The last time the Red Sox faced the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, Boston swept its favored foes, reversing the 86-year-old curse of titlelessness supposedly inflicted on the team when Babe Ruth was traded to the Yankees in 1919. A wave of relief washed over Red Sox Nation when it knew that the haunting chant "1918" — the last year the Red Sox had won the series — would never be barked at its players or long-suffering fans again.
On Wednesday night, the Red Sox beat the Cardinals 8-1 in the first game of the World Series, as Boston strives to shake memories of a very different sort of curse.
Six months and 160 games since the twin bombings that killed three people and injured 264 others at the Boston Marathon, the city is still healing from its harrowing bout with atrocity.
“Boston strong!” yelled Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino, who took to the field after his grand slam against the Detroit Tigers on Saturday night that helped clinch Boston’s World Series berth.
All season long, Bostonians have drowned out the horror of the marathon bombings with stadiumwide cheers of “Boston strong!,” the bumper sticker slogan that emerged as the city's rallying cry (and Twitter hashtag). The Fenway Park grounds crew has even taken to mowing a giant "B Strong" onto centerfield, a landscaped reminder of the April 15 tragedy.
But the legal saga to bring at least one perpetrator of the bombings to justice has only just begun. And recently surfaced details from the troubled background of Tamerlan Tsarnaev have dragged the bombings — and memories of their horror — back into the news just as fans pack into Fenway Park to cheer on their beloved Sox.
The Tsarnaev brothers, ethnic Chechens and residents of neighboring Cambridge, allegedly planted two homemade pressure cooker bombs at the marathon’s finish line and were on the lam for three days before police shot and killed Tamerlan, the older of the two, and apprehended 20-year-old Dzhokhar, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
On Monday, federal prosecutors in the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev case revealed that Tamerlan had been involved in a 2011 triple homicide in nearby Waltham, Mass., according to testimony from an acquaintance of Tamerlan's who was later killed by the FBI.
In Fenway Park, Sox fans will notice stepped-up police security at this week’s World Series games, yet another reminder of the attack that struck one of Boston’s most cherished athletic traditions.
Boston Police Superintendent in Chief Daniel Linskey told reporters that the police presence at Fenway — just a mile from the marathon's finish line — would be considerable, but he guaranteed safety.
"Obviously, things have changed in our world, but we've got the benefit of all the citizens of Boston, who were with us on April 15 and will be with us tomorrow as we go forward," Linskey said.
Despite considerable off-the-field distractions, the Red Sox shone all year, finishing the regular season with an American League-leading 97–65 record, and found their way into the World Series for the second time since breaking the streak in 2004.
“This is our bleep city — Boston is strong,” veteran slugger David Ortiz told the crowd on Saturday in a self-censored, toned-down version of his expletive-laden speech at the team’s first home game after the bombing.
That slogan has come alive with the on-field endorsement of the Sox, who have ridden a wave of Boston pride all through the season.
Red Sox players, composed significantly of free agents who had never played together prior to 2013, have said the bombings galvanized the team and tied them to their home city — uncommon bonds in a sport where players can be traded from team to team every year.
"These players feel a special bond, a connection to this city," said Larry Lucchino, the team's chief executive, in a Tuesday press conference at Boston City Hall. "It's there for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the tragedy we've all experienced together. This team understands what the city, the victims, went through."
Fans at Fenway will have a lot to cheer about in this series, including lights-out closer Koji Uehara, who led relievers this season in nearly every relevant statistic, from ERA to opponents’ on-base percentage.
Sox sluggers led the league in on-base percentage and slugging against right-handers, a statistic that could tip the balance against St. Louis’ all-right-handed rotation. Not to mention that Boston managed to escape from the American League Championship against one of the most formidable pitching rotations in the majors.
The Cardinals are intimidating, however, with Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha to spearhead their rotation and a much fiercer bullpen than the Tigers. St. Louis, which plays in the National League, where pitchers bat, will also get an injection from designated hitter Allen Craig into an already powerful lineup.
Regardless of how the Red Sox perform during the best-of-seven-game series, fans say they symbolize a Boston that came together after the marathon tragedy.
The attack "has really brought a new sense of community to the city, which I think has brought a new level of pride and excitement for our teams, especially the Sox," said Tim Adams, a lifelong Red Sox fan and recent college graduate who lives in Boston.
Boston Herald writer Steve Buckley wrote on Tuesday that the city’s athletes have more than done their part to perk up a community in mourning — even if the Red Sox join their National Hockey League counterparts, the Boston Bruins, who came up short in hockey’s championship game.
“The Red Sox don’t need to win a World Series to send out that message, any more than the Bruins, this past spring, needed to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup finals,” Buckley wrote, commending both teams for embracing the city "as if it was their own" in public statements.
If anyone can speak to just how important the Red Sox have proved in the aftermath of the attack, it is the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), which runs the Boston Marathon.
Earlier this week, BAA executive director Tom Grilk sent a letter to Red Sox executives wishing them luck in the World Series.
"Thank you, Tom," read a message from CEO Larry Lucchino obtained by MLB.com. "As you well know, the marathon has been with us and our players this entire season."
"It continues to inspire a nation," he said, though it is unclear if he meant Red Sox nation — or the whole country.
With wire services