Boston Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury (right) celebrates with teammates after winning game six of the MLB baseball World Series at Fenway Park. (USA TODAY Sports: Greg M. Cooper)
BOSTON — Even with the finish line in sight, Boston took one last deep breath on Wednesday night.
The Red Sox were just one out from clinching the World Series with a seemingly insurmountable 6-1 lead but a history of heartbreak had taught Bostonians that nothing can be taken for granted in baseball.
They need not have worried. The unmistakable thud of the ball pounding into the glove was all it took for 95 years of anguish to disappear and trigger one of the wildest parties seen in New England
“I knew this was going to be a special year,” said Boston slugger David Ortiz, the outstanding player of a best-of-seven series won 4-2 by the Red Sox.
“When we started rolling, nobody ever stopped the train.”
The St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter was the last man standing between the Red Sox and the championship but when he swung and missed at a fastball from Boston closing pitcher Koji Uehara that catcher Davis Ross caught, it was over.
For the first time since 1918, the Red Sox had sealed a World Series in their beloved Fenway Park home after the 2004 and 2007 titles were both secured on the road.
Boston erupted in emotional celebration, a little over six months after the city was left in a state of shock following the deadly marathon bombings.
The Red Sox players charged out of the dugout, hugging and tackling each other each other before collapsing in a mass heap on the diamond.
When they returned to the locker room, they sprayed each other with fizzy champagne and slugged away at the half-empty bottles.
Inside the old, historic stadium, the crowd roared in jubilation.
Grown men, whose fathers and grandfathers had died waiting for the Red Sox to win a World Series at home, high-fived and fist-pumped each other in the bleachers and threw plastic beer cups in the air.
As the clock approached midnight, the new generation of young fans, one used to seeing the Red Sox win, tugged at their parents’ shirts, ready to go home and wondering what all the fuss was about.
Outside the stadium, the party was in already full swing.
Fireworks lit up the night sky and the bars and restaurants in Yawkey Way were overflowing with revelers, a scene repeated all over a city that had triumphed after the April 15 tragedy had left its streets silent, empty and soaked with blood.
“In a time of need, in response to a tragedy, you know, I go back to our players understanding their place in this city,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said.
“They kind of, for lack of a better way to describe it, they get it. They get that there’s, I think, a civil responsibility that we have wearing this uniform, particularly here in Boston.”
The healing power of sport has always been a contentious issue with an ability to unite people countered by its capacity to divide.
Yet, if ever there was an argument that sport can succeed where politicians, armies and even religions fail, then the Red Sox provided a compelling case.
Wittingly or otherwise, the Red Sox emerged as a beacon of hope for the city after the marathon bombings, which left three people dead and 264 injured, and shocked America.
The Red Sox had just finished off their annual Patriots Day game at Fenway Park when the two bombs were detonated at the finishing line of the marathon.
Before their next home game, Ortiz, Boston’s charismatic Dominican-born slugger who has made the city his home, took the microphone and delivered a rallying call, not only for the team but the whole of New England.
Like the New Orleans Saints, who became a symbol of resilience for their city after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina when they won the Super Bowl in January 2010, the Red Sox were playing for more than just a ballgame.
Ortiz was named the Most Valuable Player after an extraordinary series in which he smashed two home runs and averaged .688.
After receiving his award he repeated his rallying call from earlier in the year, with a little self-censorship of his salty language.
“This is our bleeeep city!” he bellowed.
But for every winner, there has to be a loser and on Wednesday, the St. Louis Cardinals were left to absorb the agony of defeat.
Manager Mike Matheny addressed his young players after the game, telling them they had a bright future and their time would come.
“It’s really hard to think about at this point, because it’s so rare and special to be on this stage,” he said.
“You hate to see anything slip away, not that we gave away - they took it. They played us and they beat us.”
With nine rookies on his roster, Matheny has the makings of a great team that will learn from their first World Series experience.
Like the Red Sox, St. Louis are one of the most popular and successful teams in Major League Baseball, drawing players and fans from Middle America, through a simple philosophy of patiently nurturing their own talent instead of fighting with the richer teams to buy them on the open market.
It is a formula that has seen them win the World Series 11 times - second only to the New York Yankees - and three more than the Red Sox, who are in the midst of a golden era after almost a century of frustration.
The Red Sox won the Fall Classic five times between 1903 and 1918 before enduring one of sport’s longest droughts after they sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Called the Curse of the Bambino, it lasted 86 years before the spell was broken nine years ago.
Boston won again in 2007 but few expected the Red Sox to win again this year after they finished bottom of their division last season.
However, they sprinted away with the American League East Division then beat Tampa Bay and Detroit to reach the World Series.
Against the Cardinals, they trailed 2-1 after the first three games but won the next three to clinch the title. What loomed as a classic series turned into a rout.
“This is a city that we’ve been through a lot of situations,” Ortiz said.
“And sometimes bad things got to happen for us to get the message. And we got the message.”