It's Truck Day already! Next post will be Monday.
May. I keep coming back to May.
May 2, 2007:
Crosby and Putnam were both remarkable because the curve was the out-pitch for both of them, both times a textbook hook that sent them swinging for the fences and coming up empty. Ellis, meanwhile, who'd been Beckett's personal plaything all night, was the final hitter Beckett faced in the 7th, and he obligingly helped send Beckett off in grand fashion with a punchout that made me think Dennis Eckersley was going to choke on his own saliva ranting about it after the game. It was that good.
That final humiliation took just three masterful strokes--a 97 mile-per-hour fastball right up the gut, a 79 mile-per-hour curveball that broke from Ellis's nose to his toes as he swung and missed, and another nasty heater just off the middle of the plate, inside (no gun reading from NESN on that one, unfortunately). There are some strikeouts where the umpire's body language suggests almost a joy in ringing a batter up after pitches like that, and this was one of them--a resounding K if there ever was one.
May 4, 2007:
two people have never been made so happy by an inning-ending double-play out against the Sox as Sam and I were last night when David Ortiz hugged Yuniesky Betancourt in the bottom of the sixth. In one NESN replay, I could faintly hear David giving Betancourt the greeting I hear him and Manny use all the time, which is tough to spell, but goes something like, "Wha-heyyyyy..." As of last night, Sam and I have dubbed it the Call of the Big Papi. And I maintain that Big Papi is the most compelling evidence I've yet found that there is a God, that He loves us, and wants us to be happy.
May 9, 2007:
Just zinging back and forth between Jonathan and Joshie and Curt and Daisuke leaves me little grey matter to even think about how studly Mike Lowell has been at the plate or how Dustin Pedroia is going Happy Scrappy Hero Pup on all y'alls azz lately or even how freakin' awesome Big Papi still is. Let alone the little things like, you know. Sleep.
There comes a time even for a Sox fan, apparently, when you just have to shut up and admit life is good. And as long as the Sox continue on this homer-hittin', filthy-pitchin', glove wieldin' asskicking bender of theirs, I'm a happy passenger on the bandwagon, trying to appreciate every second of the ride.
May 11, 2007:
It did look touch-and-go for a moment in the bottom of the first, with Frank Thomas at the plate, one out, bases loaded. WEEI's broadcast indicated that Frank Thomas has 9 hits against Tim Wakefield, and four of them are home runs. Wake proceeded to fall behind Thomas 2-0 to open the at-bat.
I don't know about you, but it was at that moment that I went into Damage Control Mode; okay, win some, lose some, everybody's got tough luck sometimes, hopefully we'll score him some more runs next inning...
Then Thomas struck out.
Then Kevin Youkilis broke for the first-base bag.
Doug Mirabelli gloved the final strike on Thomas from Wake and sent it humming down to first without a second's hesitation. Youkilis beat a napping Troy Glaus to the bag for a strike-em-out-throw-em-out double play to end the inning right there at first base.
Jaw, meet floor.
May 13, 2007:
When I picked [Iain] up today, I took him directly back to a spot by the side of the road on the way I'd come, where there was a baseball game being played in the morning sunshine.
We watched the kids play for a bit. It was tough to tell their ages; they weren't tiny, but they weren't seniors in high school, either. Their mechanics were serious, their play silent but for the ping of a metal bat and faint scuffling of cleats on the basepaths. They were kids who were serious about playing baseball--you could tell in their body language, despite the fact that one of the plays we saw involved a runner reaching third base safely on a pop-up to shallow right field.
May 14, 2007:
Of course I was overjoyed about the incredible 6 runs they put up in the ninth, amazed at how many moving parts there were to that comeback, flabbergasted at its unlikelihood...I was many things, but mostly I felt vindicated for Iain. Watching him jump around hollering himself hoarse with the "LET'S GO RED SOX" chant, hang on every pitch, I thought it was the least the Sox could do to repay one of the most dedicated fans on the planet.
I, for one, became superstitious after having sat back down with my hands in a certain pose inside my hoodie's pouch after the first couple of hits / runs in the ninth, so from then on, no matter how badly I wanted to stand and cheer, I sat back down after each play. All until the last one, though, when I finally leapt to my feet in time to get a clear view of Julio Lugo's leap into the air at first base. It's a mental picture I'll always have with me--Lugo's bright white uniform standing out in the sharp late-afternoon sunshine, the dust still settling around him, while his teammates stream out of the dugout to pile on Eric Hinske at home plate.
