Call it perspective. Call it being (somewhat) older and (slightly) wiser. Call it two World Series in four years. Call it, if you're the WEEI type, being a Polyanna. Call it complacency, I suppose, if you must. However you want to describe it, attending yesterday's afternoon matinee against the Blue Jays with Sam made me realize it's time to admit that I am a different Red Sox fan this season.
Paul Byrd started the game I took in from the infield grandstand with Sam, and was shelled; he turned over the ball to David Aardsma, who poured gas on the fire. Suddenly the Sox were down 8-0 against the division's third-place team. With an uncertainty in Bartolo Colon, the night's starter, there was reason to worry about our starting rotation, on the day and in general. The offense was so weak that the only run they scored was unearned, its genesis in George Kottaras' scramble to first after a wild pitch struck him out.
While the Sox would take this series thanks to wins last night and today, both subsequent wins were the result of similar eking, squeaking plays that pushed the bounds of luck - Jacoby Ellsbury's 20-foot swinging bunt in the eighth inning of the night's contest, while Scott Downs fell flat on his face in the infield. With the score tied and two outs in the inning, Ellsbury's safety on the freak play kept the drive alive.
Similarly, the ninth inning of Game four this afternoon saw more disconcerting struggles for Papelbon, and it was another bit of serendipity that kept the Sox on top - a bad call by the umpire, who threw out Lyle Overbay at second base on a Jason Bay throw from left field. Dustin Pedroia was successful in selling it, but replays showed that Overbay was clearly safe. The Sox took the gift out, gave up another run on a Scott Rolen grounder to third base in exchange for getting Rolen out with another bang-bang play - this time genuine - at first base. But with another out to burn and another man on base for the Jays, who knows what might have happened instead.
Should we be playing this kind of ball against a team below us in the standings, at this late juncture of the season? The 2003 me would be chewing her fingernails down to the quick.
Maybe it's just because the Patriots are the sports topic that has me doing that this particular weekend (and the reasons I'm currently agonizing over football but not baseball are another whole can of worms, I think). Maybe it's that sports are ever more my escape from other, more serious things, and so even losses are a time away from the things I've grown infinitely more concerned about. Maybe it's that even being on the wrong end of a blowout melts away when Fenway Park is looking back at you like this...
...but the 2008 me, as a Sox fan, is in a totally different place.
That's not to say that the 2003 edition is far away. It's hard even for my inner Sox fundamentalist to be fussing and fretting after six years of pretty much constant Boston championships, but that thought right there still sets her off -- this is exactly what the talking heads predicted! Complacency! Indifference! Dying passion!
It's taken me all season, having this inward debate, before yesterday's game snapped things into better focus. A man walked up to us before the game and asked me to take a fan survey - and his first question was to rate my Sox fandom on a scale of 1 to 5. "Six," I said to him. "Ten."
Because, no, I did not wail and gnash my teeth Saturday afternoon as the Jays pulled away. I am not going to mainline Maalox tonight worrying about whether Papelbon's going to learn to locate his splitter. This doesn't mean I don't hope he does. It means I know that the result if he doesn't might be disappointment, but not outright heartbreak. How could it be, after all the Sox have given us?
Yes, it's different now. But it doesn't mean Sam and I weren't busy beavers throughout this game, juggling cameras and scorecards, muttering irritably when people in our row got up to get a beer and / or made us get up so they could come back with it - during this game, this occurred without fail before the lead was so huge, and with two strikes on a Sox hitter with the chance to put the team on the board.
It doesn't mean that Sam didn't spend several hours yesterday patiently listening to me go on about how reading Mike Lowell's book, Deep Drive, is making me fall in obsessive love with our third baseman, or how my adoration for Dustin Pedroia has reached chest-bursting proportions, or how I've begun to construct elaborate IBW scenarios for the duo of Pedroia and Youkilis of late (frankly, I think we should get Red and Denton to write a screenplay).
It doesn't mean I haven't spent perhaps more time than is really healthy this week constructing a playlist of the songs that remind me of Josh Beckett, or trying to come up with a nickname for Jon Lester suitable for the sidekick to Commander Kickass (the closest I've come is Sergeant Stopper - suggestions welcome).
It's just that when it comes to The Big Picture, I've been given a little bit of an attitude adjustment. It's not that the results don't matter -- it's that the ways the ongoing stories of the characters in my favorite soap opera unfold mean more. Losing a game diminishes my appreciation for the positive events that may have also happened less -- like Bay's homer the other night, like getting to know even more brand-new Sox like George Kottaras and Chris Carter on Saturday.
That game on Saturday, in particular, just wasn't about the score. It was about the way the light changed from overcast late morning to brilliant, postcard-perfect afternoon. It was about savoring one of the last games I'll attend this season, trying to hold on to summer for as long as possible, every ground-out and strikeout, even, something I tried to memorize, knowing that no matter what the outcome, it will be over all too soon.
I suppose there are still some people who would echo my inner Sox fundamentalist, hearing this. I guess it's up to the eye of the beholder whether I care less, or just care differently. It is true that I no longer live and die with each and every pitch.
Instead, I would add to that, I just live.