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This is the Year

The Boston Red Sox played their first regular-season game of 2001 yesterday. And once again, my annual ritual of torment, jubiliation and heartbreak has begun.

Sure, they haven't won a World Series since 1918. Sure, my three-legged, nonexistent dog can pitch better than the ragtag staff the Sox have assembled behind Pedro Martinez this year. And yeah, combustible engine Carl Everett has already been suspended once, even before the season started.

But despite their worst spring training in decades--one in which both Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez were injured and soft-spoken manager Jimy Williams managed to alienate even selfless knuckleballer Tim Wakefield--I stubbornly cling to my notion, renewed with the first pitch each spring, that this is the year.

The Olde Towne Team has the game's best pitcher in three-time Cy Young Award winner Martinez (18-6 with a 1.74 ERA in 2000). Despite Alex Rodriguez's gargantuan $252 million offseason contract with the Texas Rangers, the Sox have baseball's best shortstop in Nomar Garciaparra (.372 with 21 HRs and 96 RBIs last year). And due to some $20 million-per-year frivolity of their own, the Sox also have RBI king Ramirez (.351, 38, 122), as well as Everett (.300, 34, 108) and All-Star closer Derek Lowe (4-4, 2.56 ERA, 42 saves). They've got one of baseball's best managers in Williams--who provides Boston's hardball beat reporters with fresh "Jimywocky" insights each day--and ownership more and more willing to shell out the big bucks necessary to compete with the evil Yankees and other big-market teams.

Last year, everyone in Red Sox Nation knew the team was doomed after Sports Illustrated put Pedro on its cover, predicting the long-tortured club would win its first World Series since World War I. This year, a smug Derek Jeter and his fat cat Yankees are the beneficiaries of SI's cover jinx. Even though Nomar will have surgery this week for a wrist injury that flared up after he appeared in the buff on a SI cover in February, the Yankees will ultimately feel SI's wrath.

It's also a new century, giving the Sox, symbolically at least, a fresh start. But more than anything else, it's just damn time that my Sox ended The Curse. Since Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920 for cash to finance his legendary Broadway musical, "No, No, Nanette," the team has advanced to the Series four times--in 1946, 1967, 1975, and 1986--losing in the climatic seventh game each time. Since '86, they've reached the ALCS three times and the playoffs twice more. And, every year, without fail, they ultimately lose. All I want is for the Sox to win the Series once before I die, and there's no reason why it can't be this year.

For a diehard Sox fan, my last statement is eminently possible. Cold, hard Reality, however, suggests otherwise. Without Nomar for half the season, the team has lost its glue. The defense is remarkably sketchy. Even with Pedro starting, the team lost its season opener yesterday to Baltimore, one of the worst teams in the major leagues.

And the rotation behind Pedro is iffy at best and atrocious at worst. After Pedro, the Sox are rolling out Hideo Nomo (8-12 last year), Frank Castillo, Tomo Okha, and Paxton Crawford. If you can tell me what the last three guys look like, you need to get out of the house more.

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