In the Still of the Night
Here's another mid-October Monday morning, and I managed to stumble in to work on time, but completely fatigued, my head swimming with "what-if's," happily exhausted and thinking of little more than baseball and coffee.
Now this is more like it.
All day yesterday, I swore to myself I wouldn't watch the game. I even went to my friend Tim's house to help him with renovation work, so desperate was I to avoid it. I even fended off my father's cries of disbelief on the phone when I told him I wasn't watching.
I ended up managing to avoid putting the game on for a grand total of 54 minutes. By that time, it was only the second inning. Still no score.
Over the next five hours, it seemed every aspect or member of the Red Sox that I had ever doubted became a hero and a savior. And gleaming at their fore was one Derek Christopher Lowe.
It had seemed like the perfect setting for swift and miserable defeat--reduced to an elimination game after only three, after a desperate and futile effort that burned through the pitching staff the night before, the Sox were forced to turn to Derek in a must-win game; not a situation that has worked out in the recent past.
And then there he was, tufts of wild sandy-blonde hair flying out from under his hat, pursing his lips and rolling his shoulders, twisting out swooping, sinking, all-but-perfect pitches. True, he gave up runs, but in far from the massive numbers of previous starts. Derek, who had taken his griping about being left on the bullpen bench public, had something to prove last night, and so finally the theorem of pyschological warfare on its own players begun with the lack of free agent signings by the Sox finally paid dividends. Derek was all that could have been asked of him and more. When he was finally lifted for Timlin in the sixth, he shook his head in dismay and left to a standing ovation, which seemed as much farewell as congratulation. Derek did not acknowledge it, and I don't blame him.
Timlin promptly gave up a tenuous one-run lead. And I did a funny thing then. I started to cry.
Very real grief was washing through me. I was convinced this was the last game I would see the 2004 Red Sox play, this team that's been my parable and my escape for the past seven solid months or more, and it was a loss. I also cried because I was so bewildered at the turn the tale had taken; all weekend I'd had the choked-up feeling of utter frustration that leaves you without even knowing what questions to ask, of yourself, of the issue at hand, of the universe.
The 2004 Red Sox had given me hope about many things that are, I suppose, entirely unrelated. As Ed has always put it, the Sox are a morality play for their fans. What had been a text of perseverance and success had become little more than a letdown--and not even a dramatic one, not even one of epic scale that would seem fitting for a team with as epic a story as this. It was a loss, of more than just a game, and I cried.
Throughout the game I had a post "saved as draft" on Blogger, ready to go to press this morning with a minimum of effort. Get it over with, I kept saying. I'm ready. Do your worst. Let's go.
As Foulke threw eight outs without giving up a hit, and as the Sox tied it in the bottom of the ninth, I thought, well, good. They're at least going out with dignity. But here we were, on the anniversary of that Black Friday where we all mourned game 7, heading into extra innings against the Yankees. And the ghosts were flying out of the woodwork.
Fenway remained full, and deathly still. The cameras soaked in the agony on thousands of faces with greedy, voyeuristic close-ups. By the time the game had stretched past midnight, the television announcers were all but openly complaining about how late it was. Little did they know, this would be the longest game in ALCS history.
At least in New England, even on a work / school night, I'm sure they still got their full share.
I began posting furiously on the message board, letting loose all the poison, trying to think of every perverse possible outcome. This post was my high or low point, depending on who you ask:
How about this. Miguel Cairo will hit a grounder through Minty's legs, and then they'll bring Wake in, and whoever's after Cairo hits a home run, and that way we can relive all our previous excruciating losses in one new one!!
That would be a BONUS.
But there is a thing, and it's called reverse-mojo, and I had it working powerfully last night. It seemed as though the more bitter my predictions became, the better things worked out for the Sox. So I kept it up.
When Alan Embree came out, though, I must confess that my wails of protest went beyond the nominal good-luck-charm level. I still don't quite understand it, since he didn't end up facing a single right-hander, and walked Sheffield intentionally before Mike Myers came in to face Matsui.
But the skinny flame-thrower with the tennis-ball-sized plug of chaw puffing out his left cheek threw from the soul, hitting into the mid- and upper-90's on FOX's radar gun (which is juiced slightly, but who's counting?). The eerie Zen brought about by desperation had clearly settled over the men on the field--on both sides.
Embree's performance was my Moment of the Game. For whatever reason, the camera zoomed in on his growling face before just about every pitch, and as he came set, he would look, without realizing it of course, directly into the camera, directly out of the TV at me, and I would lock eyes with him, and despite all my showy pessimism, I would look into his steely blue eyes and think, please.
Derek was decent, Timlin was barely adequate, and Foulke was nails, but my MVP for the game was Embree, unused to a closer's / stopper's role, normally a lefty specialist, thwarting right-hander after right-hander. Ya done good, Chaw.
Of course, more knowledgeable people will suggest Curtis Leskanic, perhaps, who, relieving Myers, managed to get the side in the top of the 12th with the bases loaded.
Or David Ortiz, who circled the bases the proud owner of another walk-off, pumping his fist and greeted by a hysterical mob of his teammates at the plate.
Or the fans, who waited through a week of losing and a five-hour vigil for the simple opportunity to cheer for them, even if it's just for one last time.
Suddenly, anything seems possible, and that terrible slithery word, maybe, is creeping even into my consciousness. But I fight it as much as I can--and try to look only at the fact that the Red Sox brought their poetry back to the diamond last night, even if it's for the last time, and, really, that's all that will matter over a long winter, no matter what the rest of October has to bring.