BOSTON -- The citizens of Red Sox Nation assembled Friday in their capitol, ancient Fenway Park, and hoped (prayed?) that baseball history would somehow repeat itself. This is what happens when you can't depend on anything else. You reach for the past and hope that it reaches back.
It didn't. The Red Sox waved goodbye to the playoffs -- and to their chances of a World Series two-peat, "Fever Pitch: The Sequel" and Ben and Jen in the duck-boat victory parade -- because there are only so many times you can stick your hand in the fire and not need a trip to the local burn center.
The Chicago White Sox, not the more acclaimed and previously cursed Red Sox, left The Fens with a 5-3 victory, a 3-0 AL Division Series sweep and more champagne stains on their unis. This is one cleaning bill White Sox management won't mind paying.
The better team not only won, it dominated. And nothing against the winner of the New York Yankees-Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Orange County get-together, but if the White Sox aren't favored in the AL Championship Series, then the oddsmakers need CAT scans.
How can you doubt a team that forced the Red Sox into a playoff 0-fer, that pitched better, fielded better, managed better, ran better and, pardon the grammar, clutch-hit better? You can't, which is why the White Sox will reach the World Series for the first time since 1959. And when they do, remember why.
His name is Orlando Hernandez. El Duque. He's the 36-year-old Cuban who was puffing happily on a victory cigar bearing these words in gold letters: Congratulations Chicago White Sox.
Without him, the stogies stay in the humidor.
Hernandez became a Chicago baseball legend Friday or, at the very least, a South Side legend. And to think manager Ozzie Guillen was second-guessed -- and Guillen didn't even try to hide his facetiousness when he said it -- by "Chicago people who know about baseball a lot ... the GMs" for placing El Duque on the White Sox ALDS playoff roster instead of, say, rookie Brandon McCarthy.
"I know this kid is going to show up with cold blood," Guillen said afterward, his White Sox road grays reeking of beer and a touch of bubbly.
It took 23 innings, but the veteran Hernandez was finally summoned into this series at one of its seminal moments: Sixth inning ... one Manny Ramirez home run already in the books ... bases loaded ... no outs ... Fenway crowd peeling the old ballpark's green paint with noise ... Guillen sticking pins in his plate umpire Mark Wegner doll ... the White Sox clinging to that one-run lead.
Why put Hernandez on the postseason roster? This was it.
"People think just because you've done it in the past, you're going to do it again," said Hernandez through an interpreter. "It's all about situations."
And then Hernandez added something else.
"The most important thing is to have a little bit of good luck," he said.
And timing. Banished to the bullpen during the last week of the regular season, unused during the previous two White Sox wins, Hernandez was asked to rescue Chicago from crooked numbers and, who knows, maybe worse. After all, the Red Sox overcame 0-2 ALDS deficits in 1999 and 2003 and an 0-3 deficit in the 2004 "Do-you-believe-in-miracles?" ALCS. Win Friday in Fenway, again on Saturday with Curt Schilling on the mound and suddenly you have a tie series.
Instead, Hernandez made Guillen look like a genius, not that Guillen has needed much help. Guillen is batting nearly a .1000 in Right Buttons Pushed, but the decision to use Hernandez at that moment was inspired thinking.
Hernandez coaxed a harmless foul pop out of pinch-hitter Jason Varitek for the first out. He went 3-2 to poor Tony Graffanino, who hit the 10th pitch he saw from El Duque to shortstop Juan Uribe. He went 3-2 on Johnny Damon before striking him out on what would have been Ball 4 had the lead Idiot been able to check his swing.
End of threat. As it turns out, end of the Red Sox, who managed only one harmless single in the final three innings.
"Even though you don't want to, sometimes you have to tip your hat," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "That wasn't the point where we wanted to. He pitched great."
He pitched three of the most important innings of the White Sox's season, giving up just one hit and striking out four. And he did it without complaint.
"I would have loved to have started one of the opening games, but I didn't deserve it," said Hernandez, who was 2-7 after the All-Star break. "Or this time."
He deserves something now, like a group hug from White Sox followers. And wouldn't it be fun to watch Hernandez now face the Yankees, where he won three World Series rings.
As for the Red Sox, their reign is finished. It was cathartic, but brief.
Meanwhile, the White Sox work on reversing their own curse of sorts. Friday's victory gives the White Sox their first playoff series win in 88 years. That was 1917, the last time they won it all.
As El Duque returned to the White Sox clubhouse to resume the celebration, he waved that cigar with his left hand.
"Is it Cuban?" someone asked.
"I think, no," said Hernandez, not needing an interpreter this time. "It's illegal."
Interesting. So was his stuff.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.