ST. LOUIS (AP) — Pedro Martinez paraded the trophy down the left-field line, hoisting it high over his head with both hands. Thousands of Boston fans roared. Seeing was believing, but they still couldn’t believe their eyes.

The Red Sox – yes, the Boston Red Sox! – were World Series champions at long, long last. No more curse and no doubt about it.

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.

“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.

Chants of “Thank you, Red Sox!” bounced all around the ballpark when it was over, 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.

“We know people who are 90 years old who have just said: ‘Just one championship before I die,”‘ Red Sox chairman Tom Werner said.

After all that, on an eerie night when the moon went dark in a total eclipse, MVP Manny Ramirez and the Red Sox made it look easy. They became the third straight wild-card team to win the Series, and the first club to win eight straight in a postseason.

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.

Damon’s leadoff homer against Jason Marquis and Trot Nixon’s two-out, two-run double on a 3-0 pitch in the third inning were all that Lowe and the bullpen needed.

“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.”

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.

“We can’t reverse what was a long time ago,” first-year manager Terry Francona said. “This was our team this year. You can’t do anything else about any other year.”

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

“I wish we could get our rings tomorrow,” Lowe said. “Unbelievable – no more going to Yankee Stadium and having to listen to ‘1918.”‘

Lowe followed up peak performances by Curt Schilling and Martinez, capping off a year in which Boston traded away popular shortstop Nomar Garciaparra.

“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,” 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 an extra $15 million in a contract he negotiated himself.

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.

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.

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.

“I went through a lot of drama during the winter,” he said.

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.

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.

“Any time you don a Red Sox uniform, you have to talk about the history of this team and not having a World Series championship since 1918,” Nixon said. “Sooner or later, that hex had to stop. Everybody thought it was a curse, but to use it was just a five-letter word.”

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. … The Red Sox led for 34 of the 36 innings.


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