I’m finding myself at a loss for words this morning, but not because I don’t know what to say. It’s more that I don’t know what else to say.
The Red Sox won the World Series.
I mean, we’ve been writing and living this story for months now. Words on top of words about a team that lived to defy expectations and bring happiness to a city that had experienced so much pain. And last night, as the Sox stormed the field, danced around the mound and proceeded to get blindingly drunk for at least the fifth time this fall, that same story hovered over everything.
You may have confused it with smoke from the post-game fireworks, but you were wrong. That wasn’t smoke. It was a thick layer of narrative.
“The team that no one believed in.”
“The title that no one saw coming.”
“Boston Strong. Boston Strong. And Boston Strong.”
Ultimately, that will be the legacy of the 2013 Red Sox. It’s too real and powerful to ignore. But last night, in the championship moment, and today, in the immediate aftermath, it doesn’t feel quite right.
Not so much the Boston Strong stuff. I’ll admit that it was uncomfortable to watch the FOX broadcast team obsessively steer the celebration in that direction, but that’s it. I wrote about “Boston Strong” at the beginning of this series and the one thing that experience taught me is that it’s ridiculous and unnecessary for any one individual to even try to put Boston Strong into perspective. It means too many different things to too many different people and should just be left at that.
But everything else —
The story of redemption.
The rags to riches season.
The idea that those initial Red Sox expectations were anything more than lazy, short-sighted expectations (DISCLAIMER: I was as lazy and short-sighted as anyone), and that this World Series title is somehow beyond belief.
None of that was actually present last night at Fenway. It was nothing more than postgame smoke. While those storylines might have powered the Sox through those days and weeks after the Marathon and the monotony of a long regular season (not to mention, the fact that nothing in Red Sox Nation is real until the playoffs start), each one had long since found closure.
Before Jon Lester even threw the first pitch in Game 1 against Tampa, this team and every player in that clubhouse had been redeemed. World Series or not, the Red Sox had risen from the ashes. If they hadn’t already erased the memory of the previous two seasons, they’d left those memories feeling like 25 years ago. Sure, there were still a few unconditional haters, some other folks still on the fence, but by and large, this was a team that everyone believed in. The Sox weren’t defying expectations with every win along their path to the World Series. Hell, at the end of the regular season, Vegas installed Boston as the World Series favorites.
More recently, they were favored to beat the Cardinals in the World Series. And the fact that they did is so perfectly awesome.
I was at Fenway last night, and sitting to my right, two rows up, there was this much older man (I’d guess mid-70s) who spent most of the game quietly keeping score. And he wasn’t writing on some cheap scorecard that had been stapled into his World Series program. It was part of a book, with pages and pages of scorecards. It looked like he’d been using that thing for 35 years. He was at the game with his wife, but he was pretty much just there by himself, totally consumed by every pitch. He stood up when Fenway stood up. He clapped when there was reason to clap. But for the most part, he was calm and collected. In his own world. Maybe that was a matter age and experience or any number other things, but either way, I became kind of fascinated by this guy. In reality, I’m fascinated by anyone I see keeping score at baseball games, but this went a little beyond that.
By the bottom of the ninth inning, the celebration was already on. Of course, a little doubt crept in in the top of the seventh, when John Lackey got into trouble, talked his way into another batter and then left the game with two outs and the bases loaded. But it took Junichi Tazawa only two pitches to make that all that disappear.
Have you ever gone to a game with a ticket that you printed out online? If so, you’re familiar with the unavoidable split second of panic between the moment you hand the usher your piece of paper and the moment he scans it on the machine, when you’re absolutely convinced your ticket is fake. But then it’s not. He smiles, hands it back and you instantly move on like the panic never happened. Last night, that split second was every one of Tazawa’s warm up pitches. But once the game resumed, the panic was gone. Never happened. Nothing had changed.
Brandon Workman dominated the eighth, and then Koji Uehara came out for the ninth. He had to. Even if the Sox were up 60-1 instead of 6-1 there was no other way for this season to end.
At this point, Fenway was a full on party. It was like that old SNL commercial for “The Sing-Along with Drunken Asses” compilation. Every song that came over the speakers was accompanied by thousands and thousands of fans screaming out every word, or what they thought was every word, dancing in the aisles and soaking in awesomeness. No one looked bewildered by the moment. There was no sense — not then, or at any point in the entire game — of disbelief. Not even a hint of “How is this possible? This can’t be real!!”
Because it was real. This team was real. They were good enough to win it all. They always were.
Koji got John Jay to fly out to left on the second pitch. He got Daniel Descalso to fly out to left on the fourth pitch. Finally, Matt Carpenter stepped up to the plate and Fenway was boiling over. Flash bulbs everywhere. Phones in the air, preserving this moment in history. At this point, I see the old man in front of me whip out his own phone. It was a flip phone that couldn’t have been made any later than 2005, so I knew he wasn’t trying to take a video. Instead, he started dialing a number, put the phone to his ear, and then screamed to whoever was on the other end:
“I JUST WANTED YOU TO HEAR THE FINAL OUT!”
Then he calmly raised his phone in the air, alongside all the others, and let the end of an unforgettable Red Sox season speak for itself.
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