A game like this is just further proof that you never, ever, ever, EVER know what will happen in baseball--that with so many possible microscopic variations from pitch to pitch, inning to inning, game to game, you must watch. 162 games a year is a minute sample size compared to the possible permutations of outcome on every single flight of the ball through the air.
I cannot tell a lie...I thought about skipping this game. I'm not feeling well at all this week, and the Yankees series had stressed me out. But force of habit compelled me to watch, even through the early innings when Fenway was as listless as I've seen it (at least through the TV) in years, in the cold damp of another unseasonably gloomy June evening. It seems the fans of Boston and New York are finally dampened (literally) in their enthusiasm by the permanent storm-cloud parked over our region this year.
I thought it would be a shootout, especially after Papi and Manny both fouled back pitches from Padilla straight back during the first inning. They missed knocking Padilla's offerings into next week by a hair, and as each tugged his gloves and retired down the dugout steps, I said, "next time up, Padilla, they'll getya. They're going back to watch video now, and they'll figure you out. Then they're coming back to scramble your eggs."
But it turned out that Trot Nixon was the one who started playing Wac-A-Mole with the ball tonight, going 4 for 4 with 3 RBI. His homer was to center field, his double to left, his single to right. The guy was completely out of control. Just goes to show ya, like I said.
And then, to my further surprise, the ballpark lit up again with the announcement of Craig Hansen, as if the fans had somehow been conserving their energy for his grand entrance.
No matter what else happens, this season will be memorable to me because of the privelege we've had to witness the first harvest from the farm system's bumper crop. Do we realize how fortunate we are to have a new young arm, a new wide-eyed face, charging out of the bullpen full of piss and vinegar and hope, seemingly every few days? The revival in the ballpark for Hansen, at least, suggested yes. (Oh, and speaking of things that are a privelege to watch, the play between Lowell and Youkilis for the first out of the eighth was as professional, graceful and spectacular an infield relay as I've ever seen. If you didn't see it, seek out highlight footage now. It was a beauty).
And then, when the bullpen door swung open again following the second out in the top of the eighth, the enthusiasm level in the ballpark leapt up another notch to greet Jonathan Papelbon.
It's hard to tell if we (and I include myself in this) have begun to take Jonathan for granted--but we need only see prospects like Hansen, still so green, shake and stumble and eke their way through the innings, to realize just what a welcome oddity Jonathan is.
Sometimes this works against him, such as when the dreaded event finally occurred tonight, and Jonathan blew a save. Hank Blalock dropped a solid single into center, scoring Gary Matthews Jr from third, and there it was. Tie ball game.
Oh. You mean that was it? Wait. Should I be more worried?
When something like this gets blown out of proportion, as Papelbon's record has, what might otherwise be an annoyance or a small setback becomes a cataclysmic event. A gasp goes up. Even the raucous applause (akin to the applause for a lost perfect game or no-hit effort) that followed Papelbon off the field when his half of the blemished eighth was over was unusual, though in a vacuum, the turn of events was wholly unremarkable.
Once again, though, as they have with Pauley, as they have with Jonathan, as they are sure to with Lester, the veterans squared their shoulders against the driving rain and cobbled together singles and a sac fly in the bottom of the inning to reclaim the lead. If there's any glue holding this edition of the Sox together--any one thing that makes them tick, that represents hope for them--it's that chemistry between the veterans and the rookies.
And then more of the remarkable--Papelbon charged back out to the mound for the ninth, eyes flashing, and put in a flawed but brilliant ninth, all the more brilliant because it, too, was marred, by an infield single (although were it not for some further acrobatics by Youkilis and Lowell, it might have been much worse) and a stolen base. But the strikeouts, three in all, that Papelbon racked up for his outs in that inning were as intent-filled and vengeful as a matter of simple skill and chance can be. Every one of the three Rangers who struck out did so swinging from the heels. There was a definite sense that Papelbon was not just sealing the win for the team and salvaging the night's work for himself, but that he was making a point. That he was punishing them.
If we take him for granted, it's because behavior like this makes it difficult, indeed, to remember that he's still a rookie.
It made me glad, in a way, to see Jonathan take a few lumps in this game (especially since, of course, the outcome remained in our favor in the end); this is the only way to crack a young player open and see what's really inside. It was beyond gratifying to see that beneath the sheen of his talent, Jonathan has intensity, determination and guile to spare, age and experience be damned.
When Schilling won his 200th, I made a comparison between pitchers and musicians, specifically between the pitcher Curt Schilling and a cellist I knew in college, who was not a prodigy but whose hard-won sound was sweeter to me. Jonathan's performance tonight prompts a continuance of that analogy: it's not a perfect inning that tells me most, that interests me most, from a pitcher. It's when his back's against the wall, when things get dicey--when what Christy Matthewson called "the pinch" manifests itself--that I sit up and pay attention. It may be just personal taste, like I said, but for me, that's when the real music begins.
Broadcast moment of the evening:
Orsillo: Did you ever do any HGH or steroids?
Remy: Seven career home runs, Don. That tells you pretty much all you need to know.
Orsillo: What if they came all at once, though?
Remy: Yes, I hit them all one year, one right after another. Then they took away my junk.
Another of those little cabbages up from the farm, Jon Lester, will make his big debut, and I will be like Scrooge McDuck making a swan dive into the golden coins in his bank vault. Because this is an embarrassment of riches, people, and even if we have to watch Lou Piniella call it on FOX, we should appreciate it.
Thankfully, after watching that "inferior coverage," as TC so boldly called it, it'll be back to NESN again for game 2, which Mr. Beckett will start. Even if it's still cloudy, tomorrow's shaping up to be a beautiful day.