It had been a nice, neat little game up until the eighth inning; two quick runs had crossed the plate for the Red Sox in each of the first two innings, and while a fumble by Kelly Shoppach had allowed a Twins run across, Clay Buchholz left the mound with a quite respectable line. Andrew Miller came on to replace him.
"So we're six outs away from winning this thing," said Hunter beside me. I shushed him, believing out-counting to be a monstrous jinx. (Hunter doesn't believe in too many jinxes or superstitions.)
As Andrew Miller issued a walk to open the inning, I amended the statement: "We're Andrew Miller away from winning."
"And there may still be six outs by the time he's done," added Hunter. He turned out to be correct.
A few minutes later, on came Alfredo Aceves with the bases loaded. He is supposed to be our closer, but with inherited runners is worse than league average; true to form, he allowed the tying run to score on a sacrifice fly. But he let no more runs across, and so there was still plenty of hope heading into the bottom of the inning, as Pedro Ciriaco stepped to the plate in place of Ryan Kalish.
On the second pitch he saw, the svelte Ciriaco belted the ball into the Monster seats, a no-doubter from the moment it left his bat, and the triumphant roar of Fenway rose with the ball into the night.
It's a mistake to do this, but immediately I assumed the game's narrative would come to an end. Sure, there was the insurance run courtesy of Cody Ross and Dustin Pedroia, but that would be essentially a tasteful garnish setting off the main dish.
And sure, there was another half-inning, at the least, to go, but I had made up my mind. I think many of us had. Ciriaco's heroics were to carry the day; the rest was just formality.
Hunter was a bit more reserved about the whole thing. "It's a good thing they got two runs, because Aceves is going to give up at least one," he said. "And he'll probably end it with a man on third and a full count."
He turned out to be almost exactly rght. Except instead of ending the game with the man on third, Aceves would work a 1-2 count on Joe Mauer, prompting the Fenway crowd to rise to its feet, clapping rhythmically, sure that the next pitch would send us home...
...and then Mauer would jolt a homer of his own into the Monster seats, this one a three-run job, putting the Twins ahead, 6-4.
Some people screamed. Overall, the sound of the crowd became a rueful howl as the ball sailed over the outfield. I gasped. Clapped a hand over my mouth. For all the team's struggles this season, I still couldn't quite believe what I was seeing.
But, well, that's baseball. You've got to throw it over the plate and give the other man his damn chance. The low point of the game for me would actually come a few minutes after Mauer put the nail in the coffin.
Between innings, as half the remaining crowd filtered out and the rest of us stayed out of some sense of duty, or paralysis in the face of what had just happened, or both, "Shipping Up to Boston" started blaring out of the PA system. The big screen started cranking out propaganda. You could even hear whoever was operating the PA system turn the volume up a little louder, as if cranking it to 11 would encourage Sox fans to get to their feet and start losing their minds, believing in the comeback.
In the stands, most people exercised their right to remain silent.
It was a sad moment, not because the Red Sox were losing the game, but because it felt like the disconnect between the franchise and the fans hadn't been bigger during the HWL era. "Shipping up to Boston before bottom of 9th?" Tweeted Joe Haggerty, summing things up succinctly. "Supposed to remind everyone Papelbon doesn't live here anymore? I'd say we just saw the evidence."
There was a time when this ownership had this whole town, myself included, swallowing cornier treacle. Since last September, though, some people's patience with blithely blasting "Shipping Up to Boston" or "Tessie" (or "Sweet Caroline") while Rome burns has been wearing thin.
It felt, in that moment last night, like some spell cast by the marketing wizards under Dr. Charles Steinberg had been definitively broken. Many of us were still there, at least physically, but on this particular evening, we weren't going to be playing along.