Photo by Sam
July 29, 2003. Seven months plus into my first disaffected, alienated year out of school, the same month, precisely, that I began regularly watching baseball again. Three months later, I would be smitten beyond all reason with the "Cowboy Up" Red Sox and their habit of staging such lusty, dramatic, come-from-behind wins.
It would be the year a friend of mine who lived on Huntington Ave told me he could hear the ballpark from his bedroom, on the night David Ortiz hit a walk-off home run against the Orioles. It would be the year I sat with my father in the basement, watching the two most beautiful pitches of Derek Lowe's career drop in against the Oakland A's. The year I drove home from work with butterflies in my stomach before those last two games in New York, laughing nervously at the Whiner Line and oblivious to anything but the thought of whether this team would actually pull it off...
On July 29, 2003, I was not as given to baseball bloggage as I am currently, but I do remember watching the game in Texas where our dearly beloved Bill Mueller hit back-to-back, switch-hit grand slams. I still have an image of the ball landing in the stacked stands of the Rangers' stadium, which were mostly empty, on that hazy, humid night.
Roger Angell could only frame this moment in the context of the rest of the season that would follow it, when he wrote his annual summary of the baseball season for the New Yorker the next year--
In the grand scheme of things, those slams were a novelty, a blip on a regular season's radar that would barely register after the apocalyptic playoffs. But it was in that late July, watching Mueller trotting those bases a second time, that a rarefied atmosphere first emerged, a foreshadowing of the months to come.
This October, the closeness of the post-season games and the sight of so many celebrity teams—A’s, Yankees, Red Sox, Braves, Cubs, and Giants—suddenly fighting for their lives in the early rounds of play made these eliminations feel like a different sport altogether: baseball with a thirty-second clock. Counting the World Series, thirty-eight games were required to produce a champion, with eleven of them settled by one run, and six going into extra innings. The easy, almost endless run of summer ball was not just over but obsolete, and it requires effort to bring any part of it back, even the Mets. Place should be reserved, however, for the achievement of the switch-hitting Red Sox infielder Bill Mueller, who twice hit home runs from different sides of the plate in the same game. The second time he did this, against the home-team Texas Rangers, the dingers—first right-handed, then left—came in consecutive innings and were both grand slams. Never before—never nearly before.