A Day For Reflection

Today, they rest. Two ugly losses, of two different colors: Tuesday’s pathetic 14-2 blowout, and last night’s painful 5-4 defeat. So now, we find ourselves – once again – at the precipice. No analysis is needed, no charts or graphs or brilliant ideas. Just 3 wins, in a row.
So instead of all that, I offer three vignettes from three days; the fulcrum games of each of our most recent death-defying comebacks.
October 9th, 1999
I was in my junior year of college in ’99, in suburban New York. Back in the dark days before every college dorm room had cable hookups, there was only one way for me to watch the playoffs, in one of the campus TV rooms. There, in the same room in which I watched all 4 games of the 1998 ALDS, I saw Cleveland lay down a hammer on us in Game 2. The final score was 11-1, and it ended an hour before I got into a car for the drive up to Boston for Game 3. It was a long, long drive.
Two days later, I sat there at Fenway. Ramon Martinez was starting, in what was widely seen as a desperation move; Pedro’s big brother had been decent in the second half of that year, but no one knew how he could compete with the juggernaut that was the Indians’ lineup. Yet, compete he did: the score was knotted at 0 through three, and though Martinez gave up a run in the top of the 4th, the turnaround was about to begin. The turnaround had a name: Jaret Wright.
In the bottom of the fifth, Hargrove lifted starter Dave Burba, who was going on short rest. Out of the pen came Wright, who was universally hated in Boston for a couple beanballs earlier in the season. From the moment his foot touched the outfield grass, 35,000 Fenway fans chanted his name: ‘Jaaaarettttt, Jaaaarettttt’ in unison. There’s no proof that it spooked him, but he was off from the start. A single to Merloni, a double to Tek, a single off the bat of Darren Lewis, a sac fly from Trot, and the Sox led 2-1. The Indians clawed back in the top of the 6th to tie, but a leadoff homer by Valentin in the bottom of the inning gave the Sox the lead again. Top 7, another Cleveland run, but that would be the last time they tied the game: a torrent of Boston runs in the bottom of the 7th was highlighted by a Valentin RBI double and a Brian Daubach homerun that remains one of the most iconic homers I’ve seen off a Sox bat (inexplicably; I remember it perfectly, right down to the moment the PA system started playing Blur’s ‘Song 2′). The Red Sox would not lose another game in that series. I would wait in line early the next morning for tickets to the next day’s 23-7 blowout, and would watch the amazing 5th game in my parents’ basement with my father and assorted friends. It was, until recently, the greatest series I’d ever seen, and it started that one night at Fenway, with 35,000 chanting a name.
October 4th, 2003
After two games as frustrating as tonight’s, the Oakland Athletics looked poised to finally overcome their first round jinx and roll into the ALCS, opponent to be determined. Back at Fenway for games 3 and 4, I was alone in my Brooklyn apartment, waiting for a good moment to slip out. You see, I had a birthday party to attend; normally I’d skip it, but it was for a girl I had a fairly big thing for, and priorities tend to blur together in such situations. So I sat. I watched the Sox take an early lead, though it never felt like they deserved it, only holding the A’s scoreless through their own stupidity. In the 6th, however, the A’s got a run across on an error by Nomar, surrounded by further Oakland stupidity on the basepaths that could have made the inning far worse. At that point, I was an hour late, facing a 45 minute subway ride, and I had to go.
I got to the bar in time for the ninth. In a Sox cap, wearing a secret Sox t-shirt beneath my best sweater, I simply couldn’t resist. The girl was in the back room, I was up front watching the tight 1-1 game creep deeper into the night.
Finally, in the 11th inning, Trot Nixon stepped to the plate with Doug Mirabelli on first and one out. I stood, too tense to stay still. The bat cracked, the ball flew, and I watched a tiny TV from across a crowded bar; I thought it was a harmless fly out at first. Instead, the ball settled just over the center field wall, and the Sox were alive. I screamed like a fool, and did an actual victory lap around the bar; as one might imagine, this was not a popular choice in a Manhattan bar, but I barely cared. If they wanted to beat me within an inch of my life they could; at least the Sox were still alive.
October 17th, 2004
There’s no story here, more or less. Just a mood piece. I lived alone in a studio apartment in Toronto, in exile in a land that couldn’t care less about the sport I loved. Yet all of a sudden, after the 19-8 game, everyone seemed to know it. I wore my Sox cap that day, and everywhere I went people talked to me. “You know they’re down 3-0, right?” As it turns out I was. “Think they’re gonna win?” We’ll see. My brain screamed no. Of course, we’d all had the same thought that Millar had had: if we win tomorrow, it’s Pedro and Schill and… but there was no way. To me it was an ironclad rule: no one did that. No one could. No one ever would.
And then, Kevin Millar walked. And Dave Roberts stole. And it was Bill Mueller, whose homerun into the Yankee bullpen on July 24th had sparked the second half, facing down the man that served that homer up: Mariano Rivera. And then a single. And then Dave Roberts seemingly sliding, leaping, fist-pumping, and running off the field in one fluid perfect motion.
And then David Ortiz.
I did no work that week, or that month. I got less sleep. I spent that night battling with myself, rationality telling me it was a dying gasp, everything else saying it might be a start. I made the Sox a deal: if they lost the next game, it would be okay. I’d be hurt, but it wouldn’t do anything to me that 2003 hadn’t. But if they won Game 5, they’d better win the whole thing. Because that… that my heart couldn’t take.
And win they did.