ST. LOUIS — Here in baseball's heartland, a group of unshaven castoffs and characters dances to the middle of a diamond, points to the sky, leaps into hugs, gasps to swallow the history.
"Now I see what they mean," says David Ortiz, breathless, wet, smiling. "Now I understand what it is like."
Hundreds of miles east, in a small clapboard house in New England, a 76-year-old woman bangs a transistor radio and weeps.
"Honestly, I never thought I'd live see this," says Anne Quinn, who has had the same seats at Fenway Park for a half-century. "So many times. So close. My husband in heaven is dancing. We all are."
It is the greatest bond in sports, forged through the biggest heartache in sports, and today, heavens to Buckner, it has won.
The curse is over. The last 85 years are history. The Boston Red Sox have won a World Series, amazing themselves while answering the prayers of fans who never thought they would live to see the day.
Wednesday was that day. Was it ever.
It was a 3-0 victory over an embarrassingly bad St. Louis Cardinal team that lead baseball in regular-season wins, a four-game sweep of a World Series that was as ugly and overwhelming as an exorcism.
Said John Henry, the Red Sox owner: "Oh my, our fans, our team, they showed the world, you never quit. You have terrible losses. You go through terrible times. You stick together. You never lose faith. This shows why."
Said Quinn, the fan: "I worried down to the last out. Even then, I wasn't sure it happened. Can you believe it happened?"
After the Red Sox made a historical comeback to beat the rival New York Yankees to win the American League pennant, anything was believable.
But still, after Keith Foulke threw to first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz for the final out, it was as if even the players were stunned, sprinting from their dugout as if escaping a fire, colliding with each other, a bouncing mass of hair that moved from the pitcher's mound to behind home plate.
The final image was of Ortiz, running to the pile while pointing and shouting at the Busch Stadium lights.
The final cheer came from perhaps the largest group of visiting fans ever witnessed at a World Series, several thousand that stuck around long after the final out to serenade its stars as they paraded around the field like giddy high schoolers.
Having waited all this time for a championship, they were deserving of a few extra minutes, no?
Even the riot police smiled.
"Thank you, Red Sox," the fans chanted. "Thank you Red Sox."
Thank you, indeed.
Sports is the one place in life where losers can still win, where failure can still teach, where there's always next year, or next year, or next year.
The Red Sox victory is a testament to that truth.
Sports is the one place outside a church where there still exists a timeless connection between those who will forever hope. It is about a father teaching cheers to his son, who will one day slap hands with his daughter, who will then sit next to her grandfather on the sofa to watch the big game.
The Red Sox are a celebration of that connection.
Since they last won a championship in 1918, 25 other major league teams have won championships, including five that no longer exist.
Since they last won a championship, many of their fans have died or grown too old to walk the rickety steps at a ballpark that opened the same week the Titanic was sunk.
Yet since they last won a championship, they have shown up every spring, with the same uniforms, same fans, same hope, even after it became clear it would be the same journey.
Anne Quinn and her husband Jerry were once young and in love and holding hands in the seat above the Red Sox bullpen.
Today, Jerry is dead and Anne is gray and stooped. Her transistor radio is held together with tape.
Her cap looks like it belonged to Eric Gagne.
She still doesn't miss a game. She was on her sofa Wednesday night, her screams reportedly filling up the tiny room.
Said Dave Roberts: "It is those longtime fans, those people who have been with this team through all those bad times, that makes this so special."
Said Quinn: "Tonight, I thought about those bad times. I couldn't get them out of my mind. They are always with me."
The Red Sox were in four World Series in the last 85 years, losing all of them in the seventh game, once after being one out from victory.
The goats became as legendary as the heroes, from Johnny Pesky in 1946 to Bill Buckner in 1986, all of whom have now been redeemed.
"Every night, when I prayed, I would throw in something about the Red Sox winning the World Series," said Pesky, still a Red Sox instructor. "I feel that the man upstairs has finally rewarded us."
What made this team different from all the ones between then and now is that, well, they were just different. They never really believed in the curse. They never believed in much but each other.
"The Idiots," they called themselves, but few Red Sox teams have ever been so smart.