Sitting in Section 26, Box 64 for this game, my dad's friends Marshall and Woody, my dad, and I started playing the "hat game" around the third inning. The way the hat game works is, everyone puts a dollar into a hat to get started. One person holds the hat for each Red Sox hitter up. If that hitter gets a single, the person holding the hat takes a dollar out. A double, two dollars. A triple, three. A homer gets the pot. An out means the holder puts a dollar in the hat. Walks and errors are a push.
By the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs, we had twenty-five bucks in the hat.
Save for a hit by Youkilis early on and an almost accidental single by Brandon Moss, the Red Sox bats remained disturbingly lifeless through yet another gem from a starting pitcher, this time an 8-inning, 1-hit, shutout performance from Jon Lester.
"Holy shit, boys and girls," Woody remarked as the Sox walked off the field still scoreless after the bottom half of that inning. "How does a whole team just stop hitting, all at once?"
It had been 20 innings since the Red Sox had scored a run. In the last 35 innings, the team had plated just five runs. In the last 18 innings, the Sox had mustered a total of just five hits.
This while the pitching staff turned in a two-run, three-hit gem; a three-run, thirteen strikeout gem; and aforementioned eight-inning, shutout performance, in that order.
Tonight, though, there was a different feeling than usual at the ballpark. These days, you usually know more about a game if you've watched it on TV than if you've been there in person--on TV, the broadcasters review key plays in slow motion, summarize the key moments of the game midway through, and then again after the last out. They reinforce what's happening by telling you verbally what you're seeing, and all the appropriate stats are flashed on the screen at the precise moment they're relevant.
At the park, in between the incessant cries of "PEANUTS!" and gabbing from people around you and craning your neck to see the hitter and yelling "down in front!" at least once a game, not to mention lacking a close-up or slow-motion on anything, it can all be a blur. The same was true of this game until Lester walked off the mound in that eighth inning.
I've been there on other nights when the game is out of hand by the top of the fifth and the crowd seems to resign itself to sticking around till beer sales end and then calling it a night. But after Lester left, the ballpark took on an electricity I can only remember experiencing once or twice before--a buzzing tension that said, we are not leaving here without a win.
It's not entirely logical, but the players really do seem to take a cue from this, at least sometimes. And on nights like tonight, they seem to be nudged to life by the energy in the stands.
Despite another listless effort from the lineup in the bottom of the eighth, the mere appearance of Jonathan Papelbon was enough to keep that energy going. By the time 'Shipping Up to Boston' was playing, the whole place was on its feet. I was practically jumping up and down, in between taking enough pictures to make a flip-book of his first throws from the mound.
All of this, and he was still just tossing warmup pitches. NESN had probably gone to commercial. But there we were, going out of our damn minds.
"WHOA--OHH--OHHHHH..." the crowd boomed along with the chorus of the song. "WHOOAAAHHHHH!"
Six pitches and nearly two outs into his appearance, and Papelbon was working with 100 percent strikes. The Toronto hitters were frozen by his fastball and waved at his split. He was an explosion of power with each delivery, curling into himself and unfurling with a single quick, smooth motion, just snapping the pitches out. He electrified the place.
Not to be outdone, however, was Dustin Pedroia, who in the end deserves the credit for the save. The Happy Scrappy Hero Pup made the diving play of the game at second base to record the final out for Jonathan with a man on second--if it weren't for him, the 9th would've ended tied at 1 instead of with a mob at the plate.
The crowd was still on its feet when Coco Crisp came to the plate for the bottom of the ninth. When he flied out to center, everyone sat down again, grumbling, through Dustin Pedroia's pop-out.
But I don't care if the other team's ahead by 16 runs or if he's hitting .010, David Ortiz gets a kingly welcome every single time he steps to the plate. And in situations where a bomb from Papi could conceivably do major damage or even win it, people are on their feet for him like he's hit a homer before he's even seen one pitch.
Papi walked, but people barely had time to think about that before Manny was taking his lollygagging stroll behind the umpire, adjusting his gloves with his bat under one arm and looking out into the crowd, where dozens of fans gave him the exaggerated double-guns and pointed toward the Monster suggestively. It was bedlam.
Manny stroked a single to center field, and Youkilis followed. I marveled at how the Red Sox were now looking at the same number of baserunners in this inning as they'd managed the whole game, at the determined force the fans had become, and how, even before it got there, it just felt like it was going to happen.
Ball one to Youkilis.
It had to happen. No way were they letting Jon Lester put in that effort and get a no-decision. No way were they letting Jonathan Papelbon be the losing pitcher, wasting Dustin's spectacular play. No. Hell, no.
And then there it was.
Youkilis lined a base hit, and Papi came steaming around third. "RUN PAPI RUN PAPI RUN!" I screamed, and then everything on the field was lost in the sea of jubilation.
My father left the game still worried about why his boy Jacoby didn't pinch-run for Papi. And the Red Sox have still only managed one run since Saturday. But boy, was it ever a beautiful one.