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Bob Ryan

We still remember the gory days

By Bob Ryan
Globe Staff / October 4, 2008
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ANAHEIM, Calif. - OK, Sox devotees, does 19-8 ring a bell? Remember the feelings of frustration, anger, and disgust? Remember wallowing in what you'd undoubtedly now admit was an embarrassing amount of self-pity?

That was very nearly four years ago, and gee, ain't life grand . . . now?

All the trials and tribulations; all the laughable talk of a curse; all the talk of Pesky "holding" the ball (a bum rap); all the moaning about Joe McCarthy using Denny Galehouse; and the what-if of Gibson having three days' rest while noble Lonnie had only two; and of Darrell Johnson taking out Willoughby; and of a cheap Fenway home run by a No. 9-hitting shortstop; and of a certain ground ball that wasn't caught; and of a decision to leave Pedro in a ballgame have all been swept into the dustbin of history by the events that began on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2004, and concluded in the wee smalls of Monday, Oct. 18, when David Ortiz hit a 14th-inning home run off Paul Quantrill that gave the Red Sox a season-saving 6-4 victory over the New York Yankees.

(Time now for the obligatory salute to Kevin Millar, Dave Roberts, and Bill Mueller for producing the tying run off the great Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth.)

For the second time in baseball history, it is truly a glorious time to be a fan of the Boston Red Sox. It was like this a little less than a century ago, when the Sox won World Series in 1912, 1915, 1916, and 1918, the final three featuring, among others, the greatest combination pitching-batting threat the game has ever known, a fella named Babe Ruth. The Red Sox are now only halfway to matching that haul, but they certainly have an opportunity to do so. If injuries and a slightly better foe keep them from putting up a third this season, we all know they will be back with a quality team next year, and the year after that, because that's just the way it is now. The chain-of-command mechanism is in place to compete for a championship on an annual basis (sorry if I sound like Theo's flack, but it's the gospel truth).

Any Red Sox fan who isn't sufficiently grateful for his or her current great good fortune should be sentenced to a week of high-volume 24/7 renditions of "Sweet Caroline" played backward.

And that brings us to the good people of Chicago.

I won't say, "Can you imagine what it's like to be a fan of the Cubs this morning?" because to a large degree, many of you can. I've been in Boston and New England long enough to know the drill, and a great deal of the time, the generational aspect of Red Sox fandom is all very sweet and harmless.

We all know someone with an elderly relative who either died happily in the aftermath of the 2004 championship or who, his or her relatives believed, would have died happier had, for example, Calvin Schiraldi had a 1-2-3 10th inning that fateful evening at Shea.

I must confess I always had a hard time with the woe-is-me, Passion Play mentality, the one maintaining that no one had ever suffered the way Red Sox fans had. That was simply not true, and as Exhibit A I submit to you the many people for whom the Chicago Cubs are the object of both their affection and, for now, their scorn.

Your suffering is now over. Theirs continues. And it gets exponentially worse by the year.

Once upon a time, there was a fundamental difference between the two fan bases. The Red Sox fan was, by and large, more intense. He or she tended to take things very personally. When the ball went through Buckner's legs, the reaction was, "How could he do that to me?"

Cubs folks were more benign. You had a few beers en route to the game, you had a few beers at the game, win or lose you had a few more beers after the game, and if it was a loss, you'd say, "That's all right; we'll get 'em tomorrow." There were a few jokes about the Billy Goat Curse, and that was about that.

Then came the eventful evening of Oct. 14, 2003. Up, three games to two, over the Florida Marlins in the National League Championship Series, and with Mark Prior working with a 3-0 lead and a three-hitter with one out in the eighth inning, the Cubs saw it all fall apart, starting with a foul ball down the left-field line off the bat of Luis Castillo (the eighth pitch of the at-bat, by the way). Several fans reached for the ball, and it actually was touched by one of them, a young man named Steve Bartman. Left fielder Moises Alou threw a little hissy fit, the Cubs asked for and were denied a fan interference call, and the game went on.

Castillo walked, and, nine batters later, the inning ended. Walks, wild pitches, an error by shortstop Alex S. Gonzalez (not to be confused with any number of other Alex Gonzalezes), RBI singles, a bases-clearing double, and a sacrifice fly later, the Marlins had an 8-3 win.

Like the Red Sox in '86, the Cubs could have altered history by winning Game 7. But they couldn't hold a 5-3 lead, and the Marlins prevailed, 9-6.

Forget Prior and Gonzalez. The person demonized by the angry mob was Bartman, and the whole Cubs thing has never been the same.

The Red Sox won it all in 2004, and that was bad, because the one thing Cubs fans always had going for them was the idea that they weren't alone. The White Sox won it all in 2005, and that was a thousand times worse. And when the Red Sox won it all a second time last year, it had all become just too much to take.

There had always been a lot of kidding about waiting until the centennial of the last World Series triumph, and as if on cue, the Cubs rolled to the Central Division title and entered the playoffs as the clear NL favorites to get to the World Series (last visited in 1945) and, along with the Angels, a co-favorite to win it all.

Oh, if only you didn't have to play the games.

The Cubs have, you know, stunk up the joint - their own joint - in Games 1 and 2 of the NL Division Series, and if and when the Dodgers finish them off, it will be unspeakably ugly in Chicago. Those carefee, let's-have-a-coupla-more-beers days are gone. This 100-year thing is no longer cute and quirky. No, it's very annoying. It's all about entitlement. Cubs fans want to feel what Red Sox fans are feeling at least once before they meet their maker, to whom, I'm sure, they will lodge a major complaint about the unfairness of it all.

No, it's not a one-game 19-8, but it's been a two-game 17-5.

Close enough.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

American League Division Series
Series Overview
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