History was theirs for the taking, and the Boston Red Sox didn't merely seize it Wednesday night -- they grabbed it by the neck, put it in a headlock and wrestled it to the ground, much as they did to all those Yankee Stadium ghosts that have haunted them for so many years.
Johnny Damon, who three days ago was having, by his own admission, "the worst series of my life," hit a grand slam in the second inning and a two-run home run in the fourth, as the Red Sox throttled the New York Yankees, 10-3, in Game 7 of the American League championship series to become the first team in baseball history to erase a 3-0 deficit and win a seven-game series.
Derek Lowe, starting on two days' rest after throwing 88 pitches in Game 4 Sunday night, was outstanding Wednesday, giving up one run and one hit in six innings, as the Red Sox, who were three outs away from getting swept Sunday night, completed a stunning comeback to gain their first World Series berth since 1986 and avenge a heartbreaking, extra-inning Game 7 loss to the Yankees in the 2003 AL championship series.
Boston will have a chance to end its 85-year World Series drought -- and the dreaded Curse of the Bambino -- when the Red Sox open the World Series against either the St. Louis Cardinals or Houston Astros on Saturday night in Fenway Park.
"To be down, 3-0, and to win two extra-inning games at home and to have to go to Yankee Stadium and win two more times ... there aren't words to describe this accomplishment," Red Sox owner John Henry said amid sprays of champagne in the visiting clubhouse. "We're bringing a World Series to Fenway Park. I can't believe it ... and neither can you."
The Red Sox made believers of their skeptical and long-suffering fans a minute after midnight Wednesday, when second baseman Pokey Reese fielded Ruben Sierra's routine grounder and threw to first for the final out, touching off an emotional celebration before what was left of a Yankee Stadium crowd of 56,129.
While Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" blared over the public address system, Boston players hugged each other in powerful embraces, filled with elation and relief, their archrivals finally vanquished.
Then, the Red Sox thrust their arms triumphantly into the air as they headed back to their clubhouse, tossing caps and batting gloves into a throng of wild Red Sox fans who had assembled behind their dugout.
"We had an opportunity to shock the world, and we did," first baseman Kevin Millar said. "We made history by taking the Yankees to Game 7, we made history by winning Game 7, and now we want to make history by winning a World Series."
The Red Sox doubled their pleasure Wednesday. First, there was the satisfaction of becoming only the third team in major league baseball, hockey or basketball to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a seven-game series.
Sweetening the achievement was the fact the Red Sox pinned one of baseball's most horrific collapses on their hated rivals, the $194-million Yankees and their "evil empire."
"I can't put this in historical terms right now, but we've been waiting a long time to beat the Yankees," General Manager Theo Epstein said. "We've had some great teams -- 1949, 1978, 2003 -- who have had their hearts broken. This is for them. Last year, we talked about winning the World Series, but we might never have the opportunity to beat the Yankees on their own turf and put some things behind us."
Four days ago, the Yankees were on the verge of putting the Red Sox behind them. After a three-game sweep of the Angels in the division series, the Red Sox lost the first three games against the Yankees, including a 19-8 Game 3 blowout.
A sense of despair gripped New England, optimism turning to anger. After the Yankees' 22-hit barrage in Game 3, a Boston columnist wrote the Red Sox were "disgracing the game and embarrassing themselves," and called their pitchers "dog meat."
But the Red Sox gained some dignity with a pulsating 6-4, 12-inning victory in Game 4, which ended with David Ortiz's walk-off two-run homer, and gained some momentum with a 5-4, 14-inning win in Game 5, Ortiz, the ALCS most valuable player, providing another photo finish with a run-scoring single to win it.
That set the stage for Curt Schilling's profile in courage -- the Red Sox ace gave up one run in seven innings of Boston's 4-2 Game 6 victory despite a dislocated tendon in his right ankle -- and Wednesday night's winner-take-all Game 7.
The Yankees pulled out all the stops, carting out Bucky Dent, the hero of New York's 1978 one-game playoff victory over Boston, to throw out the ceremonial first pitch to Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra on Mickey Mantle's birthday.
But the Red Sox would not succumb to Yankee tradition. Damon, who had three singles in 29 ALCS at-bats for a .103 average, slapped a single to left to open the game, and though he was eventually thrown out at the plate on Manny Ramirez's single, Ortiz crushed Yankee starter Kevin Brown's next pitch into the right-field seats for a two-run home run.
Brown gave up a one-out single to Millar in the second, and after walking Bill Mueller and No. 9 hitter Orlando Cabrera, Yankee Manager Joe Torre, who will be second-guessed all winter for his decision to go with Brown, pulled the starter for Javier Vazquez.
Brown, a monument to Yankee excess, a $15-million pitcher who is barely good enough to hold a rotation spot, was booed off the mound.
Damon, who had not really driven a ball all series, turned on Vazquez's first-pitch fastball, lofting it a few feet over the 314-foot sign in right field for a grand slam and a 6-0 lead.
Just in case anyone thought Damon was a master of the cheap home run, the leadoff batter followed Cabrera's walk in the fourth with a two-run blast into the upper deck in right, a shot that gave Boston an 8-1 lead and, fittingly, was caught by a Red Sox fan.
The Yankees nicked Pedro Martinez for two runs in the seventh, and their fans had a little fun at Martinez's expense, resurrecting their "Who's your daddy?" chants, but the Red Sox asserted themselves again in the eighth, as Mark Bellhorn hit a towering home run off the right-field foul pole off Tom Gordon for a 9-3 lead.
"We can't relax -- we have to bring it back to Boston and win the World Series," Martinez said.
"But last year, we left this locker room crying because of the way things went. At this point, we're having the last laugh."
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TALE OF THE TAPE: The franchises since the sale of Babe Ruth by the Red Sox to the Yankees, a year after Boston's 1918 World Series victory:
*--* Yankees Red Sox 26 World Series victories 0 39 AL pennants 5 45 Playoff appearances 11
3-0 DEFICITS: Boston became the first baseball team to win a seven-game series after losing the first three games.