I'm a fighter, not a lover.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

86 the 86 years

My life-long cynicism has finally been explained. All this time, my negativity stemmed from the Red Sox. I had no idea. Beginning about a quarter to ten (MST) last night though, I started my new life as a glass-half-full-kind-of-guy.

I maintained the appropriate superstitions going into game four of the World Series with the Sox leading 3-0 and was careful not to once use the word “sweep,” (though it’s all I was thinking) while chastising those that let that word fly in the 24 hours leading up to first pitch. Nonetheless, the Sox were unstoppable going into last night’s game, winning seven consecutive post-season matches, including the Greatest Comeback in the History of Anything and following that with three straight victories against the Cards.

Several sportswriters, especially those with an open bias towards the Sox (we refer to them as “the informed”), pointed out time and again during this Fox-overly-packaged playoff season, that unlike every other year, going into game four, things were falling in Boston’s favor. Calls were being corrected. Balls were hopping and landing in the right places. When it was time for the Sox pitching to characteristically hang a pitch over the plate, strikes were thrown. Even with some of the oddest decisions made by a big league manager (at least in the first half of the post-season), things were working out.

The Sox were also undefeated in 2004 post-season play when they scored first, a fact that Johnny Damon was well aware of. Proving that he is indeed divine, he hit a solo shot as the first batter of the evening, giving the Sox the quick lead. And really, that was all it took. Still, I was never quite comfortable (even with the 3-0 lead and the post-season -- not regular-season -- version of Derek Lowe on the mound) and I would guess that no citizen of Red Sox Nation was.

This is just how things work. I knew this heading into the game. So, when the bottom of the fifth came around, I started bracing myself for the pain, sort of like grabbing the “Oh Shit” handle when sitting in the passenger seat of a skidding car.

Edgar Renteria hit a one-out gap shot in the bottom of the fifth for St. Louis, forcing Damon to his right to make an excellent play to keep the ball from getting by, only to mis-plant and slip when turning to throw. With the trip-up, Renteria easily reaches second and just moments later, heads to third on an uncharacteristic past ball by Jason Varitek (assuming that he isn’t catching the knuckleball). My stomach hurt. “Here it comes,” I thought.

This is how we think, you see. Instead of seeing even the ONE run that Renteria represented with the Cardinals needing three to tie, I saw St. Louis taking the game and eventually the series. Imagine my amazement when D-Lowe got out of the inning scoreless.

My stomach hurt twice more, in addition, of course, to the whole strange feeling that the evening produced. The first time came about a quarter past eight (MST), when having shown every picture of Babe Ruth and after replaying every embarrassing and strangely cruel moment in Red Sox history and finding that the BoSox were still winning, Chris Myers (a former respectable member of the ESPN crew, turned into gossip reporter for Fox Sports) headed to the stands to interview some Sox fans, and one young idiot in particular. Probably about twelve years-old, this jackass, with an accent thicker than a genius janitor from MIT, proudly exclaimed, "I can't wait to come back (to Massachusetts) and brag that I got to see the Red Sox win the World Series." And here’s the strange thing: his father, seated immediately to the boy’s right, did not beat him to tears. The man didn’t even give him a quick backhand. Nothing! Meanwhile, in the overpriced Salt Lake City sports bar that I sat at, those of us sitting at the bar; most of us transplants from Massachusetts, the others being those lucky enough to have a direct connection with us and the Sox (the bandwagon fans had to remain behind us, of course); all simultaneously knocked on the wood of our seats while expletives flew.

“Well, he is young,” my friend, Matt, said in his defense. More expletives flew. Miraculously, the Sox kept rolling. Honestly, if this was any other year, and in particular, last year, immediately after that kid opened his mouth on national television, the Bush administration would have deemed baseball Unconstitutional, citing an obscure reference in the USA Patriot Act.

The final stomach pangs came in the last inning, when after bringing Keith Foulke in, Albert Pujols singled off of him. (For those not in the know, “Pujols” is pronounced “Poo-Holes,” which has prompted my ever-creative friend, Kathleen, to decidedly call him “Outhouse.” God bless her.) Pujols’ single was only the fourth Cardinal hit of the evening -- only the fourth! -- and yet, the bad thoughts came rolling right back. I tried to fight it off by continuing to count outs to a Boston championship, which I refused to begin doing, incidentally, until there were 12 to go. After getting the next two batters, Renteria was back up and I wondered if this could be it.

I was having trouble sitting, but had to sit as I hadn’t been standing before (if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it). My feet kicking the bar, my ass not so much on the stool, but hovering above it, I remember questioning if this could really be happening and also, where Renteria would hit the ball, knowing that a World Series could not end with a strikeout or an impressive play in the outfield. Sticking to the rule, he dribbled a ball right to Foulke to end the game and clear the slates. Eighty-six years of ghosts and negativity gone, just like that.

There was jumping and a lot of screaming, followed by hugging, mostly with the type of people who don’t normally hug. And celebratory shots (who chose tequila?) were poured. One member of our group was standing atop the bar. And the Utah people who liked the Sox, but didn’t really understand what was happening, congratulated us like we were the folks on the field, proving again that they didn’t really understand.

Of course, part of me wishes I was home for last night. Even despite that, and despite Joe Buck’s and Tim McCarver’s attempts at being the most annoying and un-informed broadcasters in the history of the sport; despite Fox’s over-commercialized presentation of all of post-season baseball and its choice to run with close-ups of ugly fans or tight shots of players’ ankles instead of showing pitches; despite everything, last night was an incredible night.

I was lucky enough to be able to follow it up -- after watching the post-game celebrations with my Sox crew, of course -- by seeing Martin Sexton perform a fantastic show. The drinking and celebrating continued. I walked around this wet city with a dumb grin, enjoying the birth of my new life of optimism.


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