7-5, Sox. Two outs in the eighth inning. We've been here before.
Keith Foulke leans back, looking down his nose at his former teammate, Scott Hatteberg. He's just struck out Eric Byrnes swinging. He leans back even further, tipping from the hips in that strange wind-up, snaps the ball with a flick of the wrist in that strange "dart-thrower" delivery, and guns in strike one.
Hatteberg curses. Foulke spits and tugs at the bill of his cap.
Outside the living room window at my parents' house, thunder begins to roll across the sky in earnest. It has been first threatening, then rumbling in the last few innings, and by now it's beginning to crash. As strike one hit the glove, in fact, the thunder was timed perfectly. Keith Foulke looks like a closer should: the hand of fate slamming the door. The thunder is a nice effect.
Another pitch. Hatteberg fouls off a change-up to left. Phew. The crowd is on its feet. The thunder starts to drown out the sound of the broadcast in the living room. Little bars of light inch across the screen as my father turns up the volume.
Keith leans back. He gazes contemptuously in toward Hatteberg. He goes in for the kill.
Hatteberg connects, fouls toward left again--but no. The ball kicks up a puff of chalk on the third base line and slowly, terribly, the umpire raises his arm: fair ball. Adam Melhuse scores as Manny lopes toward the ball.
No. No. No. Not this again.
Two strikes again on Jermaine Dye. Then he flies out to Trot, but there's just one out. Hatteberg scores.
Tie game. Shit. Shit. Tie game.
Finally, though, as the thunder cracks, ever angrier, as one strike, then two, slaps the glove, Foulke's lips disappear in a frustrated line across his face. He pours on the heat and strikes out Erubiel Durazo on an ill-advised swing at ball two.
Fenway applauds, but politely. It is Foulke's second consecutive blown save. The cameras show Foulke slumped in the dugout. David Ortiz tries to rub his shoulders, but Foulke is off somewhere else.
The thunder is deafening now. It's sounding less and less like Foulke's theme music.
Bottom of the eighth. The bullpen gate opens and Octavio Dotel, Oakland's Stud Closer (tm) jogs out. He looks eerily like a young Pedro. He and some boneheaded base-running by Johnny Damon make fools of us all.
And the thunder, as the Garth Brooks song says, rolls. The metallic smell of rain begins to waft in through the window screens.
The ninth inning looks more Foulke-like, even if Foulke is a shell. Ground-out, strikeout, fly out.
"All right, Manny," Steve says as the camera focuses on the Afroed left fielder jogging toward the dugout, and his bat, "Remind us why we pay you all this money."
But Dotel is just too good. By the time the count is 3 and 2, Manny's sweating and muttering in the box. He lunges after junk outside.
There's no time to mourn over this. Nomar is following him.
The crowd is on its feet. The crowd doesn't just want the game-winning run, they want it from Nomar. It's like Christmas and their birthday, as the thunder crashes and Nomar kicks and fidgets in his routine. Let's go, Nomah... Clap, clap, clapclapclap.
And a mighty clap from the sky.
Nomar follows Manny into the dugout.
It's one of those moments where it seems like all the world hates us. Where the voice of the sky itself is descending to laugh at the fate of the hometown nine. This is, of course, highly self-important thinking, but still.
Trot comes up. Aha! If you believe in cosmic symmetry, now is your moment. Trot won game three of the division series against Oakland with a walkoff in the final at-bat of the game last fall. Here he is again.
Only this time, Manny does not appear on the dugout steps, pointing to the bleachers.
Give the "Hurt Dog" credit, though. He yanked one to that infamous right field corner, where later, Jermaine Dye and Ken Macha would try to argue that there had been fan interference after Trot fell, wincing, on third base, gripping it as if it were a life raft in the middle of the Atlantic.
What is it about Boston that turns the Oakland A's into a bunch of whining, excuse-making cowards? From last October through this season, I have been less than impressed with what I have repeatedly been assured is a good team. Every time we play them, there seems to be some petty complaint they blow into a game-tainting debacle, whether it's baserunning interference or Byrnes forgetting to touch the plate or fan interference down the right field line.
Also, do we have a rivalry with the A's? This has been argued. I'm not sure. They're usually so far away that they get swallowed up with everything else west of 495 in Bostonians' natural parochialism. But we seem to contend with them year after year after year for the Wild Card, even as we wrestle with the Yankees for the division.
What's really going to bake your noodle later (to paraphrase the Oracle from The Matrix) is, if we do have a rivalry with the A's, could you make the analogy that we are to the A's as the Yankees are to us?
All food for thought, but for now, David McCarty--David McCarty!?!?!--is at the plate.
How did I get here?
I'm burying my head in my hands. "Ohhhh, my gaaaad," I moan into my palms. "I never thought I'd wish it was Millar."
My father laughs. Oddly enough, as much as he hates Manny, he loves Millar. Earlier this very evening, in fact, we'd been arguing about the two of them.
"If he were a football player, he'd be a lineman," is my father's ultimate explanation on his love for Millar. "He's a dirt dog."
And then I'd shot my mouth off with a bunch of things I sharply regret as David McCarty grounds out to first base.
My father has to get up at 5 am to cook my sister pancakes tomorrow before she goes to work (it's her birthday). My grandparents are tired and Steve wants to get food at the Wendy's Late-Night Window on our way home.
So of course I'm sitting at the drive-thru listening to the disgruntled teenager read back my order as the rain pelts my left arm through the open window, when Joe Castiglione's voice rises to that excited pitch on the turned-down radio. "And Bill Mueller...hit...Johnny Damon..."
"What?" I say to the squawking speaker. The continued thunder and driving rain are not helping. "I'm sorry, can you repeat that?"
By the time we're instructed to drive up to the second window, the game's over and the Sox win, sweeping Oakland and taking sole possession, for tonight, of the wild card.
And the thunder dies away--though, of course, it will return--fading back across the Merrimack River with a few last grumbles of regret.