I only saw it for a second, because then Iain was hugging me and pounding my back and grinning from ear to ear and we were exclaiming in each other's faces about how we won, can you believe it? Can you even believe what just happened?
May 17, 2007:
Just then as I was watching, on a signal from Varitek, Daisuke threw one hard pitch from the windup before moving to practicing from the stretch (which he spent most of the rest of his session working on). I was close enough to hear him suck in his breath sharply, and he seemed to compact all that motion into a split second.
That's when I heard it again--the ball in the air. A fricative pair of sounds--first the breath: Fff! And then the ball: Zzzzzzzzhhhhh.
Golden sunlight was streaming down over the Monster as it neared dusk. It was the second time I'd been at the ballpark in as many days with Iain, my second Daisuke start in as many months, and the second time I've gotten to watch a charismatic starter warm up before a game. It was, in a word, heaven.
May 18, 2007:
…it was Thirsty Thursday last night in the bleachers. One girl in front of us showed up with her boyfriend in the second inning completely wasted. About as wasted as it gets. She then proceeded to drink another four beers. If she weighed more than a buck ten I'll eat my hat, but she chugged down more brewskis even though she was already drunk enough by the third inning to be striking up slurred, overly friendly conversations with people around her in the section, conversations that went something like, "I like you. I like you...and you...and you...and you...and YOU!" She pointed out that it was her boyfriend's first Red Sox game easily 20 times, and made sure everyone grasped the concept. By the end of the game she was standing up in front of us at inopportune times, and the boyfriend finally had to resort to grabbing her around the waist and physically sitting her back down. I didn't feel all that much sympathy for him, though, since he was the one who kept bringing her beer.
Still, that girl was a little loud but harmless. She was kind of sweet, actually, and her boyfriend absolutely cracked us up--at one point, while gently wrestling her back into her seat, he looked around and said jokingly, "Please, somebody help me!"
May 20, 2007:
File this under 'I'd have given just about anything to be there': The conversation that took place between my Dad and Rem-Dawg about Iain on Yawkey Way on Tuesday night. Hearing Iain speak English after my dad pointed out he had come from France, Remy expressed skepticism thusly: "What, Paris, Massachusetts?" I will always regret being in Chicago at the time this was occurring.
Now is when we get to have lovely debates amongst ourselves, like, when Jon Lester comes back after beating cancer last year, where do we slot in Kason? Do we want two lefties in the starting rotation? Is there such a thing as too many lefties? Oh my God, I think I'm finally officially overdosing on the Red Sox. The awesome is just too pure.
It was one of the better months of Red Sox baseball I can remember. It was everything that was great about our team, before we got to see much of what was not so great. It was Red Sox utopia.
And for me personally, it was the month in which I got to the most in-person games, thanks to a visit from Iain, the second in as many years. In between games I flew to Chicago and back for a business trip, and at the time it was an exhausting undertaking, one I questioned the sanity of to myself more than once. But now, I’m glad it happened, exactly that way, because the memory of that time is now such a sweet one it’s almost painful. Just looking down at the lights of Chicago as they receded into the night from a plane window, knowing I was going back to Fenway, my appearances in the stands no more than 48 hours in between.
Clinching the AL East
Only one of the two most important games of the regular season for the 2007 Sox was played at Fenway Park. The other was played the same day, but hundreds of miles south and west, between the Yankees and Orioles at Camden Yards.
The Sox were all but guaranteed to get to the postseason even if the division had slipped out of their hands, but by the time September rolled around and the lead slimmed to as low as 1 game, thanks in large part to the crash-and-burn of Eric Gagne and a dismal sweep in Toronto, fists in Boston began to clench, pre-2004 style.
To say that winning the division this year was important would be an understatement. We’d done the Wild Card thing. The Red Sox had held the lead in the AL East as of May 29 every single year since 1999 and had ceded that lead, every time, to the Yankees. The same pattern, the same teams, the same thing, every year, even in the year the Red Sox had won the World Series.
And another thing. Throughout the season, as they held as much as 14 games’ lead over the Yankees, they also had a lead on the whole of Major League Baseball, with the best record in the majors throughout the year. If the Yankees went ahead of the Red Sox, they would claim that title, too—and who knows how that would have changed the equation going in to the postseason.
