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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Going National

This is bigger than all of us

ST. LOUIS -- The Red Sox are a team that connects generations.

That's why this matters so much.

They remind you of your father and mother, maybe your grandfather, too. And they remind you of your sons and daughters and all that you taught them when they were young. Like green eyes and freckles, love of the Red Sox is passed through bloodlines, and the shared passion can bridge the gaps that come with maturity and growth.

In every family there's inevitable distance -- sometimes geographic, sometimes philosophical or emotional. But the Red Sox furnish common ground, which is why they are more than a baseball team and why this is more than a story of a surge to a long-awaited championship.

How many of you have heard from relatives in the last 10 days, maybe a sibling you haven't spoken with in a while? And how many former New Englanders are watching their televisions in Colorado, Arizona, or Florida, remembering growing up with the mellow voice of Curt Gowdy pouring out of the porch radio into the humid night?

How many of you watched the thrilling comeback against the Yankees and thought of a parent or a spouse who has died? How many watched the first two games of the World Series and thought about how much more special this would be if Uncle Joe or Aunt Elizabeth had lived to see it?

Those who have adopted Boston share the family secrets. People around the globe who went to college in our town still carry a love of the Red Sox along with memories of that first beer in the Fenway bleachers. The Citgo sign beyond the left-field wall was the lighthouse that steered them back to their dorms on those first wobbly nights of undergrad freedom. The Sox connected them then and they connect them now.

The Red Sox have not always been good, or even popular. They have not been annually championship-driven nor well-run. They have at times been unlucky, inept, controversial, racist, and petty. The Boston ballplayers were not always fuzzy stuffed animals come-to-life as unbeatable, clutch, and gritty baseball talents. There have been times when the Red Sox truly were idiots and there was nothing lovable about them.

But always they have been there, as indigenous to our town as swan boats, clam chowder, Paul Revere, L Street Brownies, Sam Adams, and the golden dome of the State House.

Following the Red Sox has never been easy nor particularly rewarding. Red Sox Nation is many things but it offers no asylum for those in need of instant gratification. Believing the Sox can win requires an act of faith, not unlike one's commitment to a Higher Being. There are few lucid souls old enough to actually recall Boston's last World Series victory in 1918, so Sox fans believe in something they have never seen. They believe there is a Hardball Heaven even though they have never been there.

And that's why this matters so much . . .

. . . because the 2004 Red Sox at this hour are so very close.

Going into tonight's Game 3, the measure of a Boston fan's confidence might be relative to his or her age or service time in the Nation. If you are quite young, or just came on board, you know for sure that the Red Sox are going to close out the Cardinals this week, probably before they get back to Boston. You see a team that has won six straight postseason games, and 43 of its last 58 overall. You know that 37 of 48 teams that took 2-0 Series leads went on to win the Fall Classic. You can see that Boston has superior pitching. Imagine a 2-0 lead and Pedro Martinez hasn't even started yet?

However, if you are old enough to remember 1986 or 1978, maybe you are not so certain. And if you go back to 1946 when the Sox were whopping favorites over the Cardinals, you might stop yourself before taking the champagne bottle out of the ice bucket.

But even the most hardened fans are won over by this Red Sox team. The 2004 Red Sox did something no team in baseball history ever did. They came back from a 3-0 deficit and they did it against the hated Yankees, of all teams. They are thus far oblivious to pressures and ghosts and dark clouds and black cats. And the larger forces have been with them since the middle of the Yankee series: Umpires' calls have gone in their favor. A Tony Clark would-be RBI double skidded into the stands for a ground-rule double that prevented a crucial run from scoring. Two Sox long-distance shots have clanged off the foul pole. Enemy line drives are going directly into Sox mitts like heat-seeking missiles finding their targets. Heady stuff, indeed.

All Red Sox fans, wherever they may live, are citizens of Red Sox Nation. And via telephone, email, or simple neighborhood chats across the picket fence, they are connecting with one another as never before, awaiting the culmination of a lifelong dream.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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