Redemption, and more


Score: 6-1 Boston / WP: Lackey (3-1) / LP: Wacha (4-1)  / BOS HR: Drew (1)

When Stephen Drew (note the moniker) homered, we knew it was over.

Drew’s 4th-inning blast redeemed his postseason of strikeouts and pop-ups; one-time goat John Lackey’s 6.2 innings of stellar one-run ball had a capacity crowd at Fenway chanting his name as he walked off the mound; and the Red Sox’ 6-1, Game 6 victory over St. Louis clinched the World Series and cemented the Bearded Boys of Boston among the great Red Sox teams of all time, setting off a World Series celebration at Fenway Park for the first time since 1918.

I almost wasn’t there. Rodrigo was hesitant to let me come, for whatever reason, and when he caved he wasn’t happy about it. But I sure was. My train to Boston got in at 8:07, and I listened on radio as I took the train to the park. Walking from Back Bay station to Copley, it struck me how empty the streets seemed. Duh: everyone was inside watching the Sox.


Perhaps my favorite tradition ever, including Christmas

I got to the park in time for the top of the second inning. I’ve never seen it so packed. I could hardly walk down Landsdowne street, and the line for the Cask and Flagon stretched halfway to Kenmore Square.  And yet the park itself was strangely quiet. A few cheers flared and died in the bleachers. People were nervous, collectively holding their breath. Seeing the Sox have the chance to win a World Series at home has some gravity to it. It hasn’t happened in 95 years. Winning at home versus winning on the road is like the whole city being there versus watching on TV. Whether you have a ticket or not, if they win at home, you were there.  Around the third inning, I realized that there might be no-one alive who had seen the Sox win a series at Fenway. And after 5 heart-pounding games (well, four heart-stoppers and one cruiser) we weren’t sure we would see them do it tonight. Lackey looked great out of the gate, striking out Jon Jay on a cureveball to end a second-and-third threat in the second. The Sox had some runners on early, but we went to the bottom of the third tied at zero.

With two out and two on, Wacha hit Jonny Gomes with a 1-1 pitch, bringing up Shane Victorino and queuing his walk-up music, “3 Little Birds.” Ever since it became clear mid-summer that the Sox were here to stay, the fans have been singing the refrain, “Every little thing, is gonna be alright!” with gusto. Tonight, with the World Series on the line, was the best rendition yet. Victorino had missed the last two games in St. Louis with a bad back. But the Flyin’ Hawaiian was ready for action and ready for a 2-1 fastball from Wacha that he belted off the Monster for a three-run double. 3-0 Sox, and Fenway was pandemonium. The blanket of nervous silence evaporated in an instant and suddenly Fenway was pulsing. Xander Bogaerts lined out to end the frame, but the Sox were up. Lackey got a 1-2-3 fourth and the Sox were back to the dish. Who but Stephen Drew leading off. And Drew, lost at the plate since the ALCS, took the first pitch from Wacha and demolished it into the Sox pen. Carlos Beltran didn’t even move. And that was when we knew. The planets don’t align for Stephen Drew to hit that home run without also aligning for the Red Sox to win. Redemption was in the air. But for good measure, the Sox tacked on two more runs in the inning, setting in motion a parade of pitchers from the desperate Cardinals and setting the stands buzzing, counting outs. Jacoby Ellsbury, in what might be his final game for Boston, doubled in the inning and scored his second run of the ballgame. By the time Xander Bogaerts struck out swinging to end the inning against the third Cardinals pitcher of the frame, it was 6-0 Sox.


