They waited and waited, letting the Boston Red Sox believe they had a shot at shucking The Curse, beating the New York Yankees and going to the World Series.
And then they struck, by way of Aaron Boone's bat.
The Yankee newcomer set off bedlam in the Bronx with a leadoff home run in the 11th inning, giving New York a 6-5 victory in a thrilling Game 7 of the AL championship series on Thursday night.
"Like Derek told me, `The ghosts will show up eventually,"' Boone said.
Did they ever.
Boone, who didn't even start the game, homered on the first pitch of the inning from knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who had baffled the Yankees with two wins in the series and was making his first relief appearance. It was the first extra-inning homer in baseball history that ended a Game 7.
New York, which opens the World Series against Florida on Saturday, had been five outs from losing when Derek Jeter doubled to start a rally and Jorge Posada blooped the tying two-run double off a tiring Pedro Martinez.
The Yankees trailed 4-0 in the fourth inning and 5-2 in the eighth after Roger Clemens made an early exit in what looked to be the final game of his storied career.
But they bounced back, rekindling all those painful memories that have haunted so many Red Sox fans — thoughts of Bucky Dent, Bill Buckner and decades of New York domination.
"Wow. I can't even talk," Boone said. "It's unbelievable. Mo ... so many heroes today. Unbelievable. This is awesome."
Jason Giambi, dropped to seventh in the batting order for the first time since July 1999, started the comeback with solo homers in the fifth and seventh innings.
This was the fifth pennant in six seasons for the Yankees, who haven't won the World Series since 2000, and it came in their 26th game of the year against their old foe — a baseball first.
The final words of the ultimate chapter revealed it was the same old story, one that the Red Sox perennially curse: pinstripes in the World Series, despair in Boston. In the National League, the Chicago Cubs felt the same pain, coming within five outs of reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945 before collapsing against Florida.
In the annual fight between New York and New England, only the names change, never the result.
"It couldn't be more satisfying," New York manager Joe Torre said. "This has to be the sweetest taste of all for me."
Mariano Rivera didn't allow a run in his first three-inning appearance since Sept. 6, 1996, and walked off with the MVP award. It capped a triumphant night for a New York bullpen that had failed so often. This time, it allowed just one run in eight innings and that was a home run off David Wells, usually a starter.
Wakefield, who relieved to start the 10th, had baffled New York with his knuckleball in Games 1 and 4 and started with a scoreless inning.
"I feel like I let everybody down," Wakefield said. "It's disappointing. We had a great year. I know it's a cliche, but we have a lot to be proud of."
Boone, acquired from Cincinnati on July 31, entered as a pinch-runner in the eighth. On the first pitch he saw, he homered into the left-field seats, making the old ballpark shake. There wasn't a doubt from the moment it left his bat.
It was the fifth series-ending homer in big league history, the first for the Yankees since Chris Chambliss against Kansas City in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 1976 ALCS.
When Boone hit his homer, Rivera went right to the mound, dropping to the ground and pounding the pitching rubber with his right hand. He was sobbing by the time coach Willie Randolph got to him and hugged him.
The Yankees waited for Boone at home plate, hopping with excitement, and mobbed him when he arrived. They later sprayed his face with shaving cream to celebrate.
"This game humbles you all the time in good ways and bad ways," said Boone, who had slumped since arriving in New York.
As for Rivera, he had thrown 48 pitches and was done for the night with Jose Contreras, who wasted a two-run lead in Game 6, warming up in the bullpen.
"I see those guys coming back, coming back, coming back, and I think `I've got to hold this,"' Rivera said.
Trot Nixon's two-run homer in a three-run second inning and Kevin Millar's solo shot in the fourth chased Clemens.
A parade of New York relievers — including Mike Mussina in the first relief appearance of his major league career after 400 starts
held Boston scoreless until David Ortiz made it 5-2 with a homer in the eighth on Wells' first pitch of the game.
After Jeter doubled in the eighth he scored on a single by Bernie Williams.
Boston manager Grady Little went to the mound and talked to Martinez, who had thrown 115 pitches.
"He asked me if I had enough ... in my tank to get him out, and I said `Yes.' I would never say no," Martinez said. "There's no reason to blame Grady. Grady doesn't play the game, I do. If you want to judge me or criticize me or curse me or whatever, I will swallow that, because I am responsible."
Hideki Matsui followed with a double down the right-field line — on an 0-2 pitch — that put runners on second and third, and on Martinez's 123rd pitch, Posada looped a hit to center that scored both runners, with Matsui slapping the plate as he slid in and his teammates coming out of the dugout. Posada wound up on second base when no one covered the bag.
Ever since Boston sent Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920, New York has ruled, winning 26 World Series championships while the Red Sox won none, a team supposedly cursed for selling the sport's biggest star.
The teams had battled on and off the field since December, when New York beat out the Red Sox to sign Contreras, prompting Boston president Larry Lucchino to call the Yankees the "Evil Empire."
For much of the night, it seemed this would be the night Boston would win a title in New York for the first time in 99 years — since a 3-2 victory at Hilltop Park on the final day of the season. After all, wasn't this Boston's season? It was 100 years after Boston — then known as the Americans and sometimes the Pilgrims — beat Pittsburgh in the first World Series.
Clemens, who couldn't locate his splitter, got just nine outs and the six-time Cy Young Award winner slowly walked off the mound to the dugout, trailing by four runs.
But in Yankee Stadium's first Game 7 in 46 years, it was only the beginning.
"This was our chance to get the World Series," Boston's Johnny Damon said. "And we were so close."
By Ronald Blum