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BOB RYAN

Worth the wait

After 86 years, time stands still

Soxed out yet?

Didn't think so.

It's time to milk it now.

Feel free to be obnoxious. You've earned it. You've got one of those New Yorkers in your office? Wanna spoil his day? Easy. Repeat after me:

". . . A-Rod's up with a man on third."

That should send him or her to the restroom.

If that doesn't work, try this:

". . . Ball 4. Millar walks, and here comes Dave Roberts to run for him."

And, of course, there's the ever popular:

". . . David Ortiz is coming to the plate."

This is the time for every good Red Sox fan to gloat. But the players have already had their supreme moment. As Dave Cowens said after winning his first championship, "The fun is in the doing." We watch. They play. Huge difference.

"Just doing it," said Pedro Martinez, when asked to put it all in personal context. "Just doing it is good enough."

"This is why I play baseball," said Keith Foulke, who pitched magnificently throughout the playoffs.

Now wait till you get a load of this.

"This is the first time I've ever won anything," he revealed. "Not in Little League. Not in high school. Not in college."

So imagine being Foulke with two outs in the ninth inning of Game 4. You are standing on the mound, one out away from throwing the pitch that will result in your team winning the World Series, and now the ball comes bounding back to you! You are going to control everything. Foulke catches the ball, takes a couple of steps, and carefully underhands the ball to Doug Mientkiewicz, who caresses it as if it were a combination of a 50-carat diamond and a newborn baby.

Foulke had a hard time describing the feeling, but he did reveal something very interesting. "It's a lot easier being on the mound than it is watching," he said. "I learned that in Game 7 against the Yankees."

Does anything sum up the difference between Them, the players, and Us, the spectators, better than that? The average person would be terrified to be in that situation. The average person has the little hairs standing up on the back of his head just thinking about being on the mound in the ninth inning of a potentially deciding World Series game. But the Keith Foulkes of the world are in their element, standing on that mound in the center of the diamond, knowing nothing can happen until they release the baseball. A pitcher, and only a pitcher, can initiate the action.

What Foulke is going to remember are the astonishing back-to-back-to-back pitching performances of Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, and Derek Lowe in Games 2, 3, and 4. "Domination," he said. "That's a word for you."

That led to a discussion of just what a great all-around team he is privileged to play for. "The hitters set it all up," he said. "They gave us runs. Those early runs every day. What a great team achievement."

Speaking of team achievement, and team components and everything of the sort, how about that Dave Roberts? The man saw no action in the World Series, but without two base-running appearances in the Yankee series the Red Sox would not have gotten far enough to play the Cardinals. His stolen base off Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning of Game 4 has already been etched into the books as the most significant stolen base in the history of the Red Sox. And, believe me, people have made him aware of that.

"It's great to know people feel that way," he said. "I had to take that chance. If you stand around against Mariano Rivera waiting for something to happen, you're going to lose. But it all began with a great at-bat by Kevin Millar and it all ended with a clutch hit by Bill Mueller. I'm very lucky to be playing in front of fans who get it. They're knowledgeable. They see the nuances."

Terry Francona concocted a winning formula for the Series. He'd get a lead, then replace either Millar or Ortiz with Mientkiewicz at first. He'd put Pokey Reese at second. He'd put Gabe Kapler in right. The pitchers were in great hands.

And what pitching it was. Game 1 was the aberration game, and the Red Sox caught a break when Mark Bellhorn's fly ball down the right-field line hit the foul pole. The real 2004 World Series began in Game 2, when the pitching enabled Francona to become a push-button manager. For three nights running, a starter gave him either six (Schilling) or seven (Pedro, Lowe) fabulous innings, something Tony La Russa never got (Jason Marquis was OK in Game 4, but he certainly wasn't fabulous). Then Francona unleashed his bullpen, ending with Foulke, whose only slip-up was a harmless solo homer by Larry Walker in Game 3.

The whole thing looked so logical and easy you kept asking why it took 86 years to get it done. The explanation may be as simple as this: timing is everything.

"How can you put it all in words?" inquired Tim Wakefield, the man with the most years of Red Sox service on the roster. "I have always said it's not a matter of who has the better team, but who gets hot at the right time. And we got hot at the right time."

The Red Sox' time had come; that's all. "The whole history," said Foulke. "You know what? Now it is history. Now we can worry about the future."

And you can continue thinking of ways to torment the Yankee fan(s) in your life.

How's this?

". . . Clark's ball bounces in the stands! Sierra has to hold at third. I don't understand it. A ball can't climb up the wall like that."

Once every 86 years it does, and once was enough.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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