Jonny Gomes slides home on Shane Victorino’s double, beating Yadier Molina’s tag by inches at most

Jon Lackey continued to deal into the 7th, when he got two outs before letting two men reach base and then one score on an 0-2 hit from Carlos Beltran. Farrell emerged from the dugout, and the stands rose to give Lackey his due. But then Farrell was walking back to the dugout alone. Lackey stayed in the game. The crowd loved it, and even though he ended up walking Matt Holliday before being pulled, so did I. That’s what the Sox have done this season: fight for every out, never give in, and that’s what John Lackey told John Farrell he wanted to do. It didn’t work out. But (seeing as we won anyways) it’s the thought that counts. No harm, no foul when Junichi Tazawa got Allen Craig to ground out to end the 7th with the score 6-1 and Lack in line for the win. This was the closest the game had to a tense moment. After 4 games full of them, I was expecting a few, and even hoping for some. But now that I think about it, I didn’t really mind. This postseason has had enough suspense to last a lifetime.  The final innings were like the end of the decathalon, when the result is already decided but the wait to finally and deservedly achieve it is a thrill nonetheless.


But the game wasn’t over yet. The crowd sang “Sweet Caroline” at the top of their lungs in the middle of the inning, knowing it would be the last chance to do so for a while. And then when the top of the ninth rolled around, they yelled themselves hoarse as Koji Uehara emerged from the bullpen amidst a constellation of cellphone camera lights in the stands. I took off my jacket to reveal the Uehara shirt I had bought for this very moment. The first pitch was a strike.

And suddenly there were two outs, two pop flies having settled into the glove of Jonny Gomes, co-captain of beards. Matt Carpenter at the plate. Koji fell behind 2-1, then evened it to 2-2, where Carpenter kept it with a few weak tricklers. Every time Koji brought home the potential season-ending strikeout pitch, the stands hushed for a millisecond. And every time, they re-inflated with cheers as Carpenter tipped it foul. Until the hush fell again as Koji brought home a 2-2 splitter, that danced under Carpenter’s bat and into David Ross’ glove for strike three.


And that was it. The stands and dugout erupted simultaneously with the first notes of “Dirty Water” from the PA. The Jumbotron flashed “2013 World Champions.” David Ortiz, who hit .688 with an OPS of a googleplex, got the series MVP. Bud Selig presented the Series trophy, and then presented the team: “Ladies and gentlemen, your 2013 World Champion Boston Red Sox!”

It was Jonny Gomes, Co-Captain of Beards, who had the most pithy remark after the game. We know this club is built on Sabermetrics, he said. We know about WAR (Wins Above Replacement). But when the playoffs come, on this team, it’s less about WAR, and more about who you want to go to war with.

This team did not win by numbers, and maybe it’s the unpredictability and spirit with which they found ways to win all season that has made this such a special team. That clutch play and heart is what has made these playoffs so much fun. But now we can change tenses: clutch play and heart is what made these playoffs fun. Because there is no one left to Fear the Beard. They’ve all been vanquished. The season is over, and the Red Sox are somehow, some way, World Series champions. Who knows if they will ever shave again. It’s been fun.


The celebration after the came wasn’t chaotic or riotous. It was filled with still more high-fives and yelling, traffic jams and horns honking out of a combination of impatience and jubilation.The throngs from the park mixed with people spilling out of bars and wandering the area. The streets around the park were closed to traffic, and eventually the last crowd of the season at Fenway drifted along them towards home, surveyed by news helicopters hovering overhead, gathering shots for a special late edition. Worst to First. Redemption achieved.

But this was more than redemption. The Sox could have redeemed themselves with a solid season, and certainly with a playoff appearance. They did far more. And that they won it at home wasn’t just a footnote, it was the essence of this postseason and this team, convincing us to believe and root again, delivering a championship on the lawn at Fenway that will certainly go down as one of the great moments not just in the history of Boston sports, but of Boston itself. ESPN, the Globe, everyone agrees: a World Series at Fenway was more than just baseball. But the baseball was pretty damn good too.

