By Reggie Ellis

The only way to erase eight decades of disappointment is to bring in people outside of the losing culture. That's exactly what the Boston Red Sox did by bringing in free agents like Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke and hiring Manager Terry Francona, who brought with him a familiar face to Exeter - bench coach Brad Mills.

"This organization was starving for a championship and I was fortunate enough to be here the one season that they won," said the 1975 Exeter Union High School graduate.

Francona was hired by the Red Sox in December after the disastrous 2003 playoffs. Boston led New York 5-2 in the seventh inning of the decisive seventh game of American League Championship Series, but Little opted to go with a tired Pedro Martinez instead of the bullpen. Martinez blew the lead, and the Yankees won 6-5 on Aaron Boone's 11th-inning homer off Tim Wakefield. The decision would cost Manager Grady Little his job.

Francona's hiring reunited the manager with Schilling, his former ace with the Philadelphia Phillies from 1997-2000. During that time Mills was Francona's first base coach so he was brought over as the bench coach in Boston. Last year Mills was the bench coach for manager Frank Robinson with the Montreal Expos, which have since moved to Washington, D.C. and are now called the Nationals. Mills and Francona were teammates on the Expos and Cubs until Mills hurt his knee in 1986.

This year Boston had different players, a new coaching staff but seemed to be the same old Sox.

The Yankees were up 3-0 in the series following a decisiveback from a 3-0 deficit to even force a game seven, let alone win the series. "We knew we were close, especially in game 1 (10-7) and game 2 (3-1)," Mills said. "The players and coaches all knew we weren't that bad and I think that loss was a wake up call."

The curse was also beating down on the city. The Red Sox had not one a championship since trading Babe Ruth to the Yankees for $100,000 so then owner Harry Frazee could finance a Broadway show.

"You can't get away from it," Mills said. "It's everywhere in Boston. On the TV, on the radio. But being down 0-3 to the Yankees was bad baseball, not a curse."

Easy to say now. But what changed after Game 3 that allowed the Red Sox to go on a tear for a record eight straight playoff victories and a World Series Title? What force could have been strong enough to erase eight decades and three generation of chronic choking?

Mother Nature.

Heavy rains prior to game 3 forced the game to be played a day later. Mills said this allowed Boston to rest its best pitchers for the final four games of the series in a pitching matchup that favored the Red Sox. Derek Lowe would pitch game 4, Pedro Martinez in game 5, Curt Schilling in game 6 and Lowe again in game 7.

Mills played a critical role following game 3 as the coaching staff narrowed the focus on getting quality at bats. Pitching and defense had been solid in games 1 and 2, and with the team's aces coming up all in a row it gave Boston something to build on.

"We never put the pressure on their pitchers because they always had a lead," Mills said. "When we did that we had the confidence to do what no team had done before. We started to play like the team we knew we were."

Not that exorcising demons is ever easy. It took a historic five hours, 49 minutes and 14 innings of baseball for Boston to win game 5. The game broke the record for longest postseason game by time, previously held by game 5 of the 1999 National League Championship Series between the Atlanta Braves and the New York Mets. It took a heroic performance from Schilling, who pitched on an ankle with a tendon held in place by three sutures, to win game 6. And it took a cathartic performance by Martinez who gave up two runs in a critical seventh inning before raising his game and standing up to his "Daddys" once and for all.

"This club never had the talent before like they did this year," Mills said. "This club had a desire to play together because they knew they had the talent to win it."

And then there was the formality of winning the World Series. Normally that would have been a bigger barrier than beating the Yankees given their performance in 1986. But the Red Sox pitching staff again overmatched their opponents for a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals. But this time history was on their side as the other Boston franchises, the Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, all won championships at the expense of St. Louis - Patriots beat the Rams in 2001, the Celtics beat the St. Louis Hawks in 1957 and the Bruins beat the Blues for the NHL Stanley Cup in 1970.

Twelve days after the championship, Mills and the rest of the Red Sox floated down the Charles River as an estimated 3.2 million fans cheered the team along for seven miles.

"I have never been around anything that exciting and loud," said the 46 year old. "I've been in packed stadiums that weren't as loud and even then it is on and off. This was millions of people screaming for three hours straight. The magnitude of it was just amazing."

Mills still makes his home in Visalia in the offseason. He and his wife, Ronda, have been married for 26 years and have three children - Taylor, 23, Rachelle, 21, and Beau, 18. They also have a granddaughter, Aubrey. Mills said he will be back with the Red Sox next season as the look forward to trying to win another championship. He also said he is looking forward to his son's freshman year with the Fresno State baseball team.

"It is fun to come home a champion," Mill said. "Whatever your job is with the team you were a piece of the puzzle and everyone has to come together to win a championship. The players have more input, but the coaches at least guide the team in the right direction."

Whatever the chemistry, Mills was certainly a critical piece of one of the most amazing teams in baseball history.

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