The Curse is (Almost) Lifted
I grew up on baseball. From watching games, to collecting cards, to little league, to high school ball, and then back to just watching games, baseball has been a common fixture in my life since I was six years old. In 1986, when I was 12, I had my first major formative baseball moment in the form of the 1986 World Series.
Living in Los Angeles at the time, I had just endured a brutal American League Championship Series with Boston’s Dave Henderson homering off Donnie Moore to eliminate our beloved California Angels and advance the Red Sox to the World Series. The homer was such a powerful event that it not only crushed the Angels but it also led to the eventually suicide of the pitcher who threw the pitch.
Furious at the Red Sox for beating the Angels, I adopted their World Series opponent, the New York Mets, as my favorite team of the moment. I watched the entire Series thinking Boston was going to win. They played a great Series and had the Mets down to their final out in the 10th inning of Game 6.
And then I was introduced to the Curse.
The Mets Mookie Wilson hits a routine ground ball to first base which inexplicably trickles through first baseman Bill Buckner’s legs into right field and Ray Knight scores, giving the Mets the victory and leading to a decisive win in Game 7 to seal Boston’s fate. I was overjoyed at the victory but had no idea of its significance in New England baseball lore.
You see, there was this pretty good Red Sox baseball player in the early 20th century named Babe Ruth. He pitched. He hit. He was the Bambino… bigger than life. And then for some reason, in 1920, the Red Sox decided to trade him to the Yankees for $125,000 cash. Yes, even then, the Yankees were buying championships.
Fast forward to today, 84 years later, and the Red Sox find themselves zero championships richer than they were in 1920. They call it “The Curse of the Bambino”. So what happened in 1986 was apparently just another consequence of the curse.
Between 1986 and 2004, the Red Sox have had other chances in the postseason. In fact, just last year, they took the Yankees to extra innings of Game 7 of the ALCS, only to be beaten by an Aaron Boone home run. Yes, Aaron Boone. Not even the good Boone.
And so it was with great anticipation that I watched this year’s ALCS, which concluded about an hour ago. My former bitterness toward the Red Sox had long been replaced by sympathy and pity, so it was easy to root for them. Especially given their opponent, A-Rod and the New York Yankees… archrivals of ours in Seattle.
I’ll spare the narration of the entire playoff series but let me just say it was perhaps the most incredible series in postseason history. In any sport. Ever. Boston falls behind three games to none, a hole no team has ever dug out of. The next two games go five hours apiece, with Boston winning both dramatically in extra innings. After winning Game 6, Boston jumps all over the Yankees in Game 7, winning 10-3 and advancing to the World Series.
The game was a pleasure to watch, but I have to say that the normally top-notch broadcast team of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver was a bit of a disappointment. The most dramatic moment of the game came in the second inning with Johnny Damon hitting a grand slam to put the Sox up 6-0. There was no emotion from either Buck or McCarver and no mention of how this was one of the most important home runs in Red Sox history. At one point, McCarver even took the time to point out that he “wouldn’t really call this whole comeback miraculous”. The apathy of the broadcast team is interesting as well because neither has Yankee roots. If anything, they both have Cardinal roots with Joe’s dad, the legendary Jack Buck, announcing for the Cards for so many years and McCarver catching for them.
Another interesting moment in the game came when Boston manager Terry Francona decided to put Pedro Martinez in the game with an 8-1 lead in the 7th. I, along with Buck, McCarver, and probably most of the world thought that was a ridiculous move given the big lead and how well Boston’s starter was pitching.
But then I thought about it.
That move would only be made in Boston. Boston has turned into such a paranoid franchise under The Curse that they didn’t trust any pitcher on their squad besides their ace to hold a 7 run lead against the Yankees. It was irrational, it was the wrong move, and Boston paid for it with two quick Yankee runs and a possible loss of confidence in Pedro, which may be a factor in the World Series.
The other interesting thing about the game was that when Boston won, the Yankee Stadium speakers blared “New York, New York”, a song typically only played when the Yankees win. I couldn’t tell if it was out of sincerity or mockery, but the Red Sox players didn’t seem to mind. It was also great to see Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman watch the Red Sox celebrate on the field. The Fox camera cut to him staring on in envious appreciation, and that is the moment I knew he was a real baseball guy. A lot of GMs would have left for the clubhouse right away, but Cashman wanted to feel the pain for a bit. That is impressive to me.
And finally, the ultimate irony of the series came when I realized the personal significance of Boston’s starting battery for Game 7. Here it was, arguably the most important game in the history of the franchise, and Boston starts pitcher Derek Lowe and catcher Jason Varitek. Where did Lowe and Varitek come from?
My Seattle Mariners. For Heathcliff Slocumb. And now I must look forward to another 84 years without a championship.
Congratulations Boston on a great victory.