My phone was dead before I got to the park, but I would later find that I had 32 text messages about the result of the game. People have been congratulating me personally, as if won the World Series. I guess I’ve kind of made myself into “Red Sox Guy.” There are worse things to be, especially this season. As the game approached its end, I thought back on the games I’d seen this year, starting from the second of the season at freezing Yankee Stadium, which the Sox won 7-4 behind Clay Buchholz. I even remembered having Spring Training games on in the background while doing homework or kicking off a weekend night back in March. This has been a long and involved season for me, whether I was watching David Ortiz’s ALCS grand slam sail into the bullpen or waiting for Rodrigo to return from a walk while listening to Joe and Dave call some nondescript midsummer game on the radio. Like Yogi Berra said, it ain’t over ’till it’s over. But now it’s over, and it ended in the best and least expected way possible. Same time next year?

Game 81

So I didn’t end up going to 81 games this year. At least I don’t think so. But the idea behind the blog’s name was that if I did go to all those games (and I tried), the last one would have been the 81st.

Game 81, here I come.

Game 6 of the World Series is tonight, and I’m currently on a train heading north for Boston. It’s the last game I’ll be able to make it to this season, either because I will be indisposed tomorrow, or because tonight will Be the last game of the season. Here’s to hoping its the latter.

There are all manner of responsible things I could be doing instead of making one last Hajj to Fenway. But after a full season of watching the Sox, and with them having the chance to clinch tonight, I couldn’t not go. The blog must live on for one more game.

Hopefully the next post will be the last. It’s been a special season. Thanks to all of you who for one reason or another have kept reading. If a blog falls in the forest and no no one reads it, then it’s not much of a blog, and you have saved 81 Games from that fate. It’s still not much of a blog, but it’s something. I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading about Rodrigo, and Officer Horgan, and the French-Canadians, and Weekend Drunkards. I hope you’ve enjoyed what I have to say about baseball. And I hope that the next post is a good one to end on. Fear the beard. Go Sox.

Obstruction of Justice

There’s only one thing you can say after a game like that:

Screw you, ump.

Because a hair-brained obstruction call in the bottom of the 9th cost the Red Sox a chance at a hard-earned and heart-pounding win. I usually blog only about games I attend. But I assure you that everyone watching feels like they were at that game. Why else would we all have been screaming ourselves blue in the face after one of the most infuriating calls (following an infuriating throw, to be fair) I have ever seen?

Game 3 was a shitty night all around for the boys in blue. Dana Demeuth seemed to have interpreted the strike zone as “the area extending two inches in all directions from the strike zone,” because he had an itchy arm all night, putting hitters in holes from the get-go. To be fair, Jake Peavy got a few too. But it was the Cardinal’s 100 MPH heaters that were the preeminent beneficiaries, and the Sox had to cope all night. The amazing thing? They did. A stirring 8th inning rally gave them two runs off St. Louis closer Trevor Rosenthal a.k.a. “the Bear Jew” and his flaming heater. I was shouting at the TV in a roomful of uninterested people whom I didn’t know very well and I didn’t care. And this after 7 innings of back-and-forth, crisp, clutch baseball. One of the greatest games I’ve ever seen. Until the end.

Writing this synopsis is like having a flashback. The Cards had a runner on first and one out when Farrell finally went to Koji. But relief was short-lived when his first pitch ended up in the left field corner (god damn NL outfields are huge) and Cardinals ended up on 2nd and 3rd. Death was breathing down our necks. But a few pitches later, Jon Jay hit a sharp grounder that Dustin Pedroia snared with an amazing, game-saving dive. His peg to the plate had Yadier Molina dead to rights. But as Molina was called out at the plate, Allen Craig headed for third, and Salty fired a throw to Middlebrooks. This was the first mistake. The runner had the throw beat, and with two outs, Koji just needed an out – the runner at third wasn’t an existential threat, as it would be with fewer than 2 outs. So when Salty’s throw sailed wide and trickled up the line, the game seemed sure to be over (Salty has also been useless at the plate, striking out with an almost Stephanie Drew-esque freqency).

