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Curses, again

For Red Sox, no bloody-sock comeback as Chicago sweeps

No books on the 2005 Red Sox. No major motion pictures, no ESPY Awards, and none of those corny Christmas card photos of your neighbor standing next to the World Series trophy.

In the everlasting words of Philip Epstein, Oscar-winning grandfather of young general manager Theo, ''We'll always have Paris."

Eleven months and 10 days after winning their first World Series in 86 years, the Red Sox were eliminated from the playoffs last night, victims of an ignominious sweep at the hands of the Chicago White Sox, who took the Game 3 clincher, 5-3, before 35,496 stunned citizens of Red Sox Nation gathered at Fenway Park.

The final out came at 7:37 last evening, and just like in 2004, the season ended on a feeble grounder by Edgar Renteria. Unfortunately for Sox fans, this year Renteria was playing for the local nine and his routine chopper sent the Sox home crying while the other guys popped champagne. Last year, of course, Renteria, playing for St. Louis, set off wild celebrations across the Nation by making the last out of the World Series.

The Sox are bound to undergo a major makeover before they next meet in Fort Myers, Fla.; well-known characters such as Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, Mike Timlin, and maybe even Manny Ramirez are likely to be gone. Manager Terry Francona and Epstein are among others no longer under contract, and several in the Sox locker room viewed this defeat as the last roundup for the raggedy men who made hardball history in the Hub.

''I think it's been awesome," said free agent outfielder/cult hero Damon. ''I'll remember how our players loved the city and how the city loved us and how they enjoyed us."

''These were the best three years of my life," said Millar. ''I loved it. No matter what, it's been a blast. No one can ever take away what we did last year. This year, we fought. We just weren't the better team."

Chicago beat the Red Sox in straight sets, winning, 14-2, in Game 1; 5-4 in Game 2; then taking the clincher at Fenway thanks in large part to a remarkable performance by 36-year-old (or older) Cuban righthander Orlando ''El Duque" Hernandez. There's little pressure in life after you've already stared down Fidel Castro, and Hernandez crushed the Sox' spirit when he entered a 4-3 game in the sixth inning and got out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam.

Curt Schilling, the bloody-sock hero of 2004, did not throw a pitch in the 2005 postseason and said, ''Obviously, they were the better team. The argument's over. They came in and beat us. I certainly didn't expect to be on a postseason team and not get the ball, but it was my own fault. I struggled all year and then we went down to the last game of the season and I had to pitch."

Schilling's plight typified the Sox' uneven season. The Franconamen slugged their way to 95 wins and a first-place tie in the American League East with the Yankees, but the loss of free agent Pedro Martinez (Mets) and closer Keith Foulke (knee surgery), compounded by Schilling's difficulty recovering from offseason ankle surgery, gave the Sox a giant mound of pitching woes. At the end, even the bats failed them as Damon, captain Jason Varitek, and veteran Mueller wore down and slumped badly.

''We just didn't get it done in the postseason," said Epstein. ''We had a hard time getting the big hit. The first game of this series was a washout, but after that it came down to who got the big hit. It was over pretty quickly."

Sox fans came to Fenway full of hope that this year's edition could come back from a deficit in the same way the 2003 and 2004 teams had done. Schilling was on line to pitch today's Game 4 and there was hope that David Wells could start a fifth and deciding game in Chicago.

The White Sox had other plans. Chicago struck first, reaching Tim Wakefield for a pair of runs in the third. No. 9 batter Juan Uribe hit a two-out double to left and scored on a double into the left-field corner by Scott Podsednik. Tadahito Iguchi, who beat the Sox with a three-run homer off Wells in Game 2, followed with a first-pitch single up the middle and it was 2-0 in favor of the visitors.

The Red Sox tied it in the fourth on back-to-back home runs by David Ortiz and Ramirez. The pair hit 21 homers in the Sox' final 22 games, but failed to go over the wall in the first two games in Chicago. Ortiz's leadoff blast was a towering fly to straightaway center that was carried out by a stiff wind. Manny then hit an opposite-field fly that curled around the Pesky Pole to make it 2-2.

Nothing changed until the sixth, which lasted almost a full hour and contained more thrills and chills than some homestands. Wakefield walked Jermaine Dye to start the inning, then surrendered a two-run homer to Chicago cleanup man Paul Konerko.

Manny led off the bottom of the inning with a monstrous homer that was last seen bound for the Mass. Pike. That was it for Chicago starter Freddy Garcia. Damaso Marte came on and promptly loaded the bases with a single and two walks. Then White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen summoned Hernandez.

El Duque was dazzling. His ball was moving like Allen Iverson in traffic. He got the suddenly-lumbering Varitek to pop up. He worked the count to 3-and-2 against Tony Graffanino. The goat of Game 2 fouled off three full-count pitches, then popped to short. Damon was next and again the count went to 3-and-2. After a foul, El Duque fooled Damon with a wicked breaking ball that wound up in the dirt. Damon committed with his swing and was rung up to end the inning.

''The right pitch at the right time," conceded Damon.

Hernandez got the side in order in the seventh, then came back out for the eighth, after ''Sweet Caroline." But it was more of the same. John Olerud hit a two-out single, but Varitek fanned weakly to send the game into the ninth.

The winners tacked on an insurance run, employing the rarely-seen suicide squeeze. With catcher A.J. Pierzynski breaking from third, Uribe bunted against Timlin and Pierzynski scored easily to make it 5-3.

Dick Radatz clone Bobby Jenks closed the deal, getting Graffanino, Damon, and Renteria with no trouble.

The Nation was stunned. The defending champs were done. And in the end, the theme of 2005 was ''Wait Till Last Year."

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