Worse, by this time, the euphoria of May had given way to a much more uncomfortable dynamic: the sense I had, which only grew as the season progressed, that the team had two very distinct personalities. The first, which I called “Dr. Jekyll”, was the personality of May and much of September. When Dr. J was in the house, the Red Sox were a pitching machine and a clomping baseball animal at the plate, not just winning but stomping opponents, not just leading the division but leading it by 14 games. The worst thing about Dr. J was how totally authentic and here-to-stay he would always look. But Mr. Hyde would always show up for reasons unknown, sooner or later. During this time, the pitching would often remain decent, but all the Red Sox’s horses and all the Red Sox’s men couldn’t buy a freakin’ hit.
Hence what had been referred to as “the strange blend of arrogance and insecurity” characterizing Sox fans this year. On the one hand, the team had the best record in baseball, they still had the division lead, the pitching staff was lights out and the bullpen was a strength within a strength. It would truly have been insane not to be confident at least some of the time. But those other times…it was a strange mix, I’ll admit. Even as we gloated, we looked over our shoulders.
And that Division remained the key prize. It was one skirmish in the battle with New York that the Red Sox had not yet won. And of course, it came down to New York in the end, as it always does.
A couple thousand Red Sox fans stayed at the park once the Red Sox had won their game and the team not only let them stay, but broadcast the Yankees-Orioles game on the Jumbo-Tron. NESN wasn’t permitted to bring us the Yanks-O’s game live, so they played “highlights” every 30 seconds or so, interspersed with anxious commentary from Tom Caron and the studio guys. I know I didn’t move from my couch till it was all over—it felt like everybody was on baseball DEFCON-4.
It was a strange situation. The Red Sox had played stellar baseball the whole year, and sat right on the verge of sealing the deal with the victory we’d all wanted for years…but their fate was not in their hands. This clinch would not be capped with a mob at home plate or on the mound; by the time this victory had been sealed, the field was empty, the crowd that remained a small fraction of the one that had been there for game time.
When that final miraculous walkoff bunt from Melvin Mora ended the game and the wait for Boston, though, the field filled up again quickly. I remember noticing one fan in particular during the reaction to Baltimore’s win, and I couldn't help but notice he was making the same hands-to-head gesture as another fan I remember from the footage of a bar going apeshit in 2004. Like his 2004 counterpart, this fan’s fists squeezed in at his temples, as if he was physically trying to keep his head from exploding with the wonderment of the moment.
Seriously. It was that big a deal to us. And the one piece that had been missing from an otherwise perfect World Championship year in 2004.
Though there was no walkoff mob to mark the clinch, the Red Sox players did not disappoint the fans who’d stayed when it came to celebration. They flowed back out onto the field from the dugout, in sweats and civvies and, in the case of Jonathan Papelbon, skivvies. Many of them were drunk as hell (once again, Jonathan Papelbon). They put themselves to work celebrating in a way that made me marvel at their athletic endurance, especially while drunk--dancing, hollering into the mic with fans, some of them even choosing to dive into the crowd and lay back for a minute, just basking in the love. It was reminiscent of the Wild Card celebration of 2003, when Kevin Millar rocked the mic and the Sox sprayed the fans with champagne as the party went on for hours at the park.
Previously, as the season progressed, it felt like the players had all been to the same press relations class, or were under strict policy to always, but always, mention the fans at some point in any postgame commentary. The fans were to be mentioned in a flattering manner as well. The problem for me was that there were some players, like David Ortiz, Curt Schilling and Mike Lowell, who seemed to genuinely enjoy the fans and the attention, and others, like Josh Beckett and Dustin Pedroia, who I to this day can’t bring myself to believe give a crap. When they all were parroting the fan-praise line, all of them began to seem insincere.
This was different. This celebration was free-form, spontaneous, and it felt more genuine. The players could’ve stayed in the clubhouse but went out to hang with the crowd. Once there, the ones who really wanted to get touchy-feely could do so, and the ones who just wanted to celebrate with teammates could do so. And it was surprising to my cynical heart how many of them did want to play with and tease and embrace the fans, literally and figuratively.
It’s not always the norm for fans to have this kind of ongoing, personal, directly interactive relationship with the players on their team—online and in real life, on the streets and in the ballpark. Everybody in this area knows somebody who knows somebody who has had some kind of relationship with a Red Sox, whether a chance meeting or something more, uh, serious. They’re a world-class, expensive stable of athletic talent, and yet when the season’s in swing they feel like a part of the fabric of the city not just as the Red Sox, but as individuals, both on and off the field.
This was the kind of moment, then, that makes Red Sox fans so annoying to their opponents—the kind of moment where it really feels like things are different in Boston, and other people wouldn’t understand.