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With a win in Game 3, the Red Sox are one victory away from their first World Series championship since 1918.
With a win in Game 3, the Red Sox are one victory away from their first World Series championship since 1918. (Globe Staff Photo / John Bohn )
JACKIE MACMULLAN

It's a championship heavy wait

ST. LOUIS -- They are like a big lobster pot on a piping hot stove, churning and bubbling, ready to boil over. The Red Sox have a 3-games-to-none lead over the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series, and all of their dreams -- and yours -- are about to come true. The local nine is bursting with optimism, yet the players continue to guard against letting their emotions spill over until St. Louis is completely cooked.

It could happen as early as tonight in Busch Stadium. Including their improbable comeback against the Yankees in the ALCS, roaring back from a 3-0 deficit of their own, the Red Sox have ripped off seven wins in a row and are poised to win their first championship since 1918.

How did this happen? How is it this band of self-described idiots, with raggy hair and baggy pants and shabby defense (eight errors through the first two games) find themselves on the cusp of doing something Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk, Roger Clemens, and Nomar Garciaparra never were able to achieve wearing the Boston uniform?

"It's the attitude of our team," said pitcher Derek Lowe, who will be on the mound tonight with a chance to clinch all three postseason series. "It might not work for everyone, because some guys need to be serious and put on a game face, but that's not how we do it.

"Our guys like to joke around and have fun and goof on each other 10 minutes before the game. Like I said, it's not for everyone, but it works for this team."

The Red Sox were far more businesslike in disposing of the overmatched Cardinals last night. Pedro Martinez escaped from a couple of early jams and never looked back. He knocked down the final 14 batters he faced, and walked proudly off the mound after seven shutout innings knowing he contributed mightily to this Series assault.

Boston's defense, a cause of concern coming in, was flawless. That included first baseman David Ortiz, who expressed doubt about spending the game in the field instead of the clubhouse checking his designated hitter swing. Ortiz deftly scooped a couple of tricky balls, and caught Cardinals pitcher Jeff Suppan off third base with a fine throw in the third, then gave way to Doug Mientkiewicz in the seventh.

"Thank God that one is over," said Ortiz, as he hastily exited. "I'm outta here, man."

The Red Sox would love to be out of here by midnight tonight. The last World Series sweep was when the Yankees broomed the Atlanta Braves in 1999. Boston would love to join that list and avoid doling out any encouragement to a downcast St. Louis team. Everyone from Andover to Yarmouth keeps holding their breath, waiting for hitters like Scott Rolen (0 for 11) and Jim Edmonds (1 for 11) to bust out, but it didn't happen last night, either. Rolen didn't get a ball out of the infield, and Edmonds flied to shallow left in the first with the bases loaded, a ball that Manny Ramirez caught, then one-hopped to Jason Varitek, who tagged Larry Walker out at the plate.

Although Boston's players dutifully offered the usual disclaimers when asked if they felt the Series was over, the clubhouse was ripe with anticipation and excitement. Kevin Millar was positively giddy, patrolling the lockers with his video camera, and playing the role of intrepid reporter. The magnitude of what is in front of them is starting to sink in. Asked if he could possibly imagine what an 80-year-old Red Sox fan would be thinking if the team was to finally win it tonight, center fielder Johnny Damon answered, "Hopefully we can make their dreams come true."

Most elite athletes know it's over when they have a 3-0 lead. Perhaps the Red Sox would exhibit more confidence if they had not experienced the incredible turnaround against New York. If the Yankees, one of the most imposing franchises in all of sports, can blow a 3-0 lead, anyone can. "It's easy not to get too excited because of the ALCS," said Bronson Arroyo. "We went from being down, 3-0, to winning the thing. We can't let that happen. We've got to knock 'em out [tonight] and get this thing over with."

"I know everyone is anxious," Damon said, "but no one is more anxious than our team. We're up, 3-0, and our team knows it's not over. Something special could happen, but we know what we did to the Yankees a week or so ago, so we can't give this team even a spark of hope."

The plan will be the same as it's been every day since the season started. The players will wake up at their usual time, eat their regular pregame meal, maintain their usual superstitions, and block out, at all costs, the fact that they could turn New England upside down tonight with just 27 more outs.

"That's the beauty of routine," said Lowe. "From spring training to today, it's always the same."

No, there never has been anything like this. When Babe Ruth and the boys socked away that 1918 championship, no one had any idea the wait would be so long, and so torturous, before Red Sox Nation could rejoice again.

Turn down your stoves. Keep those pots simmering. If you can wait just a little longer, it could wind up as the most delicious night of your life. 

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