By Julian Linden
BOSTON (Reuters) - Fenway Park is an unforgiving place for losers. No-one knows that better than the Boston Red Sox.
They went 86 years between World Series victories until they broke their drought in 2004. On Wednesday, they clinched their first title at home since 1918, the last year Babe Ruth was with the team before being traded to the New York Yankees.
A resounding 6-1 defeat, and 4-2 best-of-seven series loss, meant it was the St. Louis Cardinals who were left with the empty feeling of falling at the final hurdle in the quest for baseball's biggest prize.
As the home crowd sang Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline", a Fenway favorite, the visitors retreated to the locker room to dwell on what might have been.
"I think the floodgates opened," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told reporters.
"I told them to hold their heads high. They have nothing to be ashamed of. We all know that we could come out and play a better game than what we did here, but we did a whole lot more than anybody gave us credit for or expected us to do.
"There's a lot of things that they can look on in a negative way, but this isn't the time for it. They have to be very proud how they represented themselves, each other and this organization."
After beating the big-spending Los Angeles Dodgers to win the National League championship, the Cardinals arrived at the World Series confident of winning, despite fielding a relatively inexperienced team.
Their roster included nine rookies and a battery of fearless young pitchers. But the suffocating pressure of the World Series is no place for the faint hearted and the team made a string of errors that cost them dearly.
But Matheny, who played catcher for the Cardinals team that lost the 2004 World Series to the Red Sox, said there was no point casting the blame.
"You're asking guys to do some very extraordinary things when you ask them to do what they've been doing all season long," he said.
"They were some frustrated guys in there, but overall you can't ask us to go about any better than how our guys did. I couldn't be any more proud of how they handled themselves, how they carried themselves and how they competed.
"We had a couple of games that just didn't look real characteristic offensively. But we did have a little trouble, but overall this team was very consistent all the way through."
While conceding that the disappointment of defeat would take a while to subside, Matheny did point to a rosy future for a club that has already won 11 World Series, the most recent two years ago.
"We've got a lot of young players out there. There's a lot of things to be excited about moving forward," he said.
"As we looked through the season, and we'll start doing that tonight, kind of reviewing what we were able to accomplish, we had plenty of adversity.
"Plenty of things we had to overcome. And they did it in a style that represented the organization well, the way they played and didn't back off one second of the way they prepared.
"It was a relentless team, and I think that's a way to label them. And I'm very proud to be a part of them."
(Editing by John O'Brien)