Normally when I'm in Las Vegas, as I so often am on business, it is a completely Soxless existence. I rarely see so much as a t-shirt out here, or ballcap, let alone an actual game. The one time I was here during a FOX Saturday game, they showed the Dodgers rather than the Red Sox - Giants series (I know. It's still painful to remember.) Actually, the whole place seems to be Dodger country. LA is fairly close and the beautiful people of that Southern California area come to Vegas to party, so maybe that's why.
So imagine my surprise when, at a reception last night at Ghost Bar, the Sox-Rays game was on. Said surprise rose to shock when I noticed the NESN logo at the corner of the screen. I sat before the widescreen plasma on one wall like a child discovering Saturday morning cartoons for the first time, clutching a plate of cheese and crackers, and watched Josh Beckett spit and curse his way through eight innings.
I'm sure you can guess what part was the highlight for me - and it was something NESN lovingly replayed multiple times, bless them. At the end of the sixth inning, with the Sox clinging to a one-run lead, one out and a man on, Beckett got Josh Bartlett to ground back to him.
Beckett whirled and delivered a 95 mph relay to Dustin Pedroia, who turned the double play to end the inning. Josh watched the relay silently, and as soon as the last out was made turned and pumped his fist, hollering quite clearly, "Fuck yeah, motherfucker!"
It was clear he was riled up to Game 5-style badassery. It was clear he was there to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and he was all out of bubble gum. He even spat and cursed some more after a flyout ended the eighth.
Unfortunately, by then, the game was tied. I craned my neck to see over the growing crowd at the bar as things looked headed for extra innings.
That is, until the bottom of the ninth rolled around, and Justin Masterson took the ball. Then I got distracted again, and when I came back, the bases were loaded and Demarlo Hale was shown freaking out at one of the guys in the field in the dugout. I'm still not sure what that was about. John Farrell came out and talked to Masterson. I ate my hors d'ouerves excitedly.
Masterson threw ball one. The wish to be back in Boston rushed through me just then hard enough to make me weak in the knees. Ball two. A walkoff walk? Say it ain't so.
Then, a perhaps generous called strike. And a swing from Dioner Navarro that immediately had me interrupting my conversation with a public relations person to yell, "Thank you very much for swinging at that!" at the TV.
And yeah. That's when it happened. I watched the ball headed for center field. The way Coco gave up on it, in the midst of the chaotic surroundings, I thought it had gone out for a walkoff grand slam. Turns out it was a walkoff single. Better than a walkoff sac fly, I suppose...but I had been sure Masterson was about to strike out Navarro, and then the whole complexion of the thing would change.
This isn't like getting beaten by the Yankees. It's its own animal entirely. The closest word I can come up with to describe this heated battle with the Tampa Bay Rays, of all teams, is surreal. That's how it felt watching the Rays mob each other in front of thousands of Sox fans at the Trop (being 55 stories above the Vegas strip at the time probably contributed to that feeling as well).
The Rays are still in that echoey, ugly stadium, and they've failed to draw very big crowds this year even with their newfound success--but here they are, playing out of their minds. Those guys on the field are in their own world right now.
Soxaholix expressed the hope that these series between the Sox and Rays are an ALCS preview. I say be careful what you wish for, but it would be a fascinating phenomenon if that happened - cognitive dissonance up to 11.