Pretty Good Year, Part VI
ALCS, Game 6
ALCS, Game 7
And yet dissect this further--probe down through the tissues of happenstance and mystery, and it only gets stranger. How easy is it to imagine, in the manner of the Red Sox since time immemorial, Millar drawing that improbable walk in Game four, Roberts being put in for the express purpose of stealing, and failing to do so, either by dint of Rivera's sharp eye or as the result of a faulty umpiring judgement? Or simply because past Red Sox teams were station-to-station affairs without a bona fide base-stealer to be sent in?
Or consider the even likelier scenario, according to Red Sox history, of Roberts coming in, successfully stealing second, and yet not being followed up by a clutch hit--perhaps an infield blooper that got him to third--so close!--before Rivera finished off the stranglehold and the Yankees poured onto the Fenway grass to celebrate.
And yet Roberts came in, avoided the pickoff attempt, and reached second base just a hair's breadth ahead of a furious throw from Posada.
Need we go through the possible, plausible ways that could have gone wrong?
Why didn't it, this time? It's a transgressive question. One that looks the gift horse squarely in the choppers. Perhaps a question better left unasked--after all, it might just be fitting that the Red Sox' greatest victory was as cosmically inexplicable as their most devastating losses.
But I will ask it. Because as a Red Sox fan, my masochistic tendencies can't be completely expunged by one championship.
And why was it that Schilling had his injury-breakdown during Game 1, but came back and pitched brilliantly with the bloodied, stitched-up ankle in Game 6? Did Roger Clemens' still-controversial blister in 1986's Game 6 and Schilling's bloody sock really happen in the same universe?
Obviously, there are surface answers--different time, different circumstances, different people, being the most obvious ones. Maybe in 1986, the pressure to win the World Series was less frenzied, less obsessive; maybe if the Sox had lost a bitter ALCS Game 7 to the Yankees in 1985 it might have been different. Maybe by 2004, the general desperation prompted Schilling to proceed, despite the threat pitching on his bum wheel posed to his career--not to mention the rest of the series.
But the general theme of Game 6 was serendipity and symmetry; Mark Bellhorn's three-run home run, which bounced off the chest of a fan behind the bullpen in the left-field corner, and at first was ruled a ground-rule double--one of those inexplicable misunderstandings that have have tended to happen in favor of whoever's playing the Red Sox.
But then, wait. The umpires conferred, like a murder of ravens in their black jackets around the Yankee Stadium mound, and finally one looked to Bellhorn, nodded, wound his finger around in the air. Bellhorn, ever the stoic, nodded back before trotting on home, where he was all but crushed by Kevin Millar--who, having stood on the same ground almost exactly a year earlier in defeat, must have known what it meant.
The call quickened the heartbeat of anyone even remotely familiar with Red Sox history to a nearly unbearable pace--this was very new, a call reversed in Yankee Stadium, during a game that was never even supposed to happen, for a hitter who was never even supposed to be in the lineup (if you listened to the boo-birds in Boston, that is, they'd been clamoring for Bellhorn's removal for days already, and booing him heartily at Fenway), for three runs that inexplicably proved to be all a pitcher who by rights should never even have been able to pitch would need.
If there had been any skeptics left, surely the majority of them converted to believers when, later in the game, the famous glove-slap by A-Rod dashed the last Yankees hope of avoiding a Game 7.
I will try not to indulge in any immaturity here. Obviously, it was a bonehead move by A-Rod, but imagine his position--brought in as the Great Hope for the 21st-century Yankees, he had been singularly ineffective in the most crucial innings of the series thus far, and was probably desperate to fulfill his role. He stepped up to bat against Bronson Arroyo, a pitcher he had punished during Game Three, and took a mighty hack at a pitch that sunk at the last second, yielding a pathetic little bleeder back toward the mound--more of a bunt than a respectable ground ball. Imagine his frustration as the gaunt little upstart charged him, ball in glove, ready to make another out.
55,000 screaming at Yankee Stadium. Derek Jeter, a teammate whose shadow hung over him for the entire season, stood poised to run at first base. If only that had been a hit. If only it had gotten through, if only he'd swung 1/16 of a second later, if only he'd gotten under it, and even delivered a sacrifice fly, and here's Arroyo, ball in glove, ready to tag him out like it was just that simple, and god DAMN it...
It doesn't make it right. But can I understand it? Understand the desperation and the "why-me"s and the hideous thoughts at work here? Yes I can. I am a Boston Red Sox fan.
What makes no sense--still makes no sense when I really think about it--is the reversal.
We have predicted it, of course--in fact, depended on the prediction of its future arrival through every harrowing loss. And yet here it is, and it makes no sense.
Why did Bronson, who was hammered by A-Rod (and others) to begin the slugfest that was Game 3, find himself suddenly A-Rod's master? Where was Hideki Matsui in all this?
And how was it that the line judge could initially rule that Arroyo had dropped the ball, and, after another conference of umpires, magically change his mind? How did that happen to the Boston Red Sox, finally, after decades of phantom tags and the other side of those frustrating, ill-timed slumps?
In a different tone, of course, Yankees fans are probably asking these same questions.
Their reaction at the stadium was as astounding as the plays themselves. Before long, a regiment of riot police knelt along the foul lines while trash and debris rained down on the field. Every foul ball caught in the stands was returned quite unceremoniously to the field. Terry Francona herded his charges into the dugout like a hysterical mother hen, scolding and yelling around his outsized plug of chaw and bubble gum. The Yankees, too, retreated to their dugout.
It stopped being baseball in those few moments--the baseball players, after all, weren't even on the field. It was nothing but New York, expressing its outrage and disdain. It was a howl of frustration that could only have come from people beginning to realize that they'd been beaten--New York fans, after all, know Mystique when they see her, and now here she was on someone else's arm.
Mystique. That's what it comes down to, that fickle bitch. What made the Red Sox suddenly more attractive? The beards?
But in all seriousness, there is no explanation here. It's the chicken and the egg. By the time it came down to Johnny Damon's grand slam, it was already over. It was over by the time it came back to New York, just like Game 7 in 2003 was over by the eighth inning, and nothing left but the shouting.
How did Curt Schilling do what he did? It's understandable why he would--any competitor, any big-time ballplayer worth his millions wants to be The One, the Savior, wants to put in the effort that makes him immortal. Some people have made this out to be a bad thing, said it as though it's a knock on Schilling. I ask, if there's a ballplayer out there who doesn't dream of being just like Schilling in Game 6, self-aggrandizement and all, what is he playing for?
But how? All the desire in the world didn't put Bill Buckner's glove solidly to the ground. It didn't get Jorge Posada out in 2003. Lion heart or no, there is something more to the way Curt Schilling was not only willing to pitch, but turned out to be able.
Curt himself, of course, had an answer an hour long if you had the time, most of it concerning his born-again faith, which is completely his right to say and espouse and really, as good an explanation as any.
Because as St. Thomas Aquinas once put it,
It is impossible, then, that anything should be both mover and the thing moved, in regard to the same thing and in the same way, or that it should move itself. Everything, therefore, is moved by something else. If, then, that by which it is moved, is also moved, this must be moved by something still different, and this, again, by something else. But this process cannot go on to infinity because there would not be any first mover, nor, because of this fact, anything else in motion, as the succeeding things would not move except because of what is moved by the first mover, just as a stick is not moved except through what is moved from the hand. Therefore it is necessary to go back to some first mover, which is itself moved by nothing -- and this all men know as God.