10/22/2004 5:09 PM ET
Ultimate challenge starts for Boston
After beating Yankees, how do Sox focus on Cards?
By Jim Street / MLB.com
|Johnny Damon said beating the Yankees was a draining task, but there are still four more games to win. (Winslow Townson/AP)
BOSTON -- It has taken longer than a New York minute for the American League champion Boston Red Sox to get over their tense and emotional seven-game triumph over their longest and most bitter rivals.
Now comes the ultimate challenge.
The 2004 World Series begins Saturday night at Fenway Park, and if anyone thinks the AL champions are headed for an emotional letdown, forget about it.
"That was a stressful week we just went through," center fielder Johnny Damon said. "We were able to get through it, but we're not finished. We're just a step closer to erasing all the chants, all the myths and, of course, the curse."
The Red Sox removed the Big Apple gorilla from their backs by rebounding from a three-games-to-none deficit to beat the Yankees in four straight, reaching the Fall Classic for the first time since 1986.
The greatest comeback in Major League postseason history forever will be talked about in Red Sox Nation. Perhaps the only thing better for a Red Sox fan -- or player -- would be to win a World Series championship.
That hasn't happened here since 1918, and is reason enough for the Sox to regroup quickly against the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals.
"There is not going to be an ALCS hangover like some people think," Red Sox right-hander Derek Lowe said. "You set out to win 11 games in the playoffs and we've won seven. We still have four more to go."
"We have been reminded all day today about how tough it could be to bounce back, but I don't think so," outfielder Trot Nixon said. "We're at zeroes now and we have to play every game like it's our last one.
"There are going to be some nerves out there (Saturday night). A lot of us haven't been in this type of atmosphere before. But this is what's it's all about and we'll be ready to go."
The AL champs worked out in chilly, misty weather Friday afternoon, thrilled to be one day closer to the Fall Classic, and one more day removed from a win-or-go-home scenario they faced four times.
"It's a good thing we had a couple of days off after that (Yankees) series," Damon said. "It helps you get settled down. Walking out on the field today, we weren't moving the way we were a few days ago."
There will be much more giddy-up in their steps Saturday night for Game 1 of the World Series.
"Is this team going to be happy just getting here?" Lowe asked. "No way. This is a chance of a lifetime. A lot of guys play their whole careers and don't make it past the first round of the playoffs, let alone getting to the World Series.
"You try to take it all in and enjoy where you are, but come 8 o'clock every night, everybody will give it their all," Lowe added. "We realize we are four wins away from one of the best parades in the history of sports."
The Red Sox have taken two distinctly different paths to get where they are. They reached the playoffs as the AL Wild Card team and promptly swept the AL West champion Angels in three games in the best-of-five Division Series.
Three straight losses to the Yankees in the best-of-seven ALCS put the Sox on the verge of another close-but-no-cigar season. But an extra-inning victory at Fenway Park in Game 4 triggered the team's remarkable comeback that left them emotionally drained.
"Maybe that's what we need to do -- write on the board that we are losing three games to none," said Lowe with a smile.
Actually, just playing in a World Series offers an instant boost of energy.
"That series is over with and now we're starting a new one," third baseman Bill Mueller said. "We have another goal to accomplish. We'll soon find out if there will be (a letdown), but I don't think that's going to happen."
And what does Red Sox manager Terry Francona think about the subject?
"There is no letdown, and I feel funny even talking about it," he said. "It is inconsequential and the intensity is going to go up another level. This is the World Series."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.