But as Allen Craig got up to score the winning run, he tripped over Will Middlebrooks, who had dived for the errant throw. Craig’s stumble cost him three steps, which was enough for Daniel Nava to fire to the dish, where the baseball was waiting for Craig and for extra innings to begin. Which they did, when Salty applied the tag, and home plate umpire Dana Demeuth signalled…


This was my approximate reaction. I actually fell to my knees in shock as the call became clear and was not reversed. The worst possible way to end one of the best possible ballgames. What would have been an all-time great play undone by the boys in blue.

Some people have taken to defending the call. If you aren’t a Sox fan and you’re defending the call, whatever, you suck but I can deal with it. If you are a Sox fan and you defend that call? Never mind, because then you’re not a Sox fan.

I admit I have not taken a law school level course on the MLB rule book. But it seems to me that if a fielder dives for the ball, and then a baserunner trips over him – not over his raised legs, but over his body, where he had a right to be after diving for the ball – that runner should just have to deal with it. If you trip over someone’s foot rounding second, well, sucks for you if they were on the bag taking a throw. It’s the same story when Middlebrooks is on the ground having dived for a ball and is outside the baseline.

At the same time: fine, let’s say the rule (a bad one) has spoken. Who says the umps have to listen? A few years ago in the ALCS, the umps called a runner safe at second because the shortstop failed to touch the bag in turning a double play. Makes sense, right? Except that the “neighborhood play” is almost always called as an out, because it makes the game better. The umps interpret the rules to make the games better – that is the purpose of rules, isn’t it? And besides, the rule reads, “If ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner.” The key there is very likely – it purposefully leaves room for interpretation. The baserunner has right of way – one he established a baseline, he gets rights to is. But a fielder has a right to field the ball wherever before a baserunner established his path, which is what Middlebrooks was doing.

Whatever, I’m grabbing at straws. That may well have been the right call. In either case, Saltalamacchia sucks, because without his throw that was 1) pointless and 2) crappy, none of this happens and Koji likely gets us out of the inning. But we’ll never know, will we? A terrible way to ruin a great baseball game. Get ’em tomorrow.


Screw you, ump.

Throwing It Away

Score: 4-2 St. Louis / WP: Wacha (4-0) / LP: Lackey (2-1) / BOS HR: Ortiz (5) / World Series: Tied 1-1

We knew the Cardinals wouldn’t play two ugly games in a row. But no-one expected the Red Sox to play one instead.

A 2-1 lead turned into a 4-2 deficit in the blink of an eye in the 7th, and the Red Sox quite literally threw Game 2 away. They head to St. Louis tied with the Cardinals at 1 game apiece after a contest tough for Sox fans to swallow.

The pre-game atmosphere was much the same today as yesterday, maybe even a little amplified, because now not only were the Sox playing in a World Series, they were leading one. The parade of picture-takers looking for Officer Horgan continued today, and I chronicled a few of them.

So Officer Horgan was busy. As were we, passing out World Series sweatshirts and women’s and kids’  World Series t-shirts as fast as we could (we have no men’s t-shirts, for some reason – maybe “compliance,” as Rodrigo puts it so vaguely). The mess we made with the shirts wasn’t helped by the guy who was passing out flyers about Jesus with “The Road to Redemption” printed on the front next to a picture of a baseball on fire. Perhaps this is meant to imply that God has a blazing fastball, and he will not hesitate to smite you in on the hands and saw off your bat with it. Or perhaps the guy just figured that Sox fans’  enthusiasm for beards would make people more likely to accept Jesus, himself hirsute, although I think that might backfire (“Yo, who’s the bearded dude on that flyer?” “I think it’s Mike Napoli.” “Yeah, you’re probably right.”)

The game started well for the Sox, with Lackey – coming off maybe his best and certainly his biggest start in a Sox uniform  – matching Cards’ phenom Michael Wacha (pronounced wahck-ah) zero for zero through three. Lack looked sharp, striking out four over his first three innings, but Wacha, who brings the heat at 94-96, looked as good if not better, despite the bleachers letting him hear it with a “WA-CHA, WA-CHA!” chant through the first 6. So when Matt Holliday led off the 4th with a tremendous triple to center, the run he represented at third was a big one. Of course Dustin Pedroia responded by keeping him at third with a sprawling grab of a Matt Adams line drive for the inning’s first out. But that was his one great play for the inning, and so when Yadier Molina followed it with a chopper towards the middle, Pedey chose to go to first rather than throw home, and the Cards were on the board.

