's World Series, the members of Red Sox Nation will have an opportunity to redeem not only 80 years of baseball failure, but also decades of feeling second best.

"I was so pumped last night I couldn't go to bed, so I gassed up the car, threw in a load of laundry, and headed down here [to Fenway Park]," says Kimberly Batti, who drove down from Lawrence, Mass., at 4 a.m. to wait in line for tickets to the games that the Red Sox said were already sold out. "The fact that it's the Yankees only makes it better."

Being second best is not something New Yorkers - and Yankee fans - have ever had to get very acquainted with. Being one of the world's cultural lodestones, as well as home to baseball's single most successful franchise, the city has come to see its petty regional rival as little more than a booster chair to the major-league trophy cabinet.

Indeed, many New Yorkers might find it difficult to understand what all the hype is about. When the Yankees won their opening playoff series against the Texas Rangers, players lolled onto the field to congratulate their winning pitcher, then popped champagne corks in the locker room with all the exuberance of congressmen in the midst of a filibuster.

Their sights are set higher. Their goal is the World Series. Anything else would be a disgrace.

For the Sox - a team that few picked to make the playoffs, let alone advance to the American League Championship Series - the goal is simply to survive. And here in Boston, the fact that they're playing the Yankees will only add to a local legend that's been building since the end of World War I.

Every good Bostonian, from the Gucci-clad denizens of the North End to the lunch-pail crowd in Southie, knows that the last World Series the Red Sox won was in 1918, the year before owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Since then, the Sox's futility has been Homeric in its proportions - and all too often, it seems, it has involved teams from New York.

Consider 1978, when the Sox and the Yankees finished tied at the end of the regular season and had to play a one-game playoff to see who would go to the post-season. Late in the game, diminutive Yankee infielder Bucky Dent hit what could have been the shortest home run in the major leagues that year, clearing Fenway's oversize left field wall by a matter of inches and putting the Yanks on a path that eventually led to the World Series title.

Eight years later, the Sox were one out away from winning the World Series over the New York Mets, when Sox first baseman Bill Buckner botched a ground ball rolling slower than traffic on the Mass Pike at rush hour. The Mets won the game and later the series.

In the years that followed, any Sox foray into the post-season was overshadowed by these blunders and marked by embarrassing losses. Then, to add to these injuries, ace pitcher Roger Clemens left town in search of a championship-caliber team. This year, he ended up with the Yankees, and many of the shivering masses waiting for nonexistent tickets at Fenway wanted to see the Sox repay him.

"It would be very sweet," says Ray Lheureux, also of Lawrence, Mass. "Clemens left Boston because he wanted to be with someone who wanted to win the World Series. It was a slap in the face."

Now, with the team playing phenomenal baseball - it scored 44 runs in the final three games of its opening series against Cleveland - many New Englanders are uncharacteristically optimistic.

Indeed, for locals eager for Red Sox restitution, this year is rich with opportunities - even beyond Clemens and the Bronx Bombers. If the Sox can somehow topple the heavily favored Yankees, they would either face the Braves - who moved from Boston to Milwaukee in 1953, and then on to Atlanta in 1966 - or the Mets - the last team to beat the Sox in the World Series.

Either way, Boston's road to baseball glory is again headed through "New York, New York." And fans want to be a part of it.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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