Bottom of the third inning. David Ortiz stood in the on-deck circle, preparing to face Jose Contreras with the bases loaded.
My immediate instinct was to cringe. Everyone knows what his numbers say this year, I thought. Everyone knows about the PED report and all the doubts and clouds that linger over Papi. This isn't like it would have been in 2005.
Except, I would learn, for one thing.
The wave of energy that rushed through the crowd as the PA announcer began to call Ortiz's name was physically palpable. People leapt to their feet, and a roar burst out as if released from a can.
By rights, Ortiz should've been out on the little squibber that rolled toward first base, ending the inning. It really should have been more cause for navel-gazing about the erstwhile slugger.
Instead, Contreras booted the ball and Ortiz was safe.
Given the circumstances, the opportunities for nay-saying were so ripe they were falling off the vine. Yet the crowd cheered as if he'd just smacked a liner through the shift and cleared the bases.
I'd been away from the ballpark too long.
Later on in the game, when the White Sox narrowed the lead to two runs, the possibility that the 6-run third had all been for naught became a real one.
But the ballpark was balmy, the pace of the game slow and even. Sam and I were snapping pictures, trading (perhaps tasteless) jokes about stolen laptops when Clay Buchholz began to give up runs.
By then, I'd decided, it didn't even matter if they won. I'd gotten what I came for.
First came the wait through April for Papi to hit a home run. Just one home run.
After that came the wait for the second.
In the ensuing months, he had his moments, then slumped again. The park still seems to have a spell over it when he comes to the plate, but it seems more out of respect, most times, than anything.
In the months since those first and second homers, there's been another wait; the wait for Papi to hit one walkoff homer at Fenway. Just one.
Tonight, when it finally happened, it was a ringing, no-doubt blast out to the right-field grandstand, a homer that had Don Orsillo shouting out the call as Papi trotted the bases. It was a beautiful and satisfying thing.
I can only imagine what it must've sounded like at the park, having been among crowds that stood rooting and clapping and chanting for Ortiz in other big moments this season, as that homer finally carried out of there, the way it already had in so many of our minds.