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Sox fans take their superstitions seriously

They pat the Pedro bobblehead. What are you doing to help the Sox?

Under normal circumstances, most of them are not the least bit superstitious. But since when has rooting for the Boston Red Sox had anything to do with normality? So for the past week, many citizens of Red Sox Nation have cast rationality to the winds and embraced a host of rituals that they believe, deep down inside, were absolutely vital to the team's success against the Yankees and will be equally crucial in tonight's first World Series game against the Cardinals.

Oh, sure, the epochal comeback against the Yankees was helped along by clutch homers from David Ortiz, Johnny Damon, and Mark Bellhorn. Granted, pitchers Curt Schilling and Derek Lowe turned the Bronx Bombers to Silly Putty. But in the view of many fans, good hitting and good pitching can only take you so far. Good luck also has to be in the mix -- and that's where they come in.

Would the Sox have beaten the Yankees if Linda and Dave Hill of Needham had not made sure, before each game, to pat the head of the Pedro Martinez bobblehead doll that stands in their 2-year-old daughter's bedroom? Or if Jennifer Bagni of Dorchester had not donned the same pajama bottoms and sweatshirt to watch each game, while invariably eating pretzels and

malted milk balls? Or if Bill Irelan of Jamaica Plain had not . . . Well, let's let him explain. "Derek Jeter didn't seem to be holding up to the pressure. He couldn't stand the spotlight," said Irelan, a 36-year-old real estate agent. "So I went to Home Depot and bought a spotlight. And whenever he came on the TV, I shined it on the TV. And it worked."

Irelan added ruefully: "The one time I didn't shine it at the TV, he got on base. I was asleep at the switch." He is taking no chances tonight. He will watch the game, spotlight at the ready, prepared to shine it on whatever Cardinal he decides is a key player entering a slump and therefore likely to "wilt under my million-candlepower spotlight of fire."

If all this sounds illogical to you, chances are you're not a Red Sox fan. After all, this is a franchise and a fandom that labors under the preposterous but strangely hard-to-dispel proposition that the Curse of the Bambino has haunted the Sox' fortunes since the team sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. More recently, Sox fans have fretted about the bad luck stemming from the team's rash decision to paint a World Series logo on the field at Fenway Park last year before the conclusion of the ALCS series with the Yankees.

This year, Sox executives did not tamper with the Fates: Sox owner John Henry and president Larry Lucchino declined an offer from Yankees management to watch the games from the Babe Ruth Suite at Yankee Stadium.

Perhaps it's only logical that a Nation that believes so devoutly in bad luck would pull out all the stops when it comes to ensuring some long-overdue good luck. Some are even prepared to pay a physical price for the team. Jim Trager, a 43-year-old marketing manager for Nortel who lives in Chelmsford, happened to be folding laundry during the first inning of Game 7 against the Yankees. That inning went well, so, to the astonishment of his 13-year-old daughter, Trager decided to stand for the entire game. "If I can't be there and cheer, then whatever I can do, I'll do," Trager explained.

His devotion was matched by Marc Prager of Long Beach, Calif., who got on his treadmill in the seventh inning of each game and stayed on it until the conclusion. "During the two extra-inning games of the LCS I put in almost 20 miles alone," Prager said by e-mail. Justin Vincent, 24, a sales executive at radio station WJAB in Portland, Maine, wore a set of beads from Mardi Gras during the first game. When the beads broke, Vincent hung one end over his ear and the other end in his mouth -- a posture he maintained for every inning of every game.

There are also your garden-variety superstitions: wearing a Manny Ramirez shirt or a Red Sox cap, rubbing a dog's head for luck at pivotal moments, sitting in the same chair for each game or switching seats when the Sox falter. There are those who become amateur interior designers, arranging their furniture to resemble Fenway Park's Green Monster. Kim Jones of Westhampton, along with a co-worker, bought titanium necklaces similar to those worn by some Sox players and were sure to wear them during every moment of the playoffs.

Jennifer Brenner, a 31-year-old administrative assistant from Brookline, pondered how best to help the team as Game 7 drew near. She decided the problem was that she had neglected to wear her Johnny Damon shirt, and in the first six games, she notes, "He was not the Johnny Damon we knew." After she put on the shirt, Damon proceeded to hit two home runs in Game 7, including a grand slam, for a total of six RBIs. "As soon as I put that shirt on, I felt a good vibe," Brenner said.

Viewed objectively, none of this would seem likely to make any difference. But what does objectivity have to do with it? The superstitions and general apprehensiveness of Sox fans are so well known that they were spoofed on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" Thursday night. Correspondent Rob Corddry, who hails from the Boston area, implored host Jon Stewart not to talk about the victory over the Yankees because it might imperil the Sox's chances in . . . the very series Boston had just won. "You're gonna jinx it!" Corddry cried plaintively.

Baseball players are famously superstitious themselves, and the Red Sox -- even after the departure of ritual-obsessed Nomar Garciaparra -- are no exception. So perhaps it's fitting that the fans are doing their part, even if it means that, in the words of Linda Hill, "There's a lot of insanity." For instance, with the Sox down three games to none, her husband tried watching with the TV sound off and a radio headset on. The Sox won, so that's how the Hills watched the next four games. The Sox won those games. Coincidence? Maybe, but after more than eight decades without a world championship, Sox fans are in no mood to take any chances.

Michael and Loring Edmonds watched Game 7 at a party with a dozen friends. As she had from Game 4, Loring Edmonds, a publicist, clutched a sign throughout the game that proclaimed "It's time to take the gloves off!" and featured a picture of Sox catcher Jason Varitek pushing his mitt into the face of Yankees star Alex Rodriguez.

"The big superstition [at the party] was: You cannot talk about anything other than what was going on right now, who's coming into the game now," said Michael Edmonds, an air-traffic controller. "No what-ifs, no talk about `When we get to the World Series.' Last year we talked about what-ifs. This time everybody shut up. And it worked."

For a lifelong fan such as Ron Olson, a 57-year-old field engineer from West Brookfield, there is a fervent desire to do whatever he can to help the team. After the Game 3 debacle vs. the Yankees, Olson concluded he could not bear to watch the Yankees hit anymore. So from then on, he would play a computer game in another room when the Yankees were up, returning only when the Red Sox were at bat. "My wife would say, `Ron, the inning's over,' and I'd come in and watch the Red Sox," said Olson. "I did exactly the same thing every day, and we made history. Until we lose a game, I'm not watching the other team bat."

Still, even as he looks ahead to tonight's game, Olson can't help dwelling a bit more on the Yankees and wondering whether they might have a curse of their own to deal with. Over the winter, the Sox tried but failed to land Rodriguez. Though he never played for Boston, A-Rod is like Ruth in that Sox fans considered him the One Who Got Away.

But now, Olson mused: "You want to talk about a jinx? You ought to look at A-Rod. He may be the greatest player in the world, but were we lucky not to get him? He's the new Yankees jinx."

Don Aucoin can be reached at aucoin@globe.com.

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