When the fourth inning began on a sweltering evening last night at Fenway Park, the game between the Red Sox and the Marlins was, well, still a game.
Before a single out had been recorded in that fourth inning, though, the contest was all but unquestionably in the bag for the Sox, thanks mainly to the man whose smile is pictured lighting up the ballpark above.
It used to be Manny whose presence at the plate would send the Fenway audience into hysterics; now his old friend has fully taken over the mantle of setting the faithful a-jangle with his every RBI opportunity -- and when he stepped to the plate that inning with the bases loaded, the place was more than aflutter. It was pandemonium.
People were on the edges of their seats, the heat momentarily forgotten. Papi fouled off one pitch, and then connected with the next, sending it screaming out toward the right field foul pole as the crowd leapt to its feet.
Grand slam. 11-4 Red Sox. As Ortiz trotted the bases, he gave Marlins third baseman Hanley Ramirez a flippant little salute.
An inning later, for a few moments, there was the possibility we might witness the same feat twice in back-to-back innings, as Papi once again stepped to the plate with the bags juiced. He would strike out (and anyway, Nick Punto scampered home from third on a wild pitch during his at-bat, de-loading the bases), but the situation alone ensured that a sweat-drenched crowd was risking heatstroke to get their money's worth.
Years from now, those moments -- moments when everyone's problems, the team's included, were far away -- will be what I remember, not whatever Buster Olney or David Ortiz said about the clubhouse, or what the team's record was.
These are the things I care about, that I treasure: the cheers as Big Papi approached from the on-deck circle, bat under his arm. His spit and clap, and his slow, hypnotic settling into his stance. Sweat pouring down everybody's faces. Then, a WHACK!! a rising roar, and the ball flying out over the field, into the waiting arms of the fans beyond the Pesky Pole.