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IT WAS a glorious day in early November and Alex Rodriguez never had seen anything like this—certainly nothing like the duck boat he now rode, perching unsteadily on what he thought was the bow. People were seven deep along the sun-splashed streets. There wasn't an inch of sidewalk available along Boylston and even the alphabetized cross streets—Arlington, Berkeley, Clarendon—were jammed.

Late in 2003, Rodriguez had just finished the third of the 10 years that made up his unprecedented $252 million deal with the Rangers. But as well as he had played—averaging 52 home runs and winning the '03 AL MVP—Texas was stuck in the mud. That October the Red Sox lost the seventh game of a tough ALCS playoff series to the Yankees. Weeks later, A-Rod's agent got a call from Theo Epstein, Boston's young GM. The Red Sox were interested in him, if he were willing to reduce the amount of money he was still owed on his massive deal. Wanting to play for a winner, Rodriguez agreed—and he was able to persuade the players' union that what he was doing was renegotiating a deal for which he'd be compensated on the back end.

The Rangers got Boston slugger Manny Ramirez and a young pitcher named Jon Lester. The Red Sox cleared their shortstop position for A-Rod by moving Nomar Garciaparra to the White Sox. Before the All-Star break Rodriguez helped the Red Sox build a five-game lead over the Yankees and the Orioles. "A-Rod has been everything we hoped for," said Boston catcher Jason Varitek. "He's exactly what this team needed in a leader."

Rodriguez tore up the second half of the season, as the Red Sox ran away with the East. He wound up with 55 home runs and 145 RBIs, batting .322 to miss the Triple Crown by .003. He continued his rampage in the postseason, homering in each of his first four playoff games and contributing to Boston's pennant-clincher over New York by craftily eluding a tag on a ball up the first base line as Dave Roberts scored the winning run from third.

In the World Series, Rodriguez overmatched the Cardinals all by himself. A-Rod was so good and the sweep was so lopsided that the historic implications of the event—the Red Sox' first championship since 1918!—nearly got lost. But he felt that history now, tottering a bit in the bow of this truck that would become a boat. Young men in Harvard sweatshirts cheered him wildly. Nuns called his name. As the duck boat rolled past the Common, Rodriguez couldn't help but reflect on how lucky he was. Trying those PEDs a few years back had been stupid. He could have lost it all. He still dreaded the possibility of being caught, the embarrassment that would follow, but he knew now the goodwill from this October would carry him through it—and he'd never take that risk again. As the duck boat turned toward the Charles River in a rain of confetti, he imagined what his Hall of Fame ceremony would be like.