The last decade or so has been like no other in the history of Boston sports. Each of the city's four major pro sports teams -- Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins and Celtics -- has won at least one championship, some have won multiple. That doesn't begin to take into account the close calls, with the Patriots losing two Super Bowls in the last minute, and the Bruins and Celtics each losing late into their respective finals.
But through all the titles and all the parades, there has been just one championship won in Massachusetts: the Celtics in 2007-2008. The Bruins not only won on the road -- they won across the continent in Vancouver, in another country. By virtue of football's neutral site policy for the Super Bowl, the Patriots won NFL championships in New Orleans, Jacksonville and Houston. Fans celebrated in their living rooms, thousands of miles from the action.
And, of course, when the Red Sox finally won their first World Series since 1918, they did so in St. Louis. A few thousand dedicated fans made the pilgrimage to Busch Stadium and watched baseball history unfold in person, but for many, TV was the link.
Three years later, when the Red Sox won another championship, it was also on the road - in Denver. That translates to seven Boston-area titles -- and only one clinched at home, making them seem something abstract and distant, rather than up-close and personal, experienced by the home fans in the home arena or ballpark or stadium.
Something's been missing. That can change Wednesday night, when the Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals play Game 6 of the World Series. A win Wednesday -- or even the following night - would constitute the first championship won at home since 1918.
Only 10 years ago, the mere mention of '1918' would haunt the franchise and its fan base, a cruel reminder of the championship drought that plagued the club and the near misses of 1946, 1967, 1975 and, especially, 1986. The 2004 World Series put an end to that taunt, but now, nine years later, the numbers hangs over the final days of the 2013 Series, too, one more box to check.
The prospect of winning it all on their own lawn was one the Sox virtually sprinted from Tuesday. Though they hold a 3-2 advantage in the Series, the Red Sox were understandably reluctant to speculate about a win they haven't yet earned.
Instead, the team fell back on its focus of trying to win the next game on the schedule. "We continue to beat that drum," said John Farrell. "Tomorrow, we get here, we'll focus on that being the sole thing. But I think what's really built over the course of the season (is that) our fans have appreciated the way we've gone about playing the game. I think they've witnessed guys that care for one another. And in return, they've demonstrated their appreciation, the energy that they create in here. We've certainly fed off of that. And I'm sure it's going to be an incredible atmosphere here (Wednesday) night.
"So if we happen to be able to share it with them, that would be great. But we've got to take care of business first." The timing couldn't be more special, given all that's gone on this season. The Boston Marathon bombings on April 15 took place less than a mile from Fenway, and happened only a few hours after the Red Sox had completed annual Patriots Day matinee.
Since that day, the city and team have bonded in grief, linked by resiliency. Some of the players, many of them new to the team and city, instantly recognized what had happened and became ambassadors for the city. The night after the tragedy, the Sox introduced the "Boston Strong 617" uniform that has been on display in their dugout ever since.
When the Sox returned home from their quick road trip, many of the players -- like other residents of the city -- were barricaded in their apartments and condos. And when the suspect was captured on a night when the Red Sox had a game postponed because of the police search, the team celebrated its recovery the following day while honoring police, the FBI, and other first responders.
During the post-season, the Red Sox have steadfastly remembered those who lose their lives and honored the survivors with touching pre-game ceremonies. Perhaps, in the ultimate example of unintended consequences the image of the Red Sox took a turn in the aftermath of bombings. Suddenly, they weren't entitled athletes more intent on snacking and drinking instead of winning.
This team was different. And it manifest on the field, too, with 22 last at-bat wins. "I think our guys get it," said Farrell. "They understand their place here and they understand what the Red Sox mean to this region, particularly in this city. And I think there's kind of a rekindled relationship between the team and the fans."
It's been almost a century, but now might be a good time for the Sox to win in front of their fans, for their fans. The team and the city have been inexorably linked. Might it not be the perfect ending to an unexpectedly great season to win in Boston, strong.
"It would be awesome," said John Lackey, who will be the Red Sox' starter. "As far as me personally, I'm just thinking about executing pitches and trying to win a game. And hopefully, we get to that point." History in the making, at exactly the right time.
- Sean McAdam, CSN New England