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Red Sox roar into World Series

The game was played on the 32d anniversary of Carlton Fisk's World Series walkoff homer and though the score indicated little drama, the final play was no less spectacular.

At 11:56 last night, Casey Blake hit a towering shot toward the 420 (foot) sign in the deepest part of center field at Fenway Park. The ball descended from the October sky and settled into the outstretched mitt of a galloping Coco Crisp, who crashed into the bullpen fence and dropped to the ground holding the American League pennant in his hand.

Completing a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit, the Red Sox won their 12th pennant last night with an 11-2 thrashing of the Cleveland Indians. Japanese rookie Daisuke Matsuzaka picked up the victory with five innings of solid pitching and fellow rookie Dustin Pedroia (home run, double) knocked in five runs as the Sox blew it open with eight runs in the seventh and eighth innings. Dating to the historic sweep of the Yankees in 2004, it marked the sixth win by the Red Sox in their last last seven elimination games.

"It's the biggest event of my life," said Pedroia.

"This team is appealing for a lot of reasons and that's a good sign for Red Sox Nation," said Sox CEO Larry Lucchino. "Home-field advantage has never meant as much as it does to me right now."

And so the Sox are in the World Series for the second time in four years, which hasn't happened since James Michael Curley and George Herman Ruth prowled the narrow streets of Boston.

The Series starts Wednesday night at Fenway with ALCS MVP Josh Beckett pitching for the Sox against the Colorado Rockies, who have won 10 straight games and 21 of their last 22.

Clearly, these Red Sox fear no team and no situation. Faced with three consecutive must-win games, Boston outscored Cleveland by an aggregate, 30-5.

This must have been what it felt like in the early days of Fenway when the Royal Rooters ruled and the Red Sox were regular hosts of baseball's autumnal showcase. From 1915 through 1918, the Sox won three World Series. They did not win again until 2004, the beginning of a magical October run that has resumed over the last four days.

On the heels of back-to-back wins in which the Sox outscored the Tribe, 19-3, fans came to Fenway expecting to see another champagne celebration on the Fenway lawn. Former Sox slugger Kevin Millar, a fabled member of the '04 champs, was flown in to toss the ceremonial first pitch, but fans were more concerned with the throwing skills of Matsuzaka, the $103 man who failed in his first two postseason appearances.

While Matsuzaka threw his final warm-up pitches just after 8 o'clock, the Dropkick Murphys performed "I'm Shipping Up To Boston" from a temporary stage on the dirt adjacent to the Sox bullpen. The crowd roared when a team of Irish step dancers emerged from the center-field door and hopped up on stage. It was a pretty safe bet Dice-K never saw such a demonstration before any games he pitched against the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Showing none of the nervousness that marked his first two October starts, Matsuzaka mowed down the Tribe in the first inning on 13 pitches. It was 9:30 Monday morning in Japan.

Good fortune walked with the Sox against Jake Westbrook in the first when a would-be double-play one-hopper bounced crazily off the infield dirt and clanged off the glove of shortstop Jhonny Peralta to give Manny Ramírez an RBI single.

The Sox made it 2-0 in the second when Jason Varitek led off with Wall double, took third on a single by Jacoby Ellsbury, then scored on a double play grounder by Julio Lugo - one of three twin killings that hurt Boston in the first four innings.

The locals added another run in the third when scalding Kevin Youkilis led with a double down the left-field line, took third on a ground out by Ortiz, and scored on Mike Lowell's sacrifice fly. The way Dice-K was throwing, a 3-0 lead looked pretty safe.

Doubles by Travis "Meet the Flintstones" Hafner and Ryan Garko pushed a run across for the Indians in the fourth, then the Tribe cut Boston's lead to 3-2 in the fifth. Kenny Lofton led with a single off the Wall but was erased going for second on a perfect throw from Ramírez. Franklin Gutierrez and Casey Blake followed with singles, then Grady Sizemore scored Gutierrez with a sacrifice fly to center. Matsuzaka fanned Asdrubal Cabrera on a changeup to get out of the jam, his final pitch of the night.

Dice-K's countryman, Hideki Okajima, came on to start the sixth and got the side in order.

There was a moment of infamy for Cleveland's third base coach, Joel Skinner, in the seventh. Lofton was on second with one out after Lugo dropped a popup in shallow left that would have been a can of corn for Ramírez. Gutierrez followed with a shot over the third-base bag that bounded off the wall in foul territory and shot back into left. Ramírez had no shot at getting Lofton at home, but Skinner held the speedster at third. Naturally, Blake followed with a double-play grounder and Cleveland fans had new reason to believe in the Curse of Rocky Colavito.

Pedroia, the smallest man on the field, crushed a two-run homer into the Monster seats off reliever Rafael Betancourt in the seventh, then cleared the bases with a two-out double in the eighth to erase all doubt.

Jonathan Papelbon got the final six outs for the Red Sox before performing Riverdance 2 near the mound during a lengthy postgame celebration.

Like Crisp's catch, Papelbon's dance put an exclamation point on the comeback and sends the Sox into the Series with as much momentum as the team that's won 10 in a row.

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