"...So good! So good! So good!"
The crowd boomed out the words in the middle of the eighth inning, but truth be told, times were not feeling especially good just then. The Sox had led 2-0 until that point, thanks to an utterly beastly Lester, but his failure to reappear for the eighth had my section of the grandstand -- and I'm sure many others -- warming up the fires for some Tito barbecue. Tito said later that Lester had seemed to "let down" emotionally after getting through the seventh, and that it was this rather than his pitch count that kept Lester on the bench in the next frame.
What happened next only stoked the coals. Okajima got two 4-3 groundouts, and then walked Mark Teixeira. Tito brought his quick hook out again and sent for Justin Masterson, who walked Vladi Guerrero, then crossed up Varitek and threw to the backstop as a result. The Angels runners advanced to second and third. Masterson got to two strikes on Torii Hunter, as he had with Guerrero, and the crowd was on its feet, as it had been on every two-out, two-strike count of the game for Red Sox pitching. Parts of the crowd even started to chant "Tooorriiiiiiii...Toooorrriiiii..." before the at bat was over, for which I cursed them roundly, before and after Hunter responded by stroking a bases-clearing single to right field. The game was tied at two -- cue "Sweet Caroline."
Scott Shields sat 'em down in the bottom of the eighth, deepening the silence around Fenway. Justin Masterson's first act of the ninth inning was to give up a sharp double to Kendry Morales, who was run for by Reggie Willits.
The Angels began closing their small-ball vice grip around the Red Sox, sacrificing Willits over to third. One out. Go-ahead run 90 feet away. Papelbon nowhere in sight.
And to think this series had started out feeling so pressure-free. To be honest, I went in to this postseason expecting the reverse of what actually happened in this series. But by this point--after that two-run lead and the desperate tension of that last inning and a third, it had become The Principle of the Thing. It was Apocalyptic Baseball - live and in person.
The Angels went in for the kill (or were trying to) with a squeeze play, and I swear people were yelling "SQUEEZE!" before Willits took his second step toward home. But the play was botched, and Varitek had the ball in hand; he charged down the third base line after Willits and finally caught him, but dropped the ball.
There was some argument afterwards from Mike Scioscia while Willits awaited the final decision on third base. Finally, Tek was ruled to have successfully tagged Willits before the ball dropped, and Scioscia and Willits trudged back to their dugout.
In the meantime, a sound rose around me I've never heard before. I've always heard about how Fenway sounds in the playoffs, and I now agree with everyone who's said you just have to be there to gauge the rise in decibel levels -- especially when you think they've already reached a peak and the sound just gets louder. It was deafening as Varitek ran down Willits, and felt like it was probably registering on the Richter scale after the umpire made his ruling.
It was about to get still louder.
The bottom of the ninth began with everyone on their feet, already on fire with the luck of the previous inning. It wasn't cockiness or assurance - nobody was high-fiving each other as the first Sox hitter strode to the plate. It was a maniacal focus on the field. It was urging, cheering, cajoling. Pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease.
JD Drew deflated things somewhat by starting off the ninth with a K. But Bay followed him with a ground-rule double that set the place rocking again. Mark Kotsay hit a screaming liner down the first base line, and Teixeira gloved it handily.
"DAMMIT!" my dad yelled. It was not for the first time tonight. Keep in mind that this is the man who grumbled about everyone standing up for strike two with two outs, who even grumbled about the bullpen band. He is not the most demonstrative of live game attendees. But this game had him yelling.
"That was the hit!" he told me. "That was it!"
Oh, but he was wrong. Turns out Jed Lowrie was the one with the hit, and he sent it to nearly the same place, down the first base and right-field line, while Bay tore around third for home.
I wish I could say I saw the throw to the plate and the safe slide by Bay, but by then all around me was such bedlam I lost sight of a good chunk of the field. I only knew that the sound around me was like its own great tidal wave crashing overhead, and I could see thousands of arms raised in triumph, and then the field came back into view again and the Sox were mobbing Lowrie at first base. And that's when "Dirty Water" started playing.
A couple more thoughts:
- Before that, my favorite moment of the game had been Dustin Pedroia's double, which broke him out of an 0 for 15 slump in the postseason so far and scored the second run.
- It's too early to really start looking ahead to the next series, but during the game tonight a message was flashed on the scoreboard that Mike Lowell has been replaced on the roster and put on the DL. It comes as no surprise to those of us who've watched him limp and wince around the field against Anaheim, but still. Ouch.
- Mark Kotsay may wind up being the unsung hero of this game, thanks to Teixeira's glove. He made two spectacular catches in as many innings in the sixth and seventh, leaping and sliding and gloving two foul pop-ups to save Lester untold pitches. Thank you, Mark Kotsay, you can officially stay.
- Watching Jonathan Papelbon spray down the crowd behind the home dugout with champagne in person may have been the happiest moment of my year so far.