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Curse 86'd! Red Sox end 86 years of frustration, futility with clean sweep of Cardinals

ST. LOUIS — The Boston Red Sox — yes, the Boston Red Sox! — are World Series champions at long, long last. No more curse and no doubt about it.

They sure got you, Babe.

Ridiculed and reviled through decades of defeat, the Red Sox didn't just beat the St. Louis Cardinals, owners of the best record in baseball, they swept them for their first crown since 1918.

Johnny Damon homered on the fourth pitch of the game, Derek Lowe made it stand up and the Red Sox won 3-0 Wednesday night, wrapping up a Series in which they never trailed.

Chants of "Let's go, Red Sox!" bounced all around Busch Stadium, with Boston fans as revved-up as they were relieved. Only 10 nights earlier, the Red Sox were just three outs from getting swept by the New York Yankees in the AL championship series before becoming the first team in baseball postseason history to overcome a 3-0 deficit.

It was Boston's sixth championship, but the first after 86 years of frustration and futility, after two world wars, the Great Depression, men on the moon, and the rise and fall of the Soviet Union.

After all that, on an eerie night when the moon went dark in a total eclipse, the Red Sox made it look easy.

Gone was the heartbreak of four Game 7 losses since their last title, a drought — some insist it was a curse — that really began after they sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920.

"I'm so happy. I'm happy for the fans in Boston, I'm happy for Johnny Pesky, for Bill Buckner, for (Bob) Stanley and (Calvin) Schiraldi and all the great Red Sox players who can now be remembered for the great players that they were," pitcher Curt Schilling said.

Schilling got himself traded from Arizona to Boston last November, eager to beat the Yankees and put the Red Sox in the World Series for the first time since 1986. He made it worth his while, with the win ensuring him of an extra $15 million in a contract he negotiated himself.

"We wanted to do it so bad for the city of Boston. To win a World Series with this on our chests — it hasn't been done since 1918," first baseman Kevin Millar said. "So rip up those '1918' posters right now."

Damon's leadoff homer off starter Jason Marquis and Trot Nixon's two-out, two-run double on a 3-0 pitch were all that Lowe needed. Having won the first-round clincher against Anaheim in relief and then winning Game 7 at Yankee Stadium, Lowe blanked the Cards on a mere three hits for seven innings.

Relievers Bronson Arroyo and Alan Embree worked the eighth and Keith Foulke finished it off for his first save.

Even before Doug Mientkiewicz caught Foulke's toss on Edgar Renteria's grounder for the last out, the Red Sox were rushing out of the dugout. Boston players streamed in from the bullpen, and they all came together in a pulsating pile between the mound and first base.

With flashbulbs popping, the hugging and jumping was electrifying. And why not? The day that would never quite come for a generation of Red Sox players and fans had arrived.

Now the Red Sox get to raise the World Series banner next April 11 in the home opener at Fenway Park, with the dreaded Yankees in town forced to watch. No telling who will be there — 18 Boston players are potential free agents, including Pedro Martinez and Lowe.

Boston became the third straight wild-card team to win the Series, relying on the guts of Schilling and the guile of Martinez. And they took it in the same year they traded away popular shortstop Nomar Garciaparra.

Led by Series MVP Manny Ramirez, Boston got key contributions from almost everyone. Backup outfielder Dave Roberts did not play in the Series, yet it was his stolen base in the ninth inning of Game 4 in the ALCS that began the comeback against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.

And while second baseman Mark Bellhorn was born in Boston, no one else on the roster came from anywhere near Beantown. And the only homegrown players on the team are Nixon and rookie Kevin Youkilis.

No matter, this win might make all of them as much a part of New England lore as Plymouth Rock and Paul Revere.

"All of our fans have waited all their lives for this night, and it's finally here. These guys did it for you, New England," Red Sox owner John Henry said.

The Boston win also left no doubt which city is now the most jinxed in baseball. It's Chicago — the Cubs last won it all in 1908, the White Sox in 1917.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals team that led the majors with 105 wins never showed up. The timely hitting, solid pitching and sharp baserunning that served them so well all season completely broke down.

Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds, the meat of the order, combined for just one RBI. Rolen got it on a sacrifice fly, and it was little consolation as he went 0-for-15.

"They outplayed us in every category, so it ended up not being a terrific competition," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "We were ready to play. We didn't play good enough."

Ramirez, put on waivers in the offseason and nearly traded to Texas for Alex Rodriguez, was 7-for-17 (.412) with a homer and four RBIs. The left fielder's biggest contribution came in Game 3, when he bounced back from a couple of errors to throw out a runner at the plate and end an early St. Louis threat.

Lowe was loose from the start. While the Cardinals took batting practice, he sat alone in the Boston dugout, his hat backward and singing the little ditty, "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands."

Lowe was equally relaxed on the mound. He gave up a leadoff single to Tony Womack, then retired 13 straight batters until Renteria doubled in the fifth. Renteria made it to third on a wild pitch, but Lowe struck out John Mabry — who unsuccessfully argued that it was a foul tip — and got Yadier Molina on a routine grounder.

At that point, the Cardinals were going quietly. About the only noise they made came when Molina, a 21-year-old rookie catcher whose two brothers catch for Anaheim, began yapping at Ramirez when the Boston star came to the plate in the fourth.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona quickly rushed out of the dugout to keep things calm.

Best known before this year for being Michael Jordan's manager in the minors, Francona made plenty of smart moves. Oakland's bench coach in 2003, he took over after Grady Little was fired last fall. Baltimore and the White Sox also interviewed the man who managed Philadelphia to losing seasons from 1997-2000.

And while many Boston fans hollered for him to bench the slumping Damon in the ALCS, Francona stuck with him and was rewarded when Damon hit a grand slam and two-run homer in Game 7.

Facing Marquis, Damon yanked a shot over the right-center field wall and before he could circle the bases, the chants of "Let's go, Red Sox!" began echoing from the upper deck.

Damon became the second Boston player to hit a leadoff homer in the Series. The other? Patsy Dougherty, who did it in 1903 for the Americans — renamed the Red Sox five years later.

A single by Ramirez and double by David Ortiz got the Red Sox ramped up again in the third. Pujols threw out Ramirez at the plate, trying to score on a grounder to first base, and a walk loaded the bases with two outs.

Nixon took three straight balls and Francona gambled, giving his good fastball hitter the green light. That's what Nixon got, and he drilled it off the right-center wall for a 3-0 lead.

Notes: Ramirez tied Derek Jeter and Hank Bauer for the longest postseason hitting streak at 17 games. ... Damon hit the 17th leadoff homer in Series history. Jeter (2000) was the last to do it. ... This was Jim Burton's 55th birthday. A rookie in 1975 for Boston, he gave up Joe Morgan's go-ahead single in the ninth inning of Game 7 against Cincinnati. Burton pitched only one more game in the majors. ... The Red Sox led for 34 of the 36 innings. ... Larry Walker put down his first sacrifice since 1991. He bunted in the first inning, but Lowe threw him out. ... Boston teams continued to bedevil St. Louis clubs. The New England Patriots beat the Rams in the 2002 Super Bowl, the Bruins swept the Blues for the 1970 Stanley Cup and the Celtics won their first NBA title by defeating the Hawks in 1957.