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Red Sox fans exhale as turnaround completed

Electric Fenway Park crowd celebrates first home title clinch since 1918

BOSTON -- They wouldn't sit down.

Wrapped around the outfield, from the front row to the back, fans were on their feet at Fenway Park from the national anthem to the final out almost 3 1/2 hours later, as the Red Sox celebrated a 6-1 win in Game 6 of the World Series against the Cardinals on Wednesday night that clinched their third World Series title since 2004.

The fans wouldn't sit down because they couldn't believe it. Too much pain, new and old, had turned fans into creatures unwilling to love their team. They had been hurt before, and they were still reluctant to open their hearts.

"You always go in with this element of doubt," said Chris O'Connor, a Hopkinton, Mass., resident who commutes to his job as chief operating officer of the Yale-New Haven Health System in Connecticut.

O'Connor began working in the Yale-New Haven Hospital at 7 a.m. ET on Wednesday morning. He worked for seven hours, running around as any hospital administrator would during a busy day. O'Connor took his spot at Fenway Park before the first pitch. He never sat down.

Matt Tolnick, a Newton native, drove six hours from South Jersey, working vigorously from his car as he made phone calls to run his beef jerky business, Lawless Jerky. He picked up his friend, Andrew Shadoff, from the airport and arrived at his spot in Fenway early in the night. Tolnick never sat down.

Party time in Beantown
The Red Sox clinched a World Series title on their home field for the first time since Sept. 11, 1918
Date Clincher Stadium City
10/30/2013 Bos. 6, Stl. 1 Fenway Park Boston
10/28/2007 Bos. 4, Col. 3 Coors Field Denver
10/27/2004 Bos. 3, Stl. 0 Busch Stadium St. Louis
9/11/1918 Bos. 2, Chi. 1 Fenway Park Boston
10/12/1916 Bos. 4, Bro. 1 Braves Field Boston
10/13/1915 Bos. 5, Phi. 4 Baker Bowl Philly
10/16/1912 Bos. 3, NYG 2 Fenway Park Boston
10/13/1903 Bos. 3, Pit. 0 Hunt. Ave. Grounds Boston

The ushers let it all happen. Fenway employees are asked not to speak to the media and wouldn't say exactly if any of the usual rules had been abandoned for this moment, but fans assured that the ushers were acceptable of the circumstances.

There weren't many confrontations. This wasn't an unfriendly crowd.

Instead, sacrifices were made. To see a team celebrate a World Series on its own field for the first time since 1918 was enough to bring out the best in people.

Dan Botoff and his two hulking friends swapped seats with a mother and her two children behind them.

"We wanted them to sit in front of us so they could stand, too," Botoff said. "There hasn't been a reason to sit."

Still standing anxiously in the bottom of the sixth inning, Billy Kramer turned to his friend in the right-field bleachers and told him to stay on his toes. The Red Sox were winning, 6-0. A guaranteed win, this was not.

Boston fans don't seem to believe in those.

"I call it pessimistic optimism," Kramer said. "There's nobody in this stadium, even though we're up 6-0 with nine outs to go, that thinks there's not a chance the Cardinals could come back."

In 1967, the "Impossible Dream" Red Sox erased losing seasons with an improbable run to an American League pennant. They won Games 5 and 6 to even the series at 3 and send it back to Fenway Park, where the Cards won in a 7-2 blowout.

In 1978, the Red Sox had a 2-0 lead on the Yankees in the AL tiebreaker game. Bucky Dent hit a three-run homer and the Sox lost, 5-4. The Yanks won the World Series.

In 1986, there was the Bill Buckner error. In 2003, there was the Aaron Boone home run.

The memories are getting old, some of which might have been erased by an improbable 2004 AL Chamionship Series comeback to go with a World Series title, then another title in '07. But the pain isn't gone.

"It's slowly fading," said Tolnick.

John Lackey, Junichi Tazawa and Brandon Workman left Boston with a 6-1 lead heading into the ninth.

"Some of the nervousness remains, but it's not complete and utter pessimism now," Tolnick said.

The underbelly of Fenway Park was just about empty. Concession-stand employees glued their eyes to televisions. Two men sprinted from the bathroom behind center field to catch a glimpse of the action.

Mostly, it was silent.

On the field, there was an eruption of noise.

Koji Uehara entered. Three quick outs later and the Red Sox had won it all.

Happiness was one tangible emotion. Relief was the other.

"I still remember '86 as a kid, watching that on TV and not understanding how that could have possibly gone wrong," said Botoff. "The last 10 years -- I wish this had happened when I was a lot younger.

"Now my kids are watching this. They want to stay up to watch Big Papi. They know Mike Napoli, Dustin Pedroia. When I left and told my 6-year-old and 4-year-old I was going to Boston, they wanted to come to Fenway. They couldn't have appreciated what '04 was, what that meant. I don't know if there will ever be anything like that.

"But being here to see this game, to clinch it, this is something I'll tell my kids and grandkids about. This is the epitome of sports."

Last year, the team's first 90-loss season since 1966, was another dagger to the chest.

Now, there are three World Series titles in 10 seasons; three rings to put a pin in that balloon of anxiety.

Finally, relief.

"I got emails, we all get letters, social media stuff," said Red Sox president and chief executive officer Larry Lucchino. "We reconnected with our fans. The bloom was off the rose after that 13-month period, Sept. '11 all the way though '12. We had to reboot and reconnect with our fanbase. I think we were successful at doing that, acknowledging the problems we had, making sure they knew how much we wanted to win and how hard we'd work to win. 

"We came together in a way that's truly remarkable."

Jason Mastrodonato is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @jmastrodonato.
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