The score stayed 1-0 through 5, Wacha’s heater and occasional change proving too much for the Sox, who had only two hits to that point and weren’t playing with much life. When Jacoby Ellsbury reached with two out in the 3rd, he stayed planted at first for Shane Victorino to fly out, further delaying that mano-a-mano with Yadier Molina, the Human Howitzer. But the Sox’ grinding approach paid off when Wacha, having thrown 102 pitches and visibly tiring, came home with a 3-2 6th-inning change-up to David Ortiz only to see Papi lose it into the first row of the Monster seats for a two-run bomb. The crowd demanded a curtain call and got one from a slugger who despite his age has never been better than he’s been this postseason.


Big Papi takes a high change-up from Michael Wacha and does what he does best with it

I was unfortunately outside for that moment, and by the time I got inside, the game had begun to slide downhill. John Lackey got an out, then let two runners reach in the 7th before being pulled for Craig Breslow. A good start for Lack, right? And Breslow is almost automatic these days? Not so much. Because here was where “throwing the game away” came into play.

After a double steal on which Salty failed to even get a throw off, Breslow walked Daniel Descalso to load the bases for Matt Carpenter with one out. Carpenter, a lefty, got the count to 1-1 before flipping a soft fly ball to left field. Jonny Gomes made the catch, but Pete Kozma was charging home with the tying run. A good throw gets him, and the fans demanded one, but Gomes missed up the first base line and the game was tied. But it got worse, because as the ball bounced away from Saltalamacchia to Breslow backing up the play, Jon Jay and Descalso broke for second and third, and Breslow picked up the ball in a vain attempt to gun down Jay. But he sailed the throw into the grandstand instead, and another run game in to give the Cards a 3-2 lead. Carlos Beltran followed with an RBI single, and it was 4-2, where it would stay.


Yeah, Craig, that throw did suck.

They had two on and two out in the 8th, but Mike Napoli got sawed off and popped to short. There was no joy in Mudville tonight. The Sox certainly have spirit, but spirit is no match for a 98 MPH fastball pinned to the outside corner, of which Boston got 11 straight in striking out in order against Cards’ closer Trevor Rosenthal to end Game 2. Daniel Nava came off the bench to make the final out; Jonny Gomes has been starting for him, which I had been ok with for vague reasons that I’ll file under “mojo,” but Gomes doesn’t have a hit yet in the Series and is hitting .156 for the postseason. Nava hit righties at well over .300 this season, and we need that against the Cards’ fireballing right-handed starters. As much as I love Gomes, and the unorthodox way the Sox have been winning, it’s time for mojo to give way to mash.


Put him in, coach

We knew this Series was going to be a good one. And result aside, tonight was a good contest, albeit frustrating (Mike Napoli, aside from his appearance in the 8th with two on, also came to bat in the 3rd with two on and nobody out. He hit into a double play). In my ideal world, the Sox win in 6 (I couldn’t make it to a Game 7). A series between two evenly matched and excellent teams deserves to last. Once it’s over, it’s a long, cold, baseball-less winter, and wouldn’t it be nice to go into that with a World Series trophy in the bag? But let’s take this a game at a time.

No-Shave October

Score: 8-1 Boston / WP: Lester (3-1) / LP: Wainwright (2-2) / BOS HR: Ortiz (4) / World Series: 1-0 Boston 

You know you’re a big deal when the Onion starts to make fun of you. But these Sox knew they were the real deal all along.

