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Tim O’Sullivan: Red Sox home in on another World Series title

  • Championship banners hang on the facade of Fenway Park in Boston on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, including the one from 1918, which was the last World Series that the Boston Red Sox clinched at home. The Red Sox will face the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the World Series on Wednesday in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

    Championship banners hang on the facade of Fenway Park in Boston on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, including the one from 1918, which was the last World Series that the Boston Red Sox clinched at home. The Red Sox will face the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the World Series on Wednesday in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  • Championship banners hang on the facade of Fenway Park in Boston on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, including the one from 1918, which was the last World Series that the Boston Red Sox clinched at home. The Red Sox will face the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the World Series on Wednesday in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

    Championship banners hang on the facade of Fenway Park in Boston on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, including the one from 1918, which was the last World Series that the Boston Red Sox clinched at home. The Red Sox will face the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the World Series on Wednesday in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  • Championship banners hang on the facade of Fenway Park in Boston on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, including the one from 1918, which was the last World Series that the Boston Red Sox clinched at home. The Red Sox will face the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the World Series on Wednesday in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
  • Championship banners hang on the facade of Fenway Park in Boston on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, including the one from 1918, which was the last World Series that the Boston Red Sox clinched at home. The Red Sox will face the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the World Series on Wednesday in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

The derisive “19-18” chants were silenced nine years ago when the 2004 Red Sox ended 86 years of heartbreak. Yankees fans can no longer use the long-ago year to mock their Boston counterparts, but 1918 is relevant once again.

That was the last year the Red Sox won a World Series at Fenway Park. They can change that bit of history by winning

Game 6 tonight in Fenway against the St. Louis Cardinals. Even if the Sox lose, they would have another chance to fully exorcise the 1918 ghosts in Game 7 tomorrow night.

But there’s no doubt Boston wants to get the job done as soon as possible. The players are riding high after winning two of three in St. Louis; giving the Cardinals any hope would be dangerous; and the fans need sleep. There’s also no doubt that it would feel fitting, karmic, destined, or whatever else you want to call it, for these Red Sox to deliver the home crowd the World Series trophy in person for the first time in 95 years.

The connection between this team and its city has taken on special meaning in 2013, even by Boston standards. It started after the marathon bombings, when the Red Sox hung that “Boston Strong 617” jersey in their dugout and David Ortiz let everyone know, with explicit emphasis, just who the city belonged to.

Even if the season had been a mediocre one, those gestures would have been remembered fondly by Red Sox Nation. And a .500 season seemed like a reasonable, if not optimistic, hope for the Sox. They had, after all, finished in a dismal last place in 2012 after their disgraceful collapse in September of 2011.

But like Boston would not be cowed by the bombings, the Red Sox would not become victims of their past. The city, of course, was dealing with matters of life and death while the team was simply playing a game. Yet they seemed to inspire each other in a two-way bond that tapped into a deeper purpose for sports, something beyond a game.

As the Red Sox kept winning and kept defying the preseason predictions, that bond grew stronger. And it wasn’t just the wins that made it grow, but how they were winning.

There’s a grinding, blue-collar ethos on this team that shows up in every at-bat. They put the team above the individual. They have superstars like Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, but they also won with players supposedly on the decline like Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino and overachievers like Daniel Nava. They got months of red-hot offense from a player who supposedly couldn’t hit in Jose Iglesias, they got one of the greatest relief seasons in history from the man who was their third-string closer, Koji Uehara, and they received the gift of chemistry from Jonny Gomes, a player who defies the game’s tidal wave trend of sabermetrics.

The contributions from all corners, no matter how unlikely, have kept coming in the postseason. Napoli, Victorino and Gomes all looked befuddled at the plate before hitting game-winning home runs in the playoffs. Backup catcher David Ross, the 36-year-old who hit .216 this year, delivered the game-winning double on Monday. Supposed head case Felix Dubront shook off any ill feelings about not being used as a starting pitcher to deliver two sensational World Series relief appearances. Fried chicken-and-beer scapegoat John Lackey has become a symbol of redemption.

The Big Exception to all these unlikely hero stories is Big Papi. Ortiz was the focal point of Boston’s offense all season and he’s hit like a man possessed against St. Louis, going 11-for-15 with six RBI and eight extra-base hits.

Yet Ortiz fits perfectly into the drama that will unfold tonight, and perhaps tomorrow, at Fenway. He has become the ultimate showman, a beloved, larger-than-life character always ready to take a curtain call. Every great piece of theater needs a star, and Ortiz is the biggest name baseball has to offer at the moment.

Ortiz is also the last link left to the 2004 team that did most of the heavy lifting when it came to removing the demons of 1918. It’s only right that someone from that group is on hand now as these Sox try to complete the job.

To be honest, it may have been too much for the city and the ancient ballpark to handle if the ’04 team had won its title in Fenway. It sparked riots, and one tragic death, in Boston even though it happened in St. Louis. And there were more riots in ’07 after the Sox clinched in Colorado.

The time feels right now, however. If the Sox happen to win, there will surely be celebrations in streets all around New England, but hopefully they won’t lead to violence. It would be a shameful way to end a season that can be viewed as a symbolic stand against violence on the streets of Boston.

There is still, of course, plenty of work to be done on the field. The Cardinals will have wunderkind Michael Wacha on the mound tonight, and then anything can happen in a Game 7. But these Red Sox, just like their city, have overcome every obstacle this year. There’s no reason to think they’re going to stop now.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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