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Sox succeed the hard way

BOSTON -- It isn't easy to make four errors and win a World Series game. But ladies and gentlemen, these Boston Red Sox are never going to star in a Tom Emansky video.

It isn't easy to blow a five-run lead early and a two-run lead late, and still win a World Series game. But my fellow Americans, these are not Frank Malzone's Red Sox.

It isn't easy to give up nine runs in Game 1 of the World Series, and still walk away laughing. But friends, when these Red Sox are in the house, you can rest assured this World Series will not be following Roberts' Rules of Order. Not even Dave Roberts' Rules of Order.

"I got here Aug. 1," said Red Sox first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz on a Saturday night that had long since turned into Sunday morning, on a night when his team's four-hour ride on the October Tilt-A-Whirl had somehow spun into a 11-9 Game 1 win over the Cardinals.

"We haven't played a normal game since I got here," Mientkiewicz said. "And I don't think we'll be playing one this week, either."

So there. You're officially forewarned. You are about to witness a World Series where no game is likely to end on the same day it starts, where nine runs may not be enough to win pretty much any day, where highlight tapes will not be sent directly to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

These are your Red Sox. Check out their hairdos. Size up their pregame sartorial splendor. Do we even need to explain to you why, for the next week, normal is out the window?

"This," laughed Kevin Millar, "is the Red Sox. I don't know why, but nothing comes easy for us. Maybe that's not a good thing. But it's just good enough to beat you."

Well, it was Saturday night, anyhow. In the end, Mark Bellhorn's eighth-inning home run off the right-field foul pole was enough to finally put this classic away. But while this may have been standard Red Sox behavior, it sure wasn't standard October behavior -- at least not for anyone else.

Consider what went on out there:

  • The winning team committed four errors -- two by Manny Ramirez, one by Millar and one by reliever Bronson Arroyo.

    So how often does a team that makes four errors in a World Series game still find a way to win? Well, it hadn't happened in 52 years, if that gives you any idea. The Yankees last did it -- in Game 7 of the 1952 World Series. That's 294 World Series games ago.

  • The Red Sox kicked off this World Series with a four-run first inning and roared out to a 7-2 lead in the third inning. Four innings later, they were tied at 7-7.

    So how often does a team blow a five-run lead and still win a World Series game? Only two other teams in history ever pulled that off -- the 1942 Cardinals (blew a 6-1 lead in Game 4 but won, 9-6) and the 2002 Angels (blew a 5-0 lead to the Giants in Game 2 but won, 11-10).

    But neither of those two teams made that five-run lead disappear and then let another lead (in this case, 9-7, in the eighth) evaporate. So what these ever-innovative Red Sox accomplished Saturday was as unique as it gets.

  • One week after giving up 19 runs to the Yankees in their rock-bottom October moment, the Sox allowed nine to a Cardinals team that led the National League in runs scored -- and, of course, still won by two.

    So how often does a team give up nine runs or more in a World Series game and still come out a winner? These Red Sox were only the fifth team ever to do that, joining the 1960 Pirates, 1993 Blue Jays, 1997 Marlins and 2002 Angels.

    What you'll notice, though, is that no team ever mushed together all those miracles on the same day before. That, however, is a tribute to a team that shrugs off all calamities -- major or minor, April or October.

    "We always had the feeling," said Johnny Damon, "that we were going to win this game, some way or another."

    Afterward, media folks that hadn't witnessed this sort of thing before were buzzing around, looking for explanations. Maybe this team was just worn out by its apocalyptic series with the Yankees?

    Nope, said manager Terry Francona, "we were not tired."

    OK, so maybe this was a case of World Series nerves, from a team that had only four players on the roster with previous World Series experience.

    Uh, no again.

    "I don't think the players were nervous," the manager said. "They were making me nervous."

    Nothing, incidentally, makes a manager more nervous than sending his starter to the mound with a five-run lead in the fourth inning -- and watching him churn out three straight walks and a passed ball in a span of about four minutes.

    But Red Sox flutterball king Tim Wakefield did just that Saturday, leading to an inning in which the Cardinals scored three times before they got their first hit (on a sacrifice fly, ground ball and a nightmare of a relay throw by Millar that came about as close to Plymouth Rock as it did to third baseman Bill Mueller).

    "I can't believe Bill Mueller didn't catch that ball, didn't make a dive or something," Millar deadpanned later. "But maybe that was because it almost hit Tony La Russa."