The Bearded Boys of Boston took Game 1 of the 2013 World Series from the St. Louis Cardinals in convincing fashion, shelling Adam Wainwright while getting 7.2 shutout innings from Jon Lester. After a grueling and brilliant series against Detroit, in which all but one game was still in question as late as the 8th inning, the Sox thoroughly outplayed the best team the National League has to offer


A lot has happened since my last post, but I’ll give you the abridged version: The Red Sox, and their beards, are in the World Series. What a ride it’s been. Who knew that No-Shave November would be moved up a month. Who knew that Fenway Park would see the return of October baseball this year, and late October baseball (it was cold tonight!) at that? Everyone in the clubhouse says they believed from Day 1 of Spring Training. Suffice to say it took the rest of us a little longer. But now there’s nothing left to doubt. I picked a good season to chronicle in quasi-entirety. 
I showed up to my first ever World Series game at 4:30 to help Rodrigo set up, first dropping by the team store to buy a Koji Uehara player shirt. There was a distinct and different feel in the air around the park and among the crowds, everyone in the area wearing at least one article of Sox gear, every mundane “Howyadoin?” or “Excuse me” infused with an unstated, “It’s the WORLD SERIES.” The statues next to our stand – of Ted Williams, the Teammates, and Carl Yastremski – had all been fitted with garish red beards earlier in the day by who else but Kevin Millar, who can never resist an opportunity to act ridiculous for the cameras. But the most recognizable beard in the area was that of officer Steve Horgan, the Boston cop who famously threw his hands in the air to celebrate David Ortiz’ ALCS grand slam. He was stationed next to our stand, and had to entertain a constant flow of people who wanted to get their picture taken with the famous bullpen cop in his trademark pose. Horgan dealt with it like a champ. I remarked to him that this seemed like the definition of 15 minutes of fame.
To be honest, it hadn’t really hit me that I was at the World Series until Mary J. Blige, singing the the National Anthem, paused one line before the end of the song. This confused me for a second, until a distant rumble suddenly morphed into the cataclysmic roar of four F-18 fighter jets streaking overhead, dragging tails of orange afterburner behind them, as they completed the pre-game flyover. That’s when it hit me. And then the World Series began.
Everyone keeps talking about how this is going to be a great series, and I still think it’s going to be. But the first inning shook those convictions. Jon Lester sliced through the Cardinals 1-3 hitters, but Adam Wainwright, whose curveball I worried might be the stuff of Mike Napoli’s nightmares, did not do the same. Well, he almost did. After Jacoby Ellsbury worked a walk and Dustin Pedroia singled with one out, David Ortiz came up with two on. On a 2-1 pitch, he hit a chopper to the second baseman, who flipped on for the first out of a double play – except Cardinals’ shortstop Pete Kozma dropped the ball on the transfer at second, and Ortiz was safe at first. Or was it on the transfer? The stands in right field, where they can see TV replays, suddenly started going berserk. Replay showed that Kozma never had the ball – Pedroia should have been safe at second. Jon Farrell came out of the dugout to argue the point, which I assumed was lost.
But then the umpires did something unusual: tacitly admitting that that they are not omniscient beings, they conferenced on the field and called Pedroia back to second safely.
Bases loaded, one out for Mike Napoli, with the Sox needing to exorcise their Detroit demons and do some scoring. Mike (whose Texas Rangers lost in crushing fashion to the Cardinals two years ago) promptly delivered, crushing a 2-0 pitch up the gap in left for a three run double, and the Sox never looked back. In the second, with the bases loaded again  (Yadier Molina and Wainwright had let a Stephen Drew popup fall between them – I thought these guys were good?) and one out, Ortiz came to bat again. Only Carlos Beltran kept him from becoming something close to a living god when he reached over the bullpen fence in right to take away what would have been effectively a game-ending slam for Papi – in the second inning. (Maybe the Cards wish Beltran had let it go – they lost anyways, and Beltran’s collision with the wall had him in an ambulance to Mass General within a few innings). 
The line of beers is a nice touch

