By Rich Levine
If you caught "Four Nights in October" last night on ESPN, then youre happy you did.
If you caught it, you spent an hour fighting off chills, maybe even a few tears, and getting lost in what was without question the strangest, most surreal and unimaginable week in Boston sports history. And before the Randy Moss saga brought us back down to reality it felt fantastic.
Anyway, everyone has a story from that epic run, so I figured now was as good a time as any to share mine . . .
"All right, I can't take it anymore. Im heading home."
My instincts were to put up a fight, but when I saw the look in my Dads eyes, I knew he was done. I knew he'd given up. I knew he didn't have it in him to sit through another Red Sox tragedy.
We were less than 24 hours removed from the most demoralizing, soul-crushing playoff beatdown in team history. Now they were losing (again), three outs from the end of the road, with 7-8-9 due up and Mariano Rivera in to finish the job. The Sox would've had a better shot of getting a hit off Steve Nebraska that night. They were toast.
Throw in the fact that it was already past midnight, my Dad had a long ride home and a meeting first thing in the morning, and . . . yeah, OK, I guess I could see it.
So despite the fact that it was the eighth inning of Game Four of the ALCS, the Sox season was on the brink, and they were only down by a run, I let my Dad get up and leave our seats in the upper deck of Section 24.
Of course, I wanted him to stay, but I understood why he wanted, or more likely, needed to leave. He's not quite as masochistic as I am.
And really, that's what being a Sox fan was all about back then. It was an exercise in masochism. Every year, we invested ungodly levels of time, energy and emotion into a source that always let us down. Actually, "let us down" doesn't work. They spiked us into the ground like we were a touchdown ball. Every year. But we kept coming back, just asking them to hurt us.
At the time, as the eighth inning came to an end and I watched my Dad sleek off into the crowd, I honestly don't remember even having faith that the Sox would win. In fact, I'm pretty sure I had already conceded defeat. But I knew I had to stay until the end. I knew I had to sit there and suffer; to watch another promising season slip down the crapper, and then wallow in the familiar emptiness that came with it.
That's how we did it. We had to.
The top of the ninth went quickly, and I assumed the bottom half would bring much of the same. I figured Mo would make easy work of things, and wed all be put out of our misery. Or was it thrown into greater misery? Either way, not fun. And certainly not what happened next.
As Kevin Millar walked on five pitches, I reached down for my phone, but stopped short of calling my Dad. I just didnt want to get his hopes up. He left to avoid that torture; he'd earned the right to live free of those mind games. So I waited.
As Dave Roberts stole second base, I took out the phone again, but this time I didn't want to jinx it. If it was meant to be, I thought, it was meant to be like this. If something happens, we'll talk, but until then, nothing matters except for the game; everything must stay as it is.
It killed me that he was missing this. I wondered if he was maybe still walking to the car, or even knew the game was still going on. Not to mention I was now sitting by myself in the upper deck at Fenway during the most tense and dramatic moment of the season. I wanted to share it all with someone! But still, I waited.
As Roberts slid into home after Bill Mueller's single up the middle, I couldn't wait any longer. I immediately whipped out the phone and pressed send:
(Ringing . . . )
I can barely hear him over the roar of the crowd. But it's not just coming from my end.
Me: "Did you hear what just happened?!"
We're both screaming into the phone at this point.
Dad: "Yes! I couldnt leave! I started watching a little under the tunnel on my way out . . . (crowd's getting louder) . . . then I moved to the top of one of the tunnels . . . (and louder) . . . I ended up in some random seat in Section 12 on the other end of the park! I was gonna call . . . (at this point the conversations almost entirely drawn out) but I didn't want to jinx it!"
I ran down to Section 12, where we stood in a pair of empty seats for the last two innings; watched an improbable late-inning duel between Gordon and Leskanic, then saw Quantrill leave one over the plate, Ortiz crush it into the bullpen and the Sox live to see another day.
At the time, I'm not sure if we believed they now actually had a chance. We certainly had no idea that wed just witnessed the most famous stolen base in baseball history, or that after that game nothing would ever be the same. But it didnt matter.
We walked out of Fenway that night like we'd just won the World Series whatever that felt like. And we never looked back.