The Sox dropped a heartbreaker in game 2, were demolished in games 3 and 4, and down 3 games to one in the series, the Sox were down 7-0 with 2 outs in the bottom of the 7th inning. And they won 8-7. They won. Astounding. Astounding.
I need all the reassurance I can get that this actually happened. Sometimes its thought the difference between a scientific and religious temperament is displayed in the reaction to the same set of facts- a scientist looks at existence and sees something explainable, a religious persons sees that same world as mystery. I'm trying to understand how this one really happened, but I'm not sure I can, so I'm just going to go over it again, and stare ga-ga at the facts.
Lowrie lead off the 7th with a long double to right. After Varitek and Kotsay failed to deliver, Coco slapped a 2 out single to left, keeping the inning alive. Dustin Pedroia toughed out yet another 8 pitch AB, fouling off pitches long enough for TBS to run out of ways of anointing Tampa and actually get to some relevant statistics, mentioning that Pedey was far and away the league-leader in BA with 2 strikes this year, at just under .300, until Pedey shot one to right in front of Gross. Lowrie scored, breaking up the shutout, and Crisp advanced, putting 2 runners on.
And up strode the man once awarded with the greatest Red Sox clutch hitter plaque, Big Papi, but who had really come up small in this years postseason. Now, you can always watch a baseball game hoping for a homerun, but they rarely happen. The very best home run hitters only do it every 15 plate appearances or so. And Ortiz had zero homers in his last 61 postseason ABs, and was 1 for 14 with runners on in this postseason. Down 6 runs, with the season on the line, with the defense of the world championship on the line, I cannot imagine a single person watching or playing in this ballgame that was thinking about anything other than Big Papi crushing one. Had he woefully continued, a 7-1 game goes to the 8th. But he got a fastball down and in- his sweet spot- from Balfour, and he absolutely hammered it. In a rare moment, Papi looked almost surprised at himself; he did not characteristically flip the bat in a signification of dominance, and only tentatively left the box. But Fenway erupted, as did my studio apartment. A blowout had just turned into a ball game, the Sox were only down 7-4.
In that moment when Ortiz connected, fantasy became reality, wishes were fulfilled. Baseball really does do that sometimes; it makes the trite tremendous. TBS appropriately showed the guy with the 'i like baseball' sign. Three simple words, and all was right with the universe.
With the metaphorical wind at his back, Papelbon went back out there for the top of the 8th, buried some splitters, elevated some fastballs, and took 2 K's with him back to the dugout, getting those Boston bats back out there to batter the bullpen some more.
Wheeler walked Bay to start the 8th, missing badly low and away on the 3-0 pitch. Clearly rattled, he fell behind J.D. Drew, who righteously rifled one into the right field seats. It was now just a 1 run game, with the Sox only trailing 7-6. Wheeler then feel behind Lowrie, but Lowrie helped him out on the 1-0, swinging at a pitcher's pitch and popping to left. Outs are precious, and that one was squandered. And when Casey, pinch hitting for the captain in what might have been his final fenway plate appearance had he appeared, chased a splitter outside for the whiff, the realization hit that scoring 6 runs is great, but when the other guys have 7...
But Mark Kotsay delivered with 2 outs in the 8th, driving yet another liner to leftcenter field. B.J. Upton, who plays the laziest center field this side of Andruw Jones, yet again nonchalantly glided after the ball, but this time coming up empty, and deservedly so, as Kotsay's double clanged off his glove. Miraculously, the Sox had put the tying run in scoring position just 3 outs after having been down 7-0.
The lineup turned over. And even though Crisp had lined a single his previous attempt, no Boston fan hopes that the man who strides to the plate in the season's most important at bat is Coco Crisp. But whatever Coco hasn't done in his time here in Boston, and whatever he does or doesn't do from here on out, that at bat with the tying run on second with 2 down in the 8th inning of what had rapidly become a one run game was legendary. He fouled off pitch after pitch after pitch, 4 after the count had run full, even some that may have been out of the zone, as Coco was determined not to let the ump make the call; this was in Coco's hands, and he put up a noble fight. Finally Wheeler gave up, conceded, threw the 10th pitch of the at bat down the middle and Coco earned that clean, pure, single to right, that beautiful soft line drive, that sent in Kotsay and tied the ballgame at 7 apiece.
The old Red Sox would have squandered it in the 9th, of course. Carlos Pena, who has been death to Sox pitching, came up with 2 on and 1 out. But the kid Masterson buckled down and got the 4-6-3, sending a tie game to the bottom of the 9th.
But Pedroia and Ortiz went down, the former on a great play by Bartlett in the hole on a sharp grounder that had deflected off Longoria. Longoria then made an amazing stab on the short hop off a Youkilis chopper, but he threw off balance in the dirt, Pena couldn't make the stop, and the Sox had the winning run on second base. Bay was intentionally walked, and J.P. Howell faced J.D. Drew, the man who had hit the 2 run bomb to bring the Sox to within a run just one inning ago. Drew, nearly motionless, poised and ready to strike, walloped a 3-1 delivery, a screaming sinking liner over the wild leap of rightfielder Gross, and Tampa walked off in defeat, acquiescing to a Game 6.
Watching this one, logic and law goes out the window (I should get better insulation.) My girlfriend Rebecca was sitting at the kitchen table when Drew hit the homer to make it 7-6, but then moved over to the couch. Lowrie promptly popped up, and I yelled for her to go back to the table. Later, she had to go get ready for bed, but I wouldn't let her. She must sit at the table and not move. She had already made Lowrie pop up. I blamed her. She stayed put, and we won.
I imagine millions of other people refused to move from their spots too. To think logically where it clearly doesn't apply, we might reason that our not moving cancelled out the Tampa fans' not moving, that the sit in your spot jinx is a zero-sum interaction, and the players took it from there. Or one might think, as I clearly did, that my actions and mine alone were responsible for sending out anti-rays metaphysical rays from Brooklyn to Boston. When the transpiring are just so fantastic, so utterly unbelievable and absurd, doing anything to disturb that precious, teetering balance the universe has so fleetingly achieved seems like a sin.
I'm still out on the idea of retroactive meaning, both enhanced and diminished. If we lose Game 6 or 7, does that take away from game 5? I don't know. I'll cross that bridge after I pay the toll. For now, even after 2 rings in 4 years, and considering all the differences between now and '04, baseball, out of all the things in the world, still has this unique ability to perform the alchemy of turning despair into nervous hope into sheer delight, of creating a little universe where things can go right.
I like baseball.