The line of beers is a nice touch

It ended up being a sacrifice fly, though, and that was more than enough for a dominant Jon Lester. Although his results had been good in the ALCS, he hadn’t looked all that great. That changed tonight, as the power lefty spun a gem, ringing up 8 Cardinals and pitching out of a few jams along the way to 7 and 2/3 innings of shutout World Series baseball. Against a tough lineup like St. Louis, that’s something special. I’ve always loved watching Lester pitch and starts like this one are the reason. Add the inherent drama of a World Series start, and you’ve got a performance that people might be talking about for a while. 
After so many white-knuckle stomach turners against Detroit, a game that was so easy so early was a surprise. In the stands, people took it in with relaxed enthusiasm, knowing it was the World Series but enjoying their relatively steady heart rates. I can’t count the number of fake – or real – beards I saw at the park. It’s a nice kind of fandom, jovial but not explosive, knowing that we’re lucky to be here and enjoying great baseball while it lasts. This was not a pink hat night. 
The Sox tacked on late for good measure, with David Ortiz getting back that home run he thought he had on a two-run shot in the 7th. He hit the first pitch from Cardinals’ reliever Kevin Seitgrist a mile into the Sox ‘pen, thoughtfully putting it where no outfielder would hurt himself trying to catch it. Seitgrist had a 0.45 ERA during the regular season. Welcome to the American League.
Oh yeah, I also ran into John Smoltz

Oh yeah, I also ran into John Smoltz and almost managed to smile about it

When Ryan Dempster finally struck out Matt Adams to end the game a little past 11:15, the still-packed house at Fenway celebrated sealing a victory that had seemed sure innings before. Never mind the lack of suspense: it was a World Series game, and for a blowout, a pretty good one, with plenty of big moments. Jon Lester threw a gem. It was awesome, but I can’t say I expect tomorrow to be as easy. The Cardinals aren’t going to make 3 errors again. Either way, I’ll be there. The blog is just going to keep going until this whole thing is over, one way or another. I guess it’s kind of like a beard.

Grand Papi

Score: 6-5 Boston / WP: Uehara (1-1) / LP: Porcello (0-1) / BOS HR: Ortiz (3) / Series: 1-1

It couldn’t end this way. So it didn’t.

Four outs away from another punishing loss and from watching their magical season slip further and further away, having waved helplessly at Max Scherzer’s pitches all night, the Boston Red Sox came storming back thanks to a two-out 8th inning grand slam by David Ortiz and a walkoff single an inning later from Jarrod Saltalamacchia to tie the ALCS.

I’ve never seen anything like that and I doubt I will again. This is why we watch.


Swing and a drive…

It didn’t start out that way. I showed up at the stand around 6, and every other customer who came by asked if we would get a hit tonight. One of the few who didn’t was a French Canadian who asked if we had a hat that would fit his toddler son, and when we pointed to the toddler hats, he tried it on. When it didn’t fit, he put it back. Not sure what he hoped to gain from that.

But the happenings at the stand were a footnote tonight. The game did not begin well for the Sox. Clay looked sharp early on, his only hiccup an RBI single by Alex Avila in the second. But Max Scherzer looked sharper, and by the end of the 3rd, he had 7 strikeouts, the Sox didn’t have a hit, and Sox fans everywhere — including in center field, where my Dad and I were sitting — were getting an uneasy sense of deja vu. Buchholz continued to pitch well through the 5th, with some help from an amazing stop by Dustin Pedroia, but the Sox swung worse than Clay was good. They didn’t have a hit through 5 innings. They had struck out 9 times. And eventually the pressure to be perfect got to Buchholz, who collapsed in the 6th inning, giving up a home run to Miguel Cabrera and then a two-run bomb to Alex Avila later in the inning to make it 5-0, at which point Buchholz left the game. With the Sox totally lost at the plate, it didn’t look good. Sox fans were getting into screaming matches with each other in the stands, with one guy who sounded close to tears telling others repeatedly to “SHUT THE FUCK UP.” A fan literally tore Avila’s home run ball away from a woman to throw it back onto the field. The wheels were coming off. The coach was becoming a pumpkin.

