Sat, Jan 01, 2005 - Page 18 News List

Red Sox sum up improbable year


Sure shots, long shots and once-in-a-lifetime shots -- 2004 had them all. It was an over-the-top, out-of-control year, sensational in glorious and scandalous senses.

Halley's Comet comes around every 76 years. The Boston Red Sox hadn't won the World Series in 86 years.

Nobody ever won a World Series or even a league championship down 0-3 in games, much less three outs from a sweep.

A gutsy bettor with blind faith in the Red Sox could have made millions plunking down dough on them at that particularly bleak moment when a sweep by their ancient and annual enemy, the New York Yankees, seemed inevitable.

It took a self-proclaimed team of "idiots," undaunted by history or curses, to flip fate and make 2004 one of sport's greatest vintage years.

One of the most enduring images of the year -- illustrating what it took to win and what it meant to those who did -- was the bloodstained sock of Curt Schilling. It gave new meaning to Red Sox and belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Stitched to pitch, Schilling inspired his teammates and lifted the suffering generations of Red Sox Nation scattered around the globe. It was a medical miracle, if not a heavenly one, the very opposite of what Boston's many pessimistic fans had come to expect.

The signs at Fenway read "Believe," and millions did, even if they feared down to the last out that something, somehow would go wrong as it always had since 1918.

Yet Schilling delivered and David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Jason Varitek, Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, Orlando Cabrera and the others did the rest, stunning the Yankees and sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in the most amazing team comeback in sports history.

"All empires fall sooner or later," Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said after the Yankees became the first baseball team to lose a seven-game series from a 3-0 lead.

"Ninteen-eighteen is gone forever," Boston outfielder Trot Nixon said when the Series ended. "We're not going to have to hear about that again."

He was wrong, though in a good way. These Red Sox will hear forever how they broke the so-called Curse of the Bambino.

Roll back the calendar to Jan. 1 and imagine betting on the New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl en route to an NFL-record 21-game winning streak and the Boston Red Sox to sweep the World Series in the same year. What would you have won if you parlayed those with bets on the starless Detroit Pistons to win the NBA title and the Sunshine State's Tampa Bay Lightning to win the Stanley Cup?

What if, along the way, you ran up the winnings by betting that a single school would win the men's and women's Final Four in basketball. No school ever had. Connecticut did.

And what were the odds back then that Vijay Singh would win nine times in the year, become golf's first US$10 million man, and replace Tiger Woods as No. 1 in the world?

Or that Switzerland's Roger Federer, uncoached, would become the first man since 1988 to win three Grand Slam tennis titles?

"Roger just played too good today," Andy Roddick said after losing to Federer in the Wimbledon final. "I threw the kitchen sink at him, but he went to the bathroom and got a tub."

Singh and Federer weren't huge shocks to rise to the top of their sports, but to win on the scale they did was extraordinary.

There was far less surprise in seeing Lance Armstrong pedal to a record sixth straight Tour de France, Michael Schumacher win a seventh Formula One title or Kurt Busch capture NASCAR's Nextel Cup in a new championship format.

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