    In retrospect, Millar said, he never should have thrown the ball in the first place. But he thought he had a shot at an out at third. He just temporarily forgot, he said, that "they don't pay me to think. If they paid me to think, I'd make about four dollars an hour."

    Two innings later, the Cardinals caught up against reliever Bronson Arroyo, in an inning in which Arroyo had two outs and nobody on, and then fielded a swinging bunt by So Taguchi and fired his throw down the right-field line. Back-to-back doubles by Edgar Renteria and Larry Walker later, it was a 7-7 game.

    But naturally, that tie didn't last long, either. This was the night when Manny Ramirez's bat -- which was taking a seven-game nap in that Yankees series -- finally remembered to set its alarm clock.

    So Ramirez singled in what looked like the winning run in the seventh. After which the totally October-fied David Ortiz knocked in his fourth run of the night to provide the bullpen with an insurance run. And this one was over, right?

    Eh, not so fast. With two on and two outs in the eighth, Renteria bounced a ground-ball single into left that would have loaded the bases -- if Ramirez hadn't charged right past it for his second error of the postseason and his ninth of the year. Uh-oh: 9-8.

    Five pitches later, Walker looped a ball into short left that would not have been deep enough to score the tying run -- if Ramirez hadn't attempted a stylish (for Manny) sliding catch, caught his spikes on an outfield drainage basin and forgot to catch the ball.

    So if you're keeping track, that made two errors for Ramirez in the inning, three in the postseason and 10 for the year. But hey, who's counting?

    "I shouldn't have dove for it," Ramirez admitted afterward. "If I had kept running, I could have caught that ball easy."

    But had he kept running, this play wouldn't have been nearly Manny-esque enough. Instead, he wound up twisting himself into the official pretzel of the 2004 World Series -- and scared his teammates half to death.

    "I thought he might have hyperextended his knee or something," Damon said. "I thought we might have lost him for a while."

    But this team's remarkably impervious closer, Keith Foulke, stopped the damage right there, popping up Scott Rolen and whiffing Jim Edmonds. And that allowed Ramirez to trot back to the dugout and try to explain himself.

    "Manny said he went from a Silver Glove to a Purple Glove," Millar reported. "So I went from a Bronze Glove to green, I guess."

    And somewhere over that rainbow, there were four errors and a tie game on the scoreboard. But hey, they're the Red Sox. Why would they consider that a catastrophe?

    The last time they committed four errors in a game was July 24 -- and they won that day, too (11-10, in what is remembered mostly as the Yankees Brawl Game).

    So since the All-Star break, they're now undefeated (2-0) when they throw four E's up there. Try that on your Strat-o-matic sometime.

    In other words, they figured it was only a matter of time before they found some new way to win. And presto, in the eighth, they got a baserunner -- on Cardinals shortstop Edgar Renteria's first error of the postseason (and only his fifth since June). Which meant they just had to go looking for a hero to drive him in.

    Enter Mashin' Mark Bellhorn. He slammed a foul-ball home run on Julian Tavarez's second pitch, then plunked the fourth pitch off the fabled Pesky Pole, and, finally, the Red Sox had enough runs to win. Seriously.

    A mere three games ago, the talk-show managers wanted Bellhorn to take a lonnnnggg rest, just because he was in a little 2-for-18, with-12-strikeouts, mix-up. But Francona hung with him. And now, of course, he has become the first second baseman in the history of baseball to hit a home run in three postseason games in a row.

    Joe Morgan never did that. Rogers Hornsby never did that. Roberto Alomar never did that. It had to be Mark Bellhorn. If that's not a clear sign something is happening in the universe that is changing the way the baseball gods maneuver these Red Sox around, nothing is.

    "Every little boy always thinks of playing in the World Series, Game 7, and winning the game," Bellhorn said. "I know I did."

    Well, he missed by six games. But whatever.

    Four errors. Nine runs allowed. Two hefty leads blown. Three straight walks in an inning. And they won?

    "I mean, that was not an instructional video, to send to the instructional league or something," Francona said. "That was a little rough."

    But at this point, is there anyone in New England who cares if this team is a little rough as long as it is also a lot tough? That's your 2004 Red Sox. And this is their World Series. Feel free to keep watching. Just keep something soft and cushiony nearby, just in case.

    Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.