The Baseball Desert

Monday, May 14, 2007

Stand and deliver

I'm not one for milestones here on the blog, particularly ones based on dates, since blogging can occasionally be very sporadic around these parts, but I have to admit to keeping an eye on the Blogger dashboard over the past couple of weeks, as the number of posts has crept up into the mid-to-high 990s. 1000 posts seemed like a nice milestone to celebrate, but as I've got nearer, I got anxious about how to mark the event.

It's been looking for a while like #1000 would be during my Fenway trip, so I figured that would give it a nice angle - I could at least link back to post #1, almost four years ago, tracing a line of fandom that has gone from "Oooh, I still have a crush on Clemens and the Yankees" to "Red Sox fan forever."

I was still wondering about that in the ninth inning of today's game, as I sat next to Beth at Fenway - I'm sorry, I really like the sound of that so I'm going to say it again, just for the hell of it: as I sat next to Beth AT FENWAY!!! - grumbling about how the Sox couldn't even score a measly run for us poor bastids sat in the windy, uppermost reaches of the 1st base pavilion. My mind was already wandering, thinking about how the Sox losing the first game I see each time at Fenway is becoming something of a tradition, and looking forward to Daisuke's start tomorrow. Lost in all that self-pity, of course, was a fundamental grasp of one of baseball's greatest cliches: it ain't over 'til it's over (and its sub-cliche: there's always a chance in baseball that you will see something that you've never seen before).

There's a reason that cliches become cliches, and that is that they are very often true. So, with one out in the bottom of the ninth, and Fenway Park emptying before our very eyes, Beth and I looked at each other with some puzzlement as Sam Perlozzo walked to the mound to take his starting pitcher out of the game, after he'd held the Red Sox to just three hits over 8.1 innings. "Great," I said, "now we get to kick the crap out of their bullpen." (Beth will back me up on this, but I will also have to admit that I didn't say this entirely seriously - it was a comment born of frustration and tiredness and just sheer, bloody cold.) Papi comes in and hits a double to score Coco, and I'm just glad we've avoided the embarrassing shutout. Then Wily Mo gets a single which sends Papi to third, amd Perlozzo is back out there yanking his pseudo-closer and bringing in his real closer. Chris Ray walks J.D. Drew to load the bases and suddenly Fenway is on its feet. Ray then walks Youkilis to put another Sox run on the board with the bases still loaded, and then Varitek comes through with a clutch double to make it a 5-4 game.

By this time I'm on my feet screaming with every pitch, and Beth - die-hard fan that she is - is reusing to move from her seat for fear of jinxing the whole thing. Ray intentionally walks Hinske to get to Cora, and I have to believe that at that point, the whole of Fenway is hoping that this is a move that comes back to bite the Orioles in the ass. Fate being what it is, Cora hits a ground ball which is fielded and thrown home to cut down Youk. Bases still loaded, two out. Lugo goes ball-ball-strike-foul-foul-ball to take the count to 3-2. Fenway going crazy. "Let's go Red Sox, da-da, da-da-da" ringing out around the park. Lugo grounds to Millar and there's an almost audible groan as the game ends with the Sox so near, and yet so far. Except that Lugo is charging up the line, and Ray is having to race him to the bag. In so doing he drops Millar's toss. The runners were going on the pitch, so Varitek is almost at home plate as the ball falls, and it gets far enough away to allow Hinske to score from second: 6-5 Red Sox, and all hell let loose at Fenway. I'm hugging Beth, high-fiving total strangers and wearing the biggest shit-eating grin that I've had at a live sporting event for about 18 years.

This was just my fifth game at Fenway, so I'm not really going out on a limb if I say it's the best Sox game I've ever been to. But I'll go one better than that - I'd say it's one of the best endings I've ever seen to a Sox game (certainly in the regular season); in fact, it's one of the best endings I've seen to any baseball game, period. The Sox refused to roll over and die. They just kept chipping away batter after batter, right down to their very last strike, and pulled an enormous rabbit out of a tiny hat.

Six runs in the ninth is something that usually only occurs in Imaginary Baseball World, but today the truth was stranger than fiction. I went to Fenway hoping to just enjoy my return to the ballpark, but I got more than I could have ever hoped for. There have been a number of games this year that the Sox have won against the odds, but this one stands head and shoulders above the rest - a stick-up of epic proportions that Beth and I will talk about for a very long time to come.

Had I been watching the game in my living room in Paris, I'd have grinned inanely to myself for a little while, then headed off to bed. Seeing it live at Fenway seems to have intensified the effect: the game finished six hours ago, and I'm still sat here grinning and saying "I can't believe we stole that game." I keep waiting for the phone to ring and for the Commissioner to ask that we give the game back to the Orioles, but lemme tell you, Bud: it ain't gonna happen. This was a life-lesson in perseverence and sheer bloody-mindedness and, most importantly, my first walk-off win at Fenway. I'm keeping this one forever...