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Watching the Red Sox Clinch

game nightI’ve had multiple requests about Monday’s game. I don’t think I could describe it, couldn’t do it justice. I got enough requests that  I’ll give it a try.

I’ll set the stage a bit by saying that I was at Sunday’s game, the loss, the night before.  That was a long, slow, game, but dramatic and filled with emotion.  Beckett was clearly off.  I give the Sox credit for being close.  Still, it was draining and hurt the spirit.  

Side note: I think that is the first game in Fenway I’ve been to with more than 39,000 attendees.  Is that a record for the modern era?

Monday’s game had a different atmosphere.  Sunday people had arrived hoping to cheer a coronation.  Monday people came to cheer a win, but with a healthy fear for a loss.  Game 5 in Anaheim was a grim prospect, so Game 4 was a quasi-must-win game.

People were ready to stand and cheer.  Virtually any 2-out situation or key at-bat brought some of the crowd to its feet.  The rules were unclear, though.  It wasn’t unusual to look out at the park and see whole swaths of the park standing, then a bright line of division with a swath of sitters.  Who could tell what made one section stand or sit.  In my section, the very front rows tended to sit, but everyone else stood.  I was often the front-most stander, and that was a bit odd.  I really didnt’ care.

angels idiotThere were very few Angel fans.  I didn’t see any on Sunday and saw one on Monday.  I think he might have been the reason so many people stayed seated in front of me – they didn’t want to be like him, standing alone in the second row.  He got ejected eventually.

Lester was pitching a gem, and everyone knew it.  The question in my mind was whether or not the Red Sox offense would find the stroke.  They were 9 innings into a shutout streak, and you can never tell when those will break.  When the Sox got two in the fifth, the stress relaxed a half-notch. No one was writing any conclusions, but you had to like being ahead 2-0 better than the alternatives.

When the 6th and 7th passed without any threat, you started to feel a rise in expectations.  The math kicks in: “only six more outs!”  And then the Angels struck.

gametimeOkajima started smoothly with two outs.  He walked Teixeira.  A two-out walk seemed harmless enough, but with Guerrero coming up, it’s a bigger deal than you’d think.  Masterson came in and walked Guerrero.  It’s hard to blame him.  In person, Guerrero is downright scary.  He has no meaningful strike zone.  His bat can hit anything, anywhere.  Then Torii Hunter.  The situation was still manageable, still room for error: a single wouldn’t be fatal.  Just get by.  Then there was the passed ball, and suddenly it was second and third.  No more room for error.  And just like that, the mistake – single to Hunter, tie game.  Masterson got out of the inning from there.

Here’s where words fail me.  The game is frozen, but still moving.  Maybe it’s me frozen.  But the pitches keep coming, each one of them filled with risk and hope.  The game  can change now now now now now but it doesn’t change.  We’re all stuck in this weird limbo, hopeful, fearful, unable to change the outcome, unable to predict the outcome, just stuck.   We cheer, we sit, we stand, but we’re all just stuck.

The feeling changes in the ninth with an Angels lead-off double – you can feel the earth tilt against you.  Then a picture-perfect bunt gets the runner to third.  You know that the odds are really stacked against the Sox now.  The Angels are likely to score, and you know that the Sox are unlikely to muster another two runs, having scored only two in the last 18 innings.  Then, still frozen, something crazy happens that you can’t see too clearly, as Varitek charges up the third base line after a pitch.  Then you see the ball bounce away, and you know that you are doomed. Still frozen, but now doomed and frozen.  You wait for the Angel to run home.  Instead, he turns and walks into his dugout.

As you all know, what actually happened was that Varitek tagged him, then dropped the ball.  On the far side of third base in an unexpected place, you can’t tell that from the bleachers.  From the bleachers, it feels like a miracle just happened.  I was in shock, but I told Twitter what I knew. The top of the ninth passed without damage.

Then the bottom of the ninth.  It was never a sure thing, a nice one-out double, a close two-out single.  The night before had been full of chances, but no runs.  You knew there was hope, but until the run crossed the plate, it was only potential.  We’d seen potential fail before, and fail recently.  When the run crossed the plate it was joy, releif, and happy mayhem.

billy dunnI stuck around the park, smiling like a fool, cheering and shouting.  I watched the team on the screen in the lockeroom, watched them come out onto the field.  I watched their young kids sprint around the infield.  I watched them douse the cop, Billy Dunn, with champagne.  I decided that there were too many lingerers and the party was going to run out of steam before anything magical happened and  I went home.

I spent Tuesday hoarse, tired, and still a bit shell-shocked.

And that is what it’s like to be there when your team wins the ALDS.


Comment from Rik Waero
Time: October 10, 2008, 9:13 am

Great report, thanks!

Congrats, good luck in the ALCS

Comment from Jeff Siegle
Time: October 10, 2008, 2:04 pm

Dan — How great that you got to be there, and this is such a thorough and compelling write-up. Thanks for taking the time to put pen to paper, and the magic of the experience is well captured. Thanks, and enjoy the ALCS – wish I could be there