I had absolutely no voice at this point, having yelled it away yesterday and then undone any healing over the earlier innings. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t try, along with a few others in Section 36, to get the shell-shocked crowd into it. We needed a hit. And we got one in the bottom of the inning, a two-out single from Victorino to break up the no-no. And then we got an RBI double from Dustin Pedroia to bring the stands back to life. But that was all we got; Papi struck out to end the 6th, and then the Sox went 1-2-3 in the 7th, which ended Scherzer’s outing: 7 innings, one run, 13 strikeouts. By the time the middle of the 8th rolled around, there wasn’t much energy in the crowd’s performance of “Sweet Caroline.” If the Sox stayed cold, just rolled over and lost this game, I can’t say I’d have high hopes for the rest of the series. I wanted to believe, but the Sox were making it difficult. I had my rally cap on.

The crowd knew the hour was late. We were on our feet for the bottom of the 8th, which Stephen Drew opened with a groundout to short on one pitch. But then Will Middlebrooks doubled down the line. And then Jacoby Ellsbury took a 3-2 pitch away for a walk. Two on. Shane Victorino waved at a 2-2 slider and missed. Two out. Dustin Pedroia came up and punched a line drive into right, with Middlebrooks stopping at third. Bases loaded. 5-1 score. Who but David Ortiz coming to the plate.

David Ortiz is a great hitter. For a while, we called him a great clutch hitter, until the sabermatricians took that away from us, saying there was no such thing. But I think most Red Sox fans still believe that David Ortiz possesses some form of voodoo magic that he keeps in one of his necklaces all season, waiting for October to begin. The evidence is all there: his walkoff to win the ’04 ALDS; the entire ’04 ALCS; his home run in Game 5 in 2008. Papi is the only guy left from ’04; he knows magic. But it had been a while since it was all on the line with David Ortiz at the plate. Here we were again.  Something like a prayer was going through the stands. We all knew that the Red Sox could just about lose the series right then and there. Or they could not.

And they didn’t.

David Ortiz, Big Papi, postseason hero for the ages, delivered what will surely rank among his greatest moments with a line drive grand slam over the glove of Tori Hunter and into the Red Sox bullpen on Joaquin Benoit’s first offering. Off the bat, we knew it was smoked, but we didn’t know if it was high enough, and when it landed in the ‘pen (with Tori tumbling after it), it was like everyone in the stands had won the lottery at once. It was madness, magic, who knows what else. In a season full of unforgettable moments, this was the best by a mile. The game was tied.


This gem of a freeze frame features a cop who happens to work outside our gate

On came Koji for the top of the 9th, now serenaded by as loud and electric a crowd as you are ever going to see. Everyone knew they had just seen a once-in-a-lifetime Red Sox moment. But there was still a game to be played. And so Koji did what he does best, getting two popouts and a strikeout and leaving Miguel Cabrera waiting in the on-deck circle.


Jonny Gomes led off the bottom of the 9th. Gomes has been a Sox hero all season, and fortunately he saw no reason to stop just yet, muscling a busted bat grounder deep into the shortstop hole, where Jose Iglesias grabbed it and threw into the Red Sox dugout as Gomes dove headlong into first. Gomes trotted to second, Salty to the plate, where Rick Porcello delivered two quick balls. Salty swung at the next pitch and lofted a popup along first, where Prince Fielder tracked it and had it lined up at the wall when a Sox fan leaned out over and knocked it away from him. I’m sure that guy got ejected, but he jumped on the grenade for the rest of us, because Salty stayed at the plate for the next pitch to bounce in the dirt and all the way to the backstop, putting Jonny Gomes – somehow, someway the winning run – at third base. And after so many innings of struggle, Salty took the next pitch on the ground into left for a game-winning base hit to end one of the greatest baseball contests you’ll ever see. Good night.