The heat was surprising at quittin' time yesterday, the late afternoon still muggy and hazy on a day that could have easily passed for mid-July. I was in a crowd of Red Sox fans from the moment I approached the Riverside T station. On the train, I watched, bemused, as three college-age guys in Beckett jerseys openly swigged out of telltale red Solo cups while the D car rumbled and squealed its way into town.
I had to wait for a while to meet my husband by the Cask, in the uneasy intimacy of a crowded sidewalk full of others doing a similar thing. From that vantage point it was clear when a fresh train had just arrived at Kenmore Square station; the regular periodic surges in the crowd being corralled across Lansdowne Street were visible.
From that vantage point it was also clear how many Yankees fans were in attendance last night. Every tenth person, or just about, seemed to be wearing a pinstriped or deep blue jersey. Bright white NYs were everywhere. As were alternate forms of Yankees garb, including that old staple, the obnoxious T-shirt.
Though it's not like we don't have our own answers to that.
Walking up that ramp into the ballpark for the first time each year may never get old. The sky was a mix of iron-grey clouds and fading honey-gold twilight, as the facade, and then the grandstand, and then the right field boxes, and finally the bleachers and the bullpens came into view. It felt, as always, like some kind of portal had closed behind me. From the lower level of the park, only the tallest buildings around are visible; the sensation is of departure from the outside world, encapsulation in a self-contained atmosphere.
As the buzz of the crowd, the shouts of vendors, and somewhere beyond, the pop of the glove in the bullpen began to sink in, I couldn't have suppressed my grin if my life had depended on it. It spread across my face, an uncontrollable reflex, as I climbed stair after stair, all the way back to row 17 of grandstand section 1.
There was a pole that partially blocked the pitcher's mound if I didn't lean the right way. One of my knees was pressed up against the back of the peeling, fading grandstand seats immediately, and would stay that way for almost every moment of the next 10 innings. My butt would ache by the bottom of the first.
I let out a happy sigh.
At other Red Sox - Yankees games I've been to, it's usually clear when there are fisticuffs being exchanged somewhere in the park -- a physical fight seems to suck in the crowd around it like a black hole, and you can see it suddenly gather in from across the field, usually accompanied by a telltale roar that has nothing to do with the action on the field. This time, the only fights I saw were of the verbal variety.
Ahead of us and to our left sat a Yankees fan in a white hat and light blue Yanks t-shirt, who took it upon himself to cheer on his team from practically across Lansdowne Street, as if the people who could hear him weren't just the increasingly irritated Red Sox fans nearby. As the game wore on, he engaged in a lengthy and shrill verbal altercation with an equally loudmouthed Red Sox fan.
Out on the street before the game, as a group of lads clad in pinstripes passed some Sox loyalists, one of the Boston fans let out an exaggerated cough, into which he embedded the words "YANKEESSUCK", which got him a laugh from his Joba-jersey-wearing counterpart (and from me).
Inside the park, when Yankees fans in attendance stood up to walk down the stairs, Red Sox fans would holler out whatever name was on the back of their shirts, followed by a hearty bellow of "...SUCKS!!"
And when a woman in a Jeter jersey came and sat momentarily in our grandstand section, a kid from standing room squatting in an unclaimed seat in our row repeatedly reminded her that "Jeter Sucks." Her responses would've made Josh Beckett proud.
I thought for a second I was going to see a cross-gender fight (you laugh, but I saw it happen once at Gillette). But then, inexplicably, the woman and her friends (all of whom were wearing Red Sox gear) left the section and never returned.
It wasn't Opening Night, but it was still a noteworthy game: John Lackey's first start in a Red Sox uniform.
Lackey delivered starting with a crisp first inning, in which he surrendered a walk but no hits. Big John held up his end throughout his six-inning start, and left clinging to a 1-0 lead, having surrendered only 3 hits.
Lackey assuredly won't be earning quite the fangirl following Beckett, Papelbon and Ellsbury have. Even while doing what he does best, pitching, his body language seems jerky and awkward. Though a power pitcher, he doesn't "drop and drive" -- instead, he turns on a vertical axis, while his right leg kicks up next to him during his follow-through like he's doing the Charleston. As he finishes his throw, he holds one hand out in front of him like a velociraptor's claw before coming to rest. And his posture as he looks in for the sign with men on base is even stranger.
As long as he keeps throwing up goose eggs, though, he'll be fascinating to watch.
***When David Ortiz came up in the first inning with Ellsbury and Youkilis on first and third, two outs, I held my breath watching him spit and clap and dig and set in the box through my telephoto lens, begging to any higher power that happened to be listening for him to just please get a hit.
It's not even because he's my team's DH anymore. It's because I feel for him personally in a way I haven't with any other player. I was dying for him to get a hit, not just to beat the Yankees, but to beat the people who want to give him shit about his failures. Papi's in a category by himself, given the memories he's attached to and the personality that's been nothing but a cheerful delight around here until his latest struggles. It will just never be all business with Big Papi, at least not if you're a fan.
He finally connected, and as the ball spun toward my lens I reacted instinctively, mistakenly, probably wishfully, "THERE'S a hit!" The older gentleman next to us glanced at me, and I realized: the shift. The goddamn shift. Ortiz was out at first. Inning over. And a queasy feeling settled into my gut.
His next time up, also with a runner on, in the bottom of the third, I overheard a guy in the standing room section behind us talking to his buddy about the way Ortiz has been vilified lately. "They can't just strip him of his pride like that," he said. "It just ain't right."
That's when, from off in the right field grandstand, the "Pa-PI! Pa-PI! Pa-PI!" chant started. The guy in standing room and his buddy joined in immediately. I did too.
And then, at long last, Ortiz eked out a base hit, scoring Pedroia.
It hurts to type that sentence. It hurts to think about it. I know the truth. But as far as I and the rest of the fans in the grandstand last night were concerned, we're going down with the friggin' ship.
Watch that be the only run of the whole game, I thought to myself as the cheers died down following Papi's hit, and we settled back into our seats.
I was partially right -- it would turn out to be the only Boston run of the game. Scott Schoeneweis relieved Lackey to start the 7th; he was pulled with two outs and Jorge Posada on second base, where it seems he is a fixture -- an irritating, parasitic fixture, like a barnicle -- in every game. Daniel Bard replaced Schoeneweis and promptly gave up a hit to Nick Swisher, scoring Posada and tying the ball game.
Immediately, my heart sank. I have yet to experience chest-bursting confidence in this lineup, despite the way it's scrapped and clawed against the Yanks the last two days. It just seemed, right then, like it was over but the shouting.
Which was true, but the shouting would go on for another three innings, into extras, where Curtis Granderson eventually pounded the final nail into the coffin with a home run off Jonathan Papelbon that landed almost directly in front of us. Around us the Yankees crowd, still going strong as Sox fans began to stream toward the exits, stood up and cheered.
I know that I don't really have a leg to stand on with this, given how my fellow Sox fans have represented us at visiting ballparks all over the country, even unto the point of a reputation for unsightly colonialism on the road. But honestly, I was seething. A tiny thundercloud may have appeared above my head. I'm sure I was making my very own version of the Peyton Manning Face.
Not only was I disappointed that my first game of the year was going to be a loss, that one of my favorite players (Papelbon, who is worrying me on a scale to rival Papi) was the reason, that because of a key strikeout with runners on in the bottom of the fifth the screaming meemies would be after Ortiz again, but I also deeply, deeply resented the presence of these celebrating interlopers who were there to rub it in. I was desperate for something, anything, that would wipe the smug looks of satisfaction off the faces of the high-fiving kids in Joba jerseys four rows down.
Let me also just take this moment to mention that I can't vouch for the behavior of any and everyone wearing a Sox shirt in ballparks across America, and that I personally have never seen the Red Sox play anywhere other than Fenway Park. If anything, fans of Elsewhere, I'm feeling your pain.
And yes, my Zen after the inaugural loss of the season had lasted all of a day. I knew it would pass, too, but in that moment...even despite my better judgment and knowledge otherwise...and even given its irrelevance to the events that had just transpired...I, too, wanted to loudly inform somebody that